The Power of Comedy

Comic Carly Heffernan on finding the funny in art and the 24-hour news cycle

For Carly Heffernan, a comedy writer, actor and director based in Toronto, ideas can come in some unexpected places. “I have a huge soft spot for the Art Gallery of Ontario. We have an amazing permanent collection and there are wonderful visiting exhibits too. I find a ton of inspiration from people-watching—kind of going between taking in the art itself, and taking in the people taking in the art. It’s a fantastic way to spend an afternoon,” she says. “It can inspire me in different ways. Sometimes portraits really just speak to me as characters: where are they, what’s an interesting situation for them to be in? And then other times in abstract art or expressionist art, there’s a feeling that will translate to an experience and make me think about the last time I felt that emotion, and I can use that in my work.”

And like many comedians these days, looking to the news cycle provides fodder too. “No matter when you’re doing comedy, there are always issues that you’re going to personally disagree with, that you’re going to find morally wrong, where we need to change and where we need to be better. You put that all into your satirical comedy work and it’s incredibly inspiring.”

Samantha Bee is one of her comedy heroes. “She’s walking that line of being so hilarious and being so sharply satirical and of the moment. She’s finding that really funny twist to issues which have been in the dark before, which I think is really important. Comedy is an amazing medium. I could stand on a street corner and rant about how I think the world should be and I’m not really going to open up anyone’s mind; everyone is going be on the defensive. But if we can find the relatability and we can find the humour in a situation, even if it’s a really cathartic humour, we can start to open up minds, and once minds are opened then they can start to change.”

Carly’s work takes her on the road about 50% of the year—currently she often heads to Chicago and Washington to work with a new all-star, all-female Second City revue called She the People: The Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It For Themselves (which she is also directing in Toronto). When she’s in Toronto, she has a favourite spot to hit in her vibrant Leslieville neighbourhood. “Sunday brunch at the Brooklyn Tavern is a classic jam for me and my husband. They have the most decadent grilled cheese sandwich. I wake up in the night craving it. And they have the spiciest tortilla soup in the city,” she says.

Best work advice from Carly? “Just please yourself. I so, so highly recommend that to any young artist. We can get really caught up with pleasing different masters: please the audience, please your producer, please your director. It takes a lot of confidence to please yourself first and foremost. Know what you think is really good.”


Carly Heffernan, Toronto, Ontario, Writer, Director, Actor