On a sunny day in June, I meet Jane Stanton at The Cascade on Main Street. Rushing from an audition earlier that day, she apologizes for being late, slips into her seat and doesn’t miss a beat when ordering a vodka – the good kind – and soda.
Jane Stanton is known for her voices. For over 11 years the Vancouver-based comic has transformed her personal experiences from the everyday mundane into hysterical long form jokes that feel exactly like catching up with your favourite friend.
Punctuated, every now and then, with a dramatic voice drop or rise and a change in cadence, her comedy nods toward the inner voice that tells it like it is. After a long pause, she’ll drop the bomb: no, men don’t actually like women who look “comfy” and your kids don’t really look like a fun time.
“I always tried to do it from me and my point of view, because that’s the beauty of stand up,” says Jane.
Her voice, and her perspective, have served her well. From humble beginnings – her first time doing stand up was a response to a ‘do something that scares you’ challenge – to today, on the cusp of finalizing her first comedy album, she has always worked to remain true to herself. Though, while a common misconception about comedians, it doesn’t mean that she’s exactly how she appears on stage, in her everyday life.
“People assume that how you talk on stage is how you live,” says Jane. “Like, oooh, you must be the craziest! It’s like, no, I want to go home and have a bubble bath.”
Because of course, like anything, comedy is a performance. This is something Jane is keenly aware of, and is integral to her approach. I ask her what she thinks about comics who turn on the audience when their sets aren’t going well.
“This is a night out for people,” Jane says, suddenly serious. “It’s their night out. Why would you shit on these people who are at your show? If there was no one there, there’d be no show. Why are you crapping on them?”
This turns out to be a pretty representative answer. Over the next hour, while Jane is open and funny and fun, she is also thoughtful. And reflexive. Possibly even critical. I muse that being able to criticize oneself must be useful, as long as it’s not paralyzing.
“I can walk away and be like, ‘oh, I had a good set’,” says Jane. “But I’m never like, I was the best!”
Self doubt can be rampant in comedy. While everyone looks like they’re sure of themselves, at all times, there’s this underlying knowledge that this can’t be true. Being too hard on yourself isn’t helpful, so there’s a vulnerability to her words. It takes a lot to balance self-criticism – the kind that makes you better – with the ability to recognize something genuinely good when it surfaces. I ask if being a woman affects her as a comedian.
“I don’t want to say it’s harder as a girl. It is and it isn’t. I ran Corduroy with James [Masters] for years and it worked,” says Jane. “But a lady recently started a blog about [occurrences of sexual assault] in the sketch world and I love that there are people who are like, “oh this doesn’t happen in our community!” It’s like, yes it does.”
We talk briefly about a social media Vancouver comedy forum. I tell her I once saw a thread with well over 100 comments, all men, explaining why rape jokes are okay. What does that mean when not a single woman has weighed in?
“I don’t think anything is off limits,” says Jane. “You can talk about anything. And yeah, I’ve done things not well, trying to get there. I talked about religion at one point, and it’s like what am I doing? I need something to back this up. I can’t just be like “you guys are stupid.” At least I tried it…”
Which brings us to her recent headlining gig with the Rape Is Real And Everywhere Show, run by local comics Emma Cooper and Heather Jordan Ross. The show is intended to be a comedy safe space for sexual assault survivors, male or female.
Survivors from all walks of life turn their experience into laughter. While, of course, parts of the show are tragic, it never waivers from being truly funny. I told Jane that I saw her performance and that it had genuinely moved me.
And just as we get into why a show like this is important, the drunken, loud “gentleman” at the adjacent table begins to scream at us. Through slurred speech he leans over to explain that he is extremely worried about instances of false accusation. He wonders, loudly, how he could ever really know if he’s raped someone, anyway.
“If she said no,” Jane deadpans.
When asked, he can’t recall the figures, but he’s certain that men are being stripped of their constitutional rights. His anger is frightening, not in a proximal way, but in a way that makes you wonder if some people are just a vodka shot away from victim blaming at all times.
Eventually he moves on and stumbles out the front door, but our conversation has been reshaped by his presence. It’s reinforced the power of that show, and of any show, really. The courage it takes to stand up and have a voice, especially a funny one. I ask how it felt to be asked on this show, and what made her agree to share such a personal experience on stage.
“I just didn’t know why I hadn’t talked about it,” Jane says. “At first I was like, why am I doing this show? I was so scared in a way that I don’t ever remember feeling. But that’s why that show was so good. It was scary – in a great way.”