GIGGLE CITY: Improvising with Stephanie Wolfe

Again we turn to the theatre community for funny people through which to explore the nature of comedy and comedians.

Locals theatre buffs know Stephanie Wolfe as a veteran of Die-Nasty, the Live Improvised Soap Opera, which has run every Monday night at the Varscona Theatre for the last 20 years. It was invented in Edmonton and since cloned in cities around the world – and because Monday is usually a dark night for live theatre features a who’s who of heavyweight actors, from Edmonton or abroad. They gather to throw caution to the wind, let loose and create fully-formed comedy with well-drawn characters, plot, conflict and resolution (and music!) – all of it completely made up as they go along. The secrets are simple: Never say no to anything, and don’t be afraid – nay, be willing – to fall flat on your face. It’s not as easy as these guys make it look, of course. They’ve been at it for 20 years, this season paying homage to the Roaring Twenties with all the Flappers and Tommy-Guns therein. Maybe Wolfe could be a flapper with a tommy-gun.

Q: Which Canadian celebrity would you like to be, and why?

A: Jane Siberry has always had a great sense of humour and she is a fabulous artist. I don’t think I’d want to BE her, but I certainly admire her. She’s a gal. She’s one of the bricklayers for lot of great Canadian music.

Q: What’s your best heckler story?

A: We don’t get hecklers at Die-Nasty. Most of our audience wants the story to move forward. They’re there to help it happen. But we do have this one guy who’s been coming every week for at least the last 18 years. He works really, really hard, goes out to dinner with his friends and by the time he gets to Die-Nasty, he’s exhausted. He sits in the front row – and then he falls asleep. I just go and sit on his lap and yell in his ear: ‘Wake up!’ It’s become kind of a thing.

Q: If you had to choose a favourite Die-Nasty character you’ve played, who would it be?

A: I really like the one this year. Er, what’s her name? I don’t know. Give me a second here. Omigod … What is my name?! This is insane! Sally Bolt! It’s a throwback to Cabaret. I like her because she uses the idea that she seems extremely flighty and dumb to great strength. She’s not dumb at all. She’s a great manipulator.

Q: What’s the difference between kids today and when you were a kid?

A: Looking at my kids, they’re way more aware of what’s going on around them than I was. My six-year-old can find a punchline to something in a second. We’ll be having an adult conversation at the dinner table and he’ll come in and nail a punchline right down the middle of it. Whoa, how did you get that pop culture reference? Do we have the TV on that much?

Q: Do you think reality show stars could use some improv training?

A: I’m sure they’re coached. They are like improvisers. They’re improvising their lives for people. Could they use some acting training? I guess if they’re set on playing themselves, they should find a passionate way to express that.

Q: Are theatre people in Edmonton too sensitive about bad reviews they may occasionally get?

A: Nope! I love our passionate actors. Possibly the opposite is true. A lot of negative comments and bad reviews and rejections get swallowed. That’s part of the gig. My husband is in business. He says, ‘is it any different anywhere else? People just write about you.’

Q: What’s the worst meal you’ve ever had on the road?

A: I ordered the chef’s salad – so right away you know you don’t want that – and it came with this iceberg lettuce cut up and core-y part was still in there. And you know that meat your mom gives you in kindergarten with the things stuck inside? The salad was covered in that, like a blanket. You couldn’t even see the lettuce. And there was a shaker of white vinegar on the side. It was a small town in Saskatchewan somewhere.

Q: What’s the funniest city in Canada – besides Edmonton?

A: You mean funny ha-ha?

Q: Yes, funny ha-ha.

A: I don’t know. Don’t all Canadians enjoy their comedy? Aren’t we the funny country that exports all our good comedians?

Q: Do you have to be a pessimist to be an effective comedian?

A: You can make jokes about things that are very negative. But just in doing the soaps, it’s the optimism that makes it shine. You can take something nasty and awful and find the flip side of it, the thing that makes you keep going. That’s what propels you forward, laughing at all that stuff. It’s cathartic. It’s not for the faint of heart, either. You have to swim some murky waters sometimes, but when you find that other side, it’s like having a big shower. It’s a good thing.