Comedian Eitan Shalmon has always been a performer. As a child, he would put on plays at a resort his family would go to, and it was there that he realized he loved making people laugh and getting a big applause. Most of all, he loved the attention.
Since then, Shalmon, now 26, has been trained in all sorts of performance styles. During his time at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, and later at the University of Toronto, he discovered comedy was his true calling.
“I like the direct response of telling a joke and then the audience responding with laughter. You get that immediate satisfaction. You know you’re doing a good job if you get that response from the audience right away,” said Shalmon, who grew up watching comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal.
“I’m friends with a lot of actors, and they all say that what they love about acting is getting into the character and becoming this different person. But I really enjoy making people laugh and knowing that I’m doing a good job, so it’s purely a selfish thing,” he said.
In fact, Shalmon, along with his troupe, Sketch Betch, will be performing their original show, Life’s A Betch, at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival. It discusses and satirizes life’s daily inconveniences, and is the combined work of five writers, each with their own distinct viewpoints and writing styles. The show will open on July 6 at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, and will run until July 16.
“It’s been interesting working with them because everyone has their own style, and marrying all of our different techniques and styles into one show has been a really fun process. I think it’s important to not try to change or compromise our own voices to create a show,” said Shalmon, who has been featured in television shows on the History Channel and YTV, among many other accomplishments.
Shalmon, who grew up in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto, is the son of two Israelis who met in the Israel Defence Forces and moved to Canada in the early 1980s. Despite not living in a particularly Jewish area, Shalmon described his upbringing as very “culturally Jewish,” though not particularly religious.
“Going to a non-Jewish school, I did feel like a bit of an outsider, in some senses, but I think that sort of ‘outside looking in’ perspective can offer for a lot of comedy, because most people in the mainstream don’t necessarily see the funny quirks about their culture. An outsider is a great person to offer that perspective and shine a different light on mainstream culture,” said Shalmon.
However, identifying as both a Jewish and gay comedian has proved to be a challenge for Shalmon, due to frequent criticism of Israeli politics coming from the LGBTQ community. Shalmon described it as a “balancing act” of trying to keep both communities happy, and “making nobody happy” by doing so.
“I’ve had a challenging struggle about being proud of my Israeli heritage and also being an out, gay man in Toronto. I want to be proud of both and not feel shamed about one side or the other, and when one side of your identity is attacking the other – and I don’t really know how to feel about that – it has been a struggle in the past couple of years,” explained Shalmon.
Shalmon said he believes it is important to maintain an open perspective and try to understand both sides, and he has even managed to apply this unique perspective to some of his comedic writing.
“You can find humour in literally anything, and I find that’s the freedom of comedy and that’s why I love it so much. You can be as weird as you want to be and you’ll be able to find comedy in almost any situation. Whether it be mundane or sad or serious, you can make anything funny.”
Visit the Toronto Fringe website for more information about Sketch Betch and it’s upcoming show.