Meet a Comedian: Christi Olson
Despite some serious health challenges, comedian Christi Olson is seriously funny. A transplant from Regina, Olson has quickly moved up the ranks in the Toronto comedy world, even landing this year’s Tim Sims Encouragement Fund Award. We chatted with Olson about fear vomiting, hecklers and laughing through the pain of EDS.
Were you always funny growing up?
I think I was more weird than funny. I was an excellent liar and had undiagnosed ADHD, though, both of which are helpful things for comedians.
What made you decide to pursue a career in comedy?
I thought it would be fun to try, so I signed up to do the Great Canadian Laugh-Off last year, thinking I’d have a few months to perform and maybe do well enough to move on. The week after I signed up for, I got very sick and forgot... until they called me in April to let me know I needed to be in Toronto to perform the next week. It went surprisingly well. I made it to the semi-finals, and then people just kept asking me to do it.
Describe your first stand-up gig. Where was it, how did it go, how did you feel?
It was at a bar called Gabbo’s (affectionately known as ‘Stabbo’s’) in Regina. I wrote my jokes in under an hour the day of the show (because I needed eight minutes for the Laugh-Off a week later), and I fear-vomited for a solid 10 minutes after it was done (in a bathroom without locks on the doors with a Plan B advertisement over the toilet). Apparently it went well, but I don't remember any of it.
You just won this year’s Tim Sims award. How did that feel? Did it validate your comedy?
It felt great! I feel super lucky to have been a part of it, because I met so many incredibly talented people. The only downside is that the trophy they gave me is made of crystal so anytime the TV is on, it reflects off of it and for a few seconds I think there are ghosts in the apartment.
You’ve been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. How does that affect your stand-up?
I can’t do nearly as many shows as most comics, and generally, my sets have to be shorter because of dysautonomia, which is automatic nervous system dysfunction. My two biggest triggers are changes in altitude and changes in temperature, which means the heat from stage lights makes me dizzy and nauseous, and if I don’t deal with it fast enough, I’ll throw up and/or pass out. I’ve been lucky though, in that the comedy community in Toronto has been super supportive and very understanding when I’ve had to turn down shows.
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to while onstage?
It didn’t actually happen to me, it happened because of me. I was in a comedy competition, and I was the only female performer. Some girls in the bathroom recognized me and asked if I was doing the show. I said I was, and that I had no one in the audience (which was true) so I needed them to laugh extra hard. They took this to mean that they should heckle everyone who wasn’t me and then give me applause breaks for every joke I told regardless of whether or not it was funny. I still feel bad about it.
Who or what makes you laugh the most?
It would probably be a tie between my boyfriend [Dan MacRae, also a comedian] and Teddy Bear, the talking porcupine.
Favourite funny movie?
All time: Annie Hall. This year: The Cabin in the Woods.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Because of the EDS, I can’t really set too many long term goals. Ideally, I’ll have robot legs and one of those Stephen Hawking talking machines so I can just type out my jokes from the comfort of the audience. I would also accept being a Tupac-esque hologram.
What's your advice for other aspiring comedians?
A lot of comedians, when they’re first starting out, rely more on shock than on punchlines, which isn’t always a bad thing. That said, if you wouldn’t tell your joke in front of an audience entirely made up of the target of your joke, just don’t tell the joke. Toronto is a pretty multicultural city, so it doesn’t happen as much here, but back in Saskatchewan, there was nothing more cringe-inducing than a room full of white people laughing at a racial slur.