Comic mom has last laugh
Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald
Published: Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Lori Gibbs performs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Yuk Yuk's in the Elbow River Casino.
Lori Gibbs, nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award, shows off her comedy career scrapbook.
Lori Gibbs will be the first to admit that her entry into the world of standup comedy was not the most glamorous of experiences.
Three years ago, the 43-year-old mother-of-three decided she was finally going to chase the comedy dream she had been harbouring since performing jokes about the family cat to her appreciative parents as an eight-year-old.
Although not a churchgoer herself, she agreed to perform at a religious gathering at a camp outside the tiny town of Caroline, southwest of Red Deer --population 515 --where parishioners were attending a potentially humourless "women's healing retreat."
"I was so scared," says Gibbs. "I was laying in my little bunk at the retreat and just sweating and shaking and going to the bathroom more than I needed to. But I got up in front of them and they laughed at the first thing I said. And they kept laughing. After five minutes, I know this sounds a bit cheesy, but I actually thought I was settling into the niche I was supposed to be in. It took me until I was 40, but I finally figured out what my joy and my passion is."
Unlike many comedians, "joy" actually seems to be a driving force for Gibbs' comedy. Self-deprecating, observational and occasionally "flirty," her comedy is designed to appeal to a large and varied crowd, including 18-year-olds, senior citizens, middle-aged housewives and, apparently, women at healing retreats.
"I don't know if it's from joy or if it's because doing comedy is pure joy to me," says Gibbs. "I do a lot of self-deprecating stuff. I'm a big lady, but I'm a confident, happy-with-myself big lady, which I hope is refreshing to some women."
As a result, the comedy tends to be fairly gentle, with Gibbs riffing on Wal-Mart, big hair and shopping at the "plus-size stores." She occasionally ends her show by singing the self-penned Granny Panty Blues.
And after finding some appreciative audiences, it didn't take long for Gibbs to go at it full-time. She started going to open mike nights and was quickly promoted to emcee. Eventually she began getting booked at bigger clubs, including Yuk Yuk's. Now she oversees a busy touring schedule in and around Alberta.
Earlier this year she submitted a DVD of her material to the Canadian Comedy Awards. A jury --which included Canuck comics such as Kenny Robinson and Mike McDonald--tagged her for a nomination for best newcomer. The awards will be held in October in St. John, N. B.
Born in Vancouver, Gibbs moved to Calgary in the mid-1980s. She taught piano and worked various office jobs. At 25, she decided she wanted to be a comedian. But it took her 15 more years to work up the nerve.
"I had a paralyzing fear of actually getting up and trying it," she says. "So I did lovely things. I got married and had children and that kept me distracted. And when I was 40, I just thought, I'm sick of living in fear."
Now, Gibbs says she has managed to win over some of her toughest critics.
"I don't know if he would admit it to my face," Gibbs says, "but my 14-year-old thinks it's cool I'm a comedian and I think he likes telling his friends that his mom is a comedian."
Photo Credit: Michael Elmenhoff
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