Stand-up comic Danny Polishchuk, who is headlining the Toronto Jewish Comedy Festival’s Boxing Day show, Jews Going Out of Business, can’t decide if it’s a good or bad time to be a comic.
“Comedy is so polarized right now. I consider myself a centrist, I guess, as it should be for all comedians, but most comedy is super, super left-leaning right now and you’re almost penalized for not going along with that line of thinking,” said the 34-year-old, Toronto-based comedian, who has been performing on stage for about eight years.
“When I started, there were no shows that had language restrictions. Now, there are many where you can’t do certain jokes.… There was a show posted yesterday and it said anyone who is deemed problematic on or off stage is not welcome. So I was like, ‘OK, is there a list of people?’ ”
Polishchuk found himself embroiled in controversy last summer, when he decided to promote a comedy show with a poster that mocked an online flyer for an anti-fascist rally.
Polishchuk – who co-wrote Filth City, a movie about late Toronto mayor Rob Ford – said he decided to organize a “free speech comedy show” that was inspired by the cancellation of a Ryerson University panel discussion called “The Stifling of Free Speech on University Campuses.”
The panel discussion, which was shut down after the school’s administrators were inundated with complaints, was to include University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson, who has been outspoken about his refusal to use non-binary gender pronouns, and Faith Goldy, a former Rebel Media reporter.
An event called the “No Fascist T.O. Diversity Rally” was organized in response to the panel discussion.
Polishchuk then organized a comedy show called “No Fascist T.O. Comedy Rally,” copied the design of the anti-fascist event’s flyer and promoted it as a free speech comedy show with the proceeds going to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
He said he meant for the poster to be “tongue-in-cheek” and that he “was just poking at the whole political climate.”
He said the show was canceled after someone broke the locks on the doors of the venue.
“They were saying I was associating with neo-Nazis. Obviously, I wasn’t. It was really crazy,” he said. “People were saying that free speech is a term that only white supremacists use.”
Most comedy is super, super left-leaning right now and you’re almost penalized for not going along with that line of thinking.
He said his second attempt to organize the same show was also met with resistance: “We did the show again in November and then someone pulled a fire alarm during the show.”
Polishchuk said that depending on how you look at it, it’s both a good and a bad time for comedy.
“It used to be there were like four people
who were the gatekeepers, and if you didn’t get through to them, that was it for you,” he said.
“If you don’t fit in with a lot of people, you can get cut out or ostracized, and at the same time, on the Internet, you can find your audience. You don’t have to rely on anyone specifically. You can do your own thing.”
Polishchuk, who will be performing at the Toronto Jewish Comedy Festival for the second year in a row, isn’t anticipating any pushback to his set, which typically includes personal anecdotes and commentary about current events.
He said he doesn’t often tell jokes about his Jewish upbringing, but does a bit on the fact that Jews are now sometimes considered white people.
“I definitely wasn’t considered a white guy 18 months ago. But now, I am, and I just joke about that. Like, it’s all well and good that I’m a white guy, but what happens when, you know, people want to come after Jews? Can I just be like, ‘no, I’m just a white guy.’ The joke is that there seems to be so many Nazis all of a sudden and there weren’t so many who were public before and if all these Nazis start rounding up Jews, can I just say, ‘no, no, no, I’m just white,” said Polishchuk.
For more information about the Dec. 26 show at the Comedy Bar in
Toronto – which features Jewish comedians from Canada and U.S., including Jacob Balshin, Asaf Gerchuk and Mike Khardas – visit jewishcomedyfestival.com.