By Hailey Eisen
If you’re a fan of comedy, you’ve likely heard of The Baroness Von Sketch Show. If you haven’t, you really ought to Google it. Airing to critical acclaim in Canada and the US on CBC and IFC, the show is written, performed, and executive produced by four Canadian women over 40 — a demographic typically under-represented in the sketch comedy world. This foursome has found a hole where their voices and perspectives were needed, and are filling it with hilarious, insightful, and exceptionally relevant content. We sat down with two members of the brilliant group, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen, to chat about their work on the show, the challenges facing women in entertainment, and making comedy in dark times.
You’re being billed as “The New Queens of Comedy.” Do you think you’ve earned the title?
AB: I don’t think we’ve ever aspired to be more than Baronesses, which is one of the lowest aristocracy titles you can have. But, I do feel like a very happy participant in the world of sketch comedy.
JW: It’s so flattering. Listen, does it come with ceremonial robes or something? I always thought I could rock a scepter.
AB: I would love a tiara.
In all seriousness, you’ve obviously hit on something big here. Perhaps the world needs comedy now more than ever. Do you ever find it hard to be funny, though, when the issues you’re addressing are quite serious?
JW: When I used to write for This Hour Has 22 Minutes, there were stories I felt too angry about, too invested in — and those you just had to avoid. But with this show, I find it’s more social political humour; it’s about how we interact with each other. And human dynamics are always funny. And comedy provides a great opportunity to talk about issues in a way that’s not so emotionally or politically loaded. Sometimes a great joke can make you see a different side, make you really think about something. I think humour is a great way to deal with the hard things, because once you have a laugh about it, it doesn’t seem so impossible.
AB: Humour is a fundamentally generous thing, it reaches a hand out and says, “You’re not the only one, we’re in this together, in this crazy dark world.” And, that’s where the release comes.
What’s it like collaborating as a foursome?
AB: Sitting with these women and talking about life, and laughing together, is one of the things I enjoy most — almost as much as eating! We are rigorous and ruthless in the writing room, but we trust each other’s perception and intelligence.
JW: There’s something magical about the combination of the four of us. We’re greater than the sum of our parts.
“We have just as much ego and ambition as any other performer. We want to keep getting pay cheques and feeding our families. And it’s OK for women to want those things. It’s OK for women to have ambition.”
As women in comedy — and the entertainment industry for that matter — what challenges have you, or do you continue to face?
JW: Women have experienced tremendous growth in comedy since I started. Still, the challenges are what you’d imagine them to be. When you’re the only woman in a situation, endowed with being the wife, the mother, the girlfriend; when you’re in a writing room and you become the voice of all women; when you’re there for the “female perspective,” that’s pretty hard.
AB: I’ve been in writing rooms, and we’re casting scenes, and I’ve had to say, “you know, women can play the judges and the lawyers and the doctors too!” And, that just wasn’t happening.
JW: But we’ve really been so fortunate with this show. We’ve had a lot of support from our production company and CBC. We’ve never had this much creative freedom — it’s remarkable.
How do you think the work you’re doing is helping to bring about change?
AB: We revel in the fact that we’re getting to put the experiences of women in their 40s on CBC. As far as TV goes, that’s new for this country. We know that we are four white women who live in the city, so we speak very clearly from what we know, and don’t try to speak for every single woman.
JB: My hope is there will be a whole generation of up-and-comers who don’t see themselves represented, and they go out and create their own shows that speak to their own experiences. It’s so huge and powerful. If you look at Hollywood, and the Weinstein of it all, a powerful producer like him is really controlling how we are seeing women. And if that’s how we are represented in our culture — as the girlfriend by the side of a strong man — then that’s how we’ll be treated: like we’re accessories, like we’re disposable. I think it’s important that we’re allowed to be seen as humans who have interior lives, and haven’t just aged out and disappeared after 40.
Being in your 40s, has that changed things at all for you?
JB: Well, I know for sure that I’m better at this now than when I was in my 20s and didn’t have crow’s feet. But it would be disingenuous to say we’re doing this only for lofty ideals. We have just as much ego and ambition as any other performer. We want to keep getting pay cheques and feeding our families. And it’s OK for women to want those things. It’s OK for women to have ambition. The thing about having success in your 40s is you appreciate it way more. If this had come in our 20s, we would have had our eye on the next big thing. Now we revel in this — because it doesn’t come along every day. I love that our job is to make people laugh. We’ve really been very fortunate — and we’ve worked really hard.