All-lawyer standup comedy show Good Laughs back for another year

Both law and standup demand practitioners think in terms of 'angles,' says lawyer/performer

All-lawyer standup comedy show Good Laughs back for another year
Ceilidh Joan Henderson, Fabian Suárez-Amaya

Good Laughs is back for another year to showcase some of the comedic talent lying latent in the legal profession.

The all-lawyer standup event is at 7:30 pm EST on Thursday, May 30 at the Comedy Bar Danforth. The lineup includes a family lawyer, several litigators, a federal department of justice tax lawyer, and a Crown prosecutor. The emcee for the evening is Steve Patterson, known for hosting the radio show and podcast, the Debaters, on CBC. Good Laughs will raise money for Michael Garron Hospital Foundation and is sponsored by Lax O'Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb.

Not all the participants have previous stand-up experience. Fabian Suárez-Amaya, a corporate commercial litigator at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt, says he has no comedy background and is also “not really a big consumer of comedy” either. But he likes to joke around and says that the show will be a great way to manifest his “silly personality.” He agreed to participate when the show’s organizer, Michael Currie, asked him out of the blue if he would perform in a charity standup comedy event. He thought it would be funny to immediately agree without asking for context or details.

“Now I'm facing the consequences of my actions,” he says. “I thought it would be funny. But I actually have to do it. So, I’ve got to prepare, I guess.”

“If somebody asks me to do something – if there's no downside or limited downside… I'll probably say yes. Here, the downside could be complete obliteration of my professional prospects, depending on how tragic my set is.”

During his first year of law school, Currie organized a standup comedy show for students as a morale booster. That is how Ceilidh Joan Henderson got her start in standup.

“First-year law school was just such a slog,” she says. “It was the hardest thing I've done, and I think a lot of students felt that way.”

Currie told her he needed an “obnoxious woman,” so she put a set together. Henderson’s father was an outdoor educator, and she spent her summers working as a canoe-trip guide for a summer camp.

“I didn't even have TV growing up. I didn't know what comedy was – or pop culture, really. Then there I am, trying to figure out how to write a set, and I loved it.”

She says it was one of the most memorable nights in law school and everyone broke out of the law-student bravado and revealed themselves. “I got the bug, and I've been doing comedy ever since.”

Henderson now co-runs a family law firm, Teshebaeva Henderson, in Ottawa, and does standup regularly. She recently had a gig at Yuk Yuks and spoke with the club’s manager about why, when compared with other professionals like engineers, doctors, and accountants, lawyers are disproportionately involved in standup comedy. What’s the deal with lawyers and comedy?

The wiring of a lawyer’s brain happens to be compatible with standup, says Henderson. Lawyers must be multi-dimensional in their thinking. They must think in “angles.” This works both for advocating for a client and crafting a joke. “If I approach this negotiation from this angle, it will help my client meet their objective,” she says. “If I take this story, and approach it from this angle, it’s more likely to get a laugh.”

“Lawyers have strategic wiring.”

The most obvious similarity between the two practices is the need to know one’s audience, says Suárez-Amaya. If a lawyer is writing submissions in a court case, or an email to a client or colleague, it is crucial they be able to anticipate how the message is going to land. In the same way, a comedian needs to know their audience’s frame of reference. A Seinfeld joke may work for a crowd of Gen Xers or Millennials, but it probably will not resonate with a younger audience.

“But having said that, I don't really have any experience,” he says.

The legal practice, while it can be heavy, can also provide material, says Henderson. She has one family-law client whose ex-wife made a bunch of serious accusations about his character and parenting abilities. Among the ex-wife’s allegations was that he had an anger problem and neglected his children. But even though they were awful, he shrugged off the accusations because he knew they were not true. The one that did bother him, however, was that he was not making the children healthy meals. He prided himself on his cooking ability.

Family law is “so real and personal,” says Henderson. But in her own experience, comedy can take the edge off. Her parents separated when she was 19. Her dad would come and pick her and her younger siblings up for parenting time and he would play Mitch Hedberg in the car.

“You're sitting there and you're all angry… you don't really know how you feel, and there's a lot of emotion.”

“It was great. It was a really nice, humbling thing. It sort of took the stress down, and we just remembered: we're all people.”

In addition to Currie, Suárez-Amaya, Henderson, the comics performing at Good Laughs are Zac Delong, Will McDowell, Hart Shouldice, Awi Sinha, and Kim Stouffer.

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