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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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Comedian tackles difficult topics with humour

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Lahna Turner and husband Ralphie Mays run a comedy podcast called Perfect 10. [Dabney Morris photo]

Lahna Turner says she can find humour in any situation.

“That’s one of the greatest things a comic could do,” says the edgy and sometimes politically incorrect comedian. “How better to deal with horrible situations than with humour?”

The Toronto-born comedian says being a petite woman with a sweet personality means she can get away with jokes that might seem offensive coming from someone else, she says. But in a sense, it’s a double-edged sword.

“On the flipside, it’s also a little more shocking,” she says. “If I was a brawny guy, my content wouldn’t seem quite as edgy.”

Turner’s standup act often involves her performing jokes in the form of songs. She stands on stage, strumming her guitar and singing in her high-pitched voice about sex, race and other hot-button topics.

“I don’t think there’s anything you shouldn’t talk about,” she says, even going as far as to make jokes about explaining that she considers it part of her Jewish heritage to talk about tragedy. “If you don’t talk about it, it goes away. Or if you don’t talk about, it just gets worse.”

She isn’t scared to tease her audience. For example, in one of her most popular clips on YouTube, she sings what she calls The Stereotype Song.

“This is a special song about how stereotypes aren’t true – except in Asia, Asians are bad drivers, too,” she sings, singling out an Asian audience member. “It’s cool, because you guys can build cars, you just can’t drive them! Thanks for coming out though and be careful driving home.”

Her performance, while edgy, is not meant to offend anybody, she says, but she thinks that people have their own tastes in comedy, and she understands that not everybody will like her humour.

“You don’t go to see a rock ’n’ roll show if you enjoy country music,” she says, adding that it’s almost impossible to write a decent comedy show that doesn’t touch anybody’s nerves.

Turner was born in Toronto, but moved with her family to Houston, Texas, at the start of Grade 6. Having spent her early childhood in North York, she had no idea what to expect from Texas.

“I literally thought when I was a little girl that I’d be riding on a horse to school,” she says.

The biggest shock, she says, was the lack of Jews in Houston. Having come from a particularly Jewish area of Toronto, she thought it was the norm.

“You move to Texas and everything changes,” she says, adding that while there are Jews in Houston, the majority did not live in her part of the city. “You are very much a minority.

“The joke is that I’m Canadian and Texan, so I say, ‘Howdy, eh?’”

Turner, who’s 38 but says she feels like she’s 26, began her comedy career 14 years ago, performing funny tunes with her guitar.

“It’s very addicting, being onstage. You either love it or you hate it and will never do it again,” she says. “I immediately loved it. I’m very good at writing funny comedy songs. I have a knack for it.”

She spent only a few months performing for free before she received her first paycheque for her standup.

“I remember it as clear as day. The owner walked up to me and put $20 in my hand,” she says. “I couldn’t believe I just got paid for doing that. That was it for me. If I could get paid to do this, why would I do anything else?”

Her husband, Ralphie May, is also a comedian, best known as the runner-up in the NBC reality show Last Comic Standing. He, too, performs edgy jokes, often looking toward his own life, such as his health issues, for inspiration.

Last year, he was hospitalized and almost died, which was obviously a really difficult situation, Turner says. But then he took that experience and turned it into an hour of standup material.

“There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the room, yet it is hilarious at the same time,” Turner says. “I think when you have some hurt in your heart, it makes you funnier.”

Her act, she says, doesn’t have anything that would make people cry. “I haven’t reached that level where I would feel comfortable sharing like that,” she says. “I think being able to do that is a wonderful gift.”

The two comedians have a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. Turner says the kids don’t understand the jokes yet, but she wouldn’t try to hide them from it. She performed two weeks before giving birth to her daughter and two days before her son, so they’ve been exposed to her act since before they were born, she says.

“I have a couple friends who have had babies and as women they change,” she says. “The joke is they had the baby and they forget how they had the baby… That, to me, doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Turner and May host a podcast together called Perfect 10, which brings fans into the couple’s personal lives on a weekly basis.

Periodically, they’ve been asked to be the spotlight of a reality show, Turner says. They’ve filmed pilots before, which were not picked up. However, she says they found the experience too invasive. The podcast invites fans into their lives in a less invasive medium.

They sprinkle their kids into the show whenever it’s funny, Turner says, mentioning one episode where they had relationship expert, Andrea Syrtash, council the two kids on their relationships.

“All kids are really funny,” she says. “It’s a refreshing way to see the world. They’re a big inspiration for me now… and I work very hard to give them the greatest life imaginable.”

To find out more about Lahna Turner and her podcast, visit perfect10pod.com.

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