For some comics, the straight job is a dirty little secret. Take a comedian, twist his arm until it splinters and he'll reluctantly admit that, yeah, he's also a line cook. Or that she telemarkets on nights when she can't get into an open mic room. The straight job is at best a source of material and, at worst, a poorly paying reminder of having not yet "made it."
And then there's Shannon Laverty — so refreshingly open about her alter ego as a hairstylist in Yorkville. Her two careers live side by side on her website, and crisscross in her datebook like the lines on a skating rink; headlining Yuk Yuk's this weekend, then a trade show for hair products, another club gig, and so on.
"I try to keep these two lives separate," she says, from the other side of a table at The Pilot Bar, "but there's a certain amount of cross-over."
Hairstyling got her into comedy almost 20 years ago, when she worked at a salon next to the now-closed Yuk Yuk's in her native Saskatoon. Comics would come in for a 'do and one night she warily followed them back to the club, where she got singled out by old hand Jay Wendell Walker.
"I don't even remember what he said," Laverty recalls, taking a long sip from a cranberry juice. A unicorn tattoo peaks from behind her right lapel. "After it was over I said 'That wasn't so bad.'"
She'd been told once she was too big for the stage. Laverty is tall, even sitting down, a vivacious woman with broad shoulders and white-blonde hair in a rumpled bob. But comedy was a better fit — and led to a come hither persona built on a fondness for the coy word play of Mae West.
Laverty became known in the '90s for doing a lot of blue material, even though she chaffs at the reputation these days.
"I used to say things you're not supposed to say. Like, I like guys. Or, I like sex with a lot of guys," she says. "To me, I didn't care if I was talking about blow jobs. But my approach was a little too aggressive."
There's still a lot of sex in her act but she now handles it, and herself, with greater care, having dropped a lot of the jokes she used to make at her own expense. The jabs she took at herself would came and go from the act, she says, depending on her weight.
That material and the pounds are, "gone and not coming back," she says firmly.
Though, she adds, audiences would sometimes surprise her and shout out that they disagreed with her self-deprecation. "You shouldn't say that about yourself," someone would shoot back. Or "you're beautiful."
Applause may be a sweet sound, but remarks like that must be even sweeter.
"Yes they are," she says, and smiles.
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