Tragedy Plus Time: Toronto Comedian Jesse Singh

Jesse Singh’s comedy revolves around sharing personal stories from his life as a racialized comedian, growing up with a single immigrant mom, and navigating relationships. Influenced by legendary comedians such as Russell Peters, Dave Chappelle, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin, Jesse aims to not only bring laughter but also challenge societal norms and systems of power. With his upcoming tour, “The Coloured Friends,” slated for early 2024 and his debut comedy album, “Baby Goat,” available on all streaming platforms, Jesse Singh continues to leave audiences with a deeper understanding of his views as well as a good laugh. Follow Jesse Singh on his social media platforms and be prepared to be entertained and enlightened.

Jesse Singh

How would you describe your comedy style?

A lot of my comedy encompasses sharing personal stories that I have encountered either with my family or in day-to-day life. I try to keep it as conversational as possible because I always loved comedians that were able to bring you into their world but were also very relatable. I want people to be able to resonate to the experiences I am sharing while also walking away with some new and maybe funnier perspectives. I talk about what it was like growing up with a single immigrant mom, navigating life as a racialized comedian, relationships and poke fun at some of our systems of power we have in place. Above all else, I want people to leave my shows feeling as though they know me a bit better and are able to share a part of the journey with me.

Who are some of your influences?

My introduction to Standup Comedy had been watching Russell Peters’ Comedy Now special in the living room with my family. It was the first time I saw someone on screen who looked like me, telling stories I could relate to. It was also one of the few moments in my life where I saw the adults in my family laugh at an English-speaking comedian and actually acknowledge his success. This was my first taste at recognizing it was possible. I remember diving into The Chappelle Show at an age that I probably shouldn’t have but I was hooked. Chappelle was definitely one of my greatest inspirations coming up. I was drawn at his ability to not only tell such hilarious stories but do it in a way where it was almost seamless. It felt like you were just hanging out with a friend and I knew that if I ever did stand up, that’s how I wanted people to feel when they came to see me.

There was no clear formula with him. It was not just a simple set-up / punchline method. Furthermore, I greatly respected his ability to deconstruct some of the systems of oppression that were in place in society.

This opened the gateway to me also discovering legends such as Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Any comedian will tell you that these two individuals were like the Tupac and Biggie of their genre. They were not just great comedians to me, they were alchemists, ones who were able to use humour as means to transform some of the darkest elements of the world into ones of light. Some honourable mentions for me also include Patrice O’Neal and Bill Burr. I know that these names seem controversial to many but I was also drawn to their fearlessness of being able to go into the depths of conversations many may have felt but were afraid to have. As much as they may have been there to stir the pot, they also opened a space for dialogue and used their words to display a refined verbal balancing act.

Who was your favourite comedian growing up?

Many were mentioned above but if I had to choose one, I would say Dave Chappelle was probably my favourite to watch in the past and inspired me the most. I was not a huge fan of some of his recent specials on Netflix but Killin
Them Softly and For What It’s Worth were definitely the ones which were a driving force in my comedy career.

Who is your favourite comedian now?

This one is a bit difficult because it’s hard to pinpoint just one. If I had to choose, it would be Andrew Schulz. Not just because he is a hilarious comedian but also because of the career path he has built for himself. He is, in my opinion, what you would call a comic’s comic. This is usually someone who fellow comedians acknowledge as being not only funny but also completely unique. You may find in stand-up that a lot of topics and themes have been discussed several times over.

There have been a plethora of jokes about relationships, family, racial heritage, but it is rare to find someone who is able to tackle these subjects and still make them fresh. It is also apparent that when he speaks about different races or is in front of a new city, he takes the time to learn about that specific topic before poking fun at some of its nuances.

What is your pre-show ritual?

I would not necessarily say I have a “ritual”; but one of the most common things you’ll find me doing is pacing back and forth before every set, no matter how big or how small. I still get nervous every time I go on stage to perform but it is definitely a different kind of nerves now. It is not so much of a fear of public speaking then it is a fear of not performing to the best of my ability. I want to know that I am completely honest with myself on stage and with the audience. As much as I want them to laugh and have a good time, I also want to be present while I am up there and not feel as though I am just reciting a script.

What is your favourite place you have performed? Why?

One of my favourite clubs in the city is definitely The Corner Comedy Club in downtown Toronto. It is also the same venue where I recorded my debut Comedy Album, “Baby Goat”. I feel as though it is the perfect space for comedy. It is small with only a 50-seat capacity but that's what also makes for it to be a great show. It is an intimate venue which makes the audience feel as though they are part of something and it keeps the laughter contained. Even the entrance of the club makes you feel as though you are being invited into a secret space. It is hidden and tucked away in an alleyway. To me, that is a perfect physical representation of Standup Comedy. Standup is definitely a genre which is often never appreciated as being an art form. It is outkasted and isolated but that is also the very thing that attracts people to it. Comedians often look for these hidden basements, bars, clubs, as a means to make sense of their crazy world through laughter.

What is your favourite bit you have written and why were you proud of it?

I have a story where I speak about my experience working at a daycare centre for young kids who live with developmental disabilities. One thing I want to make clear, I try my very best to be conscious of when I go into territory such as this to never punch down on the population of individuals I am speaking about. The reason why I love the joke is because I am making it a point to humanize the young people that I worked with. In the beginning, I expressed how when I told others where I worked many would react in a similar fashion and asked if I ever felt “bad” for the kids. To which I replied “no” because those who have kids, they know that as adorable as they are, they can also be a**holes. The picture I was trying to paint was that we should never cast "pity" on individuals with either a developmental or physical disability. They are more than capable of carrying out everyday tasks even if it is in their own unique fashion.

Developmental delay does not equate to being stupid or incompetent, it simply means one’s experience in the world is different than that of our own, so the support they need may also differ. Of course, the topic would divide some audiences if they do not understand or they misinterpret the point I am trying to make.

Every individual holds vices of their own. This does not mean they should be punished or judged constantly but rather it means they should also be granted permission to learn and make mistakes. This also includes being able to have their own autonomy and room for accountability. This is what it means to be human.

What is your favourite medium for listening or finding new comics/comedians?

I do find myself watching full-length Comedy specials less frequently and this may also be due to the vast amount of options available on Netflix. There is just too much to choose from and I end up just not wanting to watch any of them at all. More commonly, a lot of the newer comedians I hear about are either found through short clips on social media, podcasts, and other fellow comedians.

Tell us a joke about your city.

I love Toronto but it is also one of the few major cities where I still see police on horseback. I don’t have a problem with it but it’s just crazy walking down Lake Shore Blvd and seeing a giant pile of sh*t in the road and thinking “damn the cops must be close by”.

Do you have anything to promote right now?

My debut comedy album Baby Goat is available on ALL streaming platforms but you can also be on the lookout for me on a Canada-wide tour coming up in September 2024.

Where can we follow you?

This LinkTree gives access to my social media, comedy album, short film, and upcoming tour information.

PAY IT FORWARD: Who is another local comic/comedian we should know about?

One of the most underrated comedians in the city, in my opinion, is Habib Siam. He is one person I highly respected as being able to be brutally honest on stage while still intertwining laughter throughout his set. He has found a delicate balance on how to utilize the silence on stage to his advantage. Many comics are often chasing the “kill” so you will see rapid-fire jokes in quick succession. It may even be hilarious but there is nothing beyond the punchline. Habib was someone who I felt forced you to pay attention simply by his calm and stoic demeanour on stage. You were drawn into what he had to say and his ability to be completely himself is what I think sets him apart.

Some honourable mentions are people who I have looked up to since I began comedy in Toronto. These are all now seasoned headliners and some of the best comics I feel the country has to offer: Arthur Simeon, Nick Reynoldson, and Nitish Sakujha.

 

About Joel Levy 2550 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography