Comic finds the funny in real life

Monica Hamburg and her panel of comedians perform at the Freestanding Room this month. (Patrick St-Amour photo)

For Monica Hamburg, both the minor and major catastrophes of life have the potential to be funny. It’s the best way to cope, she believes.

“Every experience informs my material on some level. No matter what weirdness is happening. Humour makes everything in life feel more manageable. That it can be useful is the silver lining you try to put on it as a comic,” she says.

On March 13, she puts her theory into practice with The Work Jerk, one of a series of comedy nights she is staging at the intimate Freestanding Room, the co-operative performance and development space on the third floor of 4324 St-Laurent Blvd., in Montreal.

“For The Work Jerk, I’m working in collaboration with Peter J. Radomski who’s a hilarious comedian. The theme is strange job experiences we’ve had and strange co-workers,” says Hamburg, who next tackles insulting or oddly worded slips of paper in Hurtful Fortune Cookies.

“That’s on March 20. We also talk about whether you think it is some sort of assessment of your life when you get them or if they are just fun.”

Then on March 28 she hosts and performs in Please Elaborate where a group of comics expands on topics arising from the audience’s questions.

Some of Hamburg’s shows are in a panel format. Others allot each comic seven to 10 minutes. The format changes from show to show. But Hamburg has one aim: “I like to bring a little bit of happiness and goofiness into the audience’s life.”

Hamburg grew up with the impression that the world was not a funny place, and then had to swim against that current.

“My Hungarian-born parents had a very difficult time in a country that they didn’t feel a part of. My grandparents were in concentration camps. Both my father and my mother lived through the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and my dad came to Montreal as a refugee in 1964. My mom, who is 10 years younger than him, followed in 1969 through a matchmaker,” Hamburg says.

“Mom is now a widow and sees everyone as the enemy. She has a real attachment to being miserable. For me, it was very hard to be a person who is largely North American and wants to progress and be happy.”

Hamburg turned her relationship with her mother into a comedy routine and developed it into a show joined by fellow comics, called Mom Off!

“The title is like ‘sound off’ but also like ‘bug off.’ We all vent our frustrations with our mothers in a way that is hopefully therapeutic. People can relate because I know a lot of them have strange relationships with their parents,” she says.

Hamburg started her career in acting, moving to New York at 20 where she studied theatre and did voiceovers for video games, commercials and documentaries.

She fell into comedy as a byproduct of podcasting, where she would interview comedians, and ended up wanting to try it herself, haunting open mics at the Comedy Nest.

A six-year hiatus in the business world to augment her earnings led to the field of marketing, something she still does on the side. For the past four-and-a-half years, comedy has been her main focus, including solo tours to Nashville, Los Angeles, Memphis and New York.

Craigslost, her panel show about the quirks of online ads, played in Toronto a number of times and she’ll mount it in Montreal this spring. Pornomedy met with success at the Montreal Comiccon last year.

“It’s a comedy panel show about porn with some standup elements,” she quips. That show returns in May and cements her reputation as Montreal’s queen of “fun and evil because I have a dark sense of humour.”


Tickets for her March shows are at