In the last year and a half, the Baroness Von Sketch Show has been called the “funniest Canadian sketch show since Kids In The Hall.” Yet Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen — known as the Baronesses, along with their other co-creators and stars, Meredith MacNeill and Carolyn Taylor — have created something wholly their own, with a distinct cult following that includes teenage guys, young moms, millennial women and middle-aged men. Get to know the women behind the razor-sharp wit and groundbreaking approach to Canadian comedy.

 


 

My first job ever was…

JW – Slinging salad at Cultures in the food court at Square One Mississauga. If you ate there between 1986 and 1987 I may have made you a smoothie.

AB – When I was ten, I got a paper route and delivered papers in my neighbourhood for two years. It was a bit of a ball and chain every day but I loved having my own money.

 

I chose my career path because…

AB – I went into performing arts because it felt right, it is who I am. When my high school put on a musical it reminded me that I had done this before and although it sounds cheesy, I just knew. And then when I focused more on improv and sketch comedy, it really came together.

JW – I have a limited and odd skill set. In high school we had to take a “What career suits you” quiz — out of 500 possible careers my answers qualified me for six jobs: writer, actor, director, entrepreneur, gerontologist and spy. I’m still working on the last two.

 

My proudest accomplishment is…

JW – Baroness von Sketch Show!

AB – My relationship with my son. My job is in essence a search for truth and love, and our little family unit has that in spades.

 

My boldest move to date was…

AB – Well, I think it was pretty bold of the Baronesses to say, “Give us a show!” WE knew of course that it was going to be great, but telling the world that we were worth watching, that’s bold. In a good way. The world needs that kind of boldness.

JW – Turning down a promotion on an established, long running television show to work on my own projects. Basically, I wanted to write in my voice. It was a lean couple of years but it resulted in Baroness, so the gamble paid off

 

I surprise people when I tell them…

JW – My Mom is tiny. I’m 5’10. I was taller than her on my 10th birthday. True story.

AB – I don’t know if “surprise” is the right word, but everyone certainly has a reaction of some kind when I say I grew up in Thunder Bay. I think people don’t picture it as a place where the arts would flourish, even though it is.

 

My best advice to people starting their career is… 

AB – Be the kind of person that people want to give help to. No one gets points for being an asshole. Kindness and professionalism gets you a very long way.

JW – Find your people! It’s a hard gig and having good friends in the biz will keep you sane.

 

My best advice from a mentor was…

AB – The best advice I ever heard was actually about parenting and it was from a friend’s sister. She said, “Just do what’s easiest”. And I did, and we had a very chill household vibe because of that and I’ll be honest, I think my son is a happier person as a result.

JW – I’ve never had a mentor. I don’t know if that’s a comedy thing or a-being-a-woman-in-a-male-dominated-field thing or just a something-about-me-personally thing? Anyway, it’s a thing and I have not experienced it.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self…

AB – Don’t be so scared! It’s okay to relax and trust yourself.

JW – To buy a house in Toronto. Also when you are around 27 you’ll think it’s a good idea to try to bleach the front of your hair blond. It isn’t. It really, really isn’t.

 

“The internet is filled with funny, generous, thoughtful people and we are lucky enough to live in a time where we can access each other’s creativity.”

 

My biggest setback was…

JW – Getting fired from Second City.

AB – Well, to be honest, getting pregnant was a huge setback. There was a long period of time where I couldn’t be cast as any non-pregnant person, and then of course I was very focused on my son and very tired at the same time. I also had a bout of postpartum depression And I was poor! It’s very difficult to juggle this already precarious business with the very regular, implacable needs of a small human.

 

I overcame it by…

JW – Giving up auditioning for things I didn’t want to do and instead focusing on writing, which I loved.

AB – Relying on my family for help, I got my shit together, I powered through it. I let it change me the way it needed to and I kept going.

 

Work/life balance is…

JW – Amazing the two times a year I achieve it.

AB – An issue I wish men were asked about as often as women are.

 

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is…

JW – Worth the struggle.

AB – I can’t isolate that into just an answer about the industry. I live on a continent, and in a social-political society that is male-dominated. The major religion underlying my life (even if I don’t personally practise it) is male-dominated. I don’t know anything else. I can tell you that it’s a struggle all the time. And it’s complicated by the fact that I’m white. In many ways I’ve won the Western Lottery. In other ways I will always bet the bottom of the heap to some people. I mean, ask the industry how they like having me in it! Probably a more interesting answer.

 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…

JW – Much. I keep a low digital profile. Some of it by accident. I just realized my Instagram account is private.

AB – I’m one of those actors who is also a painter. My family has a lot of artists in it, and I considered studying visual arts.

 

I stay inspired by…

AB – Oh I’m such a hippy. I’m inspired by everything. But most of all I’m inspired by other people. The internet is filled with funny, generous, thoughtful people and we are lucky enough to live in a time where we can access each other’s creativity. Particularly television right now — it’s a golden age. It’s incredibly motivating; you think, well, if that’s the calibre of work other people are putting out, I guess I better up my game too.

JW – Hanging out with Carolyn, Meredith and Aurora! Not only are they phenomenally talented, but they make me better in all ways.

 

The future excites me because…

AB – To be honest, I’m very cynical. I think humans are going to take the earth down in flames. But it’s always possible that we won’t! There’s always the unknown.

JW – Anything is possible.

 

Join us at the season premiere of the Women of Influence Evening Series as we sit down with Aurora Browne and Jenn Whalen as they riff on their breakthrough year and how they’re redefining the role of women in comedy.

 

 
 
 
 

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