You can never get enough Candy. Two years ago, Candy Palmater had just finished filming the second season of her …
Brain CandyBy Jessica Burns | Mar 29, 2012
Tags: Candy Palmeter
This article is a finalist for the 2011 Atlantic Journalism Awards in the Atlantic Magazine: Best Profile Article category.
This Candy isn’t sugar-coated.
“I’m the wrong age, wrong race, wrong weight to be on television,” concedes 42-year-old Candy Palmater.
She has been a lawyer, a comedian, a columnist, a radio personality and an education liaison. And now this gay, heavy-set, native woman, with visible tattoos covering a large portion of her body is the star of her own variety show, The Candy Show, on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network.
But when asked to sift through the array of labels and stereotypes and come up with a lone word to define herself, she doesn’t hesitate. “Kind—I’m kind,” she responds. “In life, I face racism, homophobia. I notice people that don’t know me make judgments about me.”
Rather than let that bother her, she draws on her peculiarity for material. In the comedy acts woven throughout her shows, Palmater insists, “the only person who is the brunt of every joke is me.”
Musician Josh Hogan first met Palmater at the Maritime Tattoo Festival a few years ago. “She has kept me smiling ever since,” he says. “Candy has always been good for some off-colour laughs, big hugs and great conversation with me about heavy metal.” Hogan guest starred in an episode in the first season of The Candy Show.
“That persona you see in person is the one you see on TV,” says production manager Jennifer Comeau, “very warm and funny, very real. She has a lot to offer to the public. Just the genuine way that she communicates her opinions.”
In the pilot episode of The Candy Show, Palmater describes coming out to her parents, and bringing her girlfriend (now her wife) Denise Tompkins home to meet them. “My mother’s reaction, God love her, at 83 years old was ‘that’s the first time you’ve brought somebody home who has a job and has never been to jail. We love her!’” she recalls. “She’s so open-minded.”
Palmater grew up the youngest of seven children in Point la Nim, a village in northeastern New Brunswick. Today it’s home to about 350 people, although she says the number was much lower back then. She followed her heart (and a guy) to Halifax in the summer of 1989. “He was from my home town but going to school at Dalhousie. The summer ended our romance but I came anyway because I loved this city so much.”
Although The Candy Show’s first season was just last year, the concept for it came about nearly three decades ago. “I was about 14,” she says. “I had a beautiful pink bedroom and all my metal posters. I was a metal head. I wanted to be a rock star.”
But it became clear to Palmater early on that this dream would never be realized. “My mother said ‘you’ve got a lot of talents dear, but singing isn’t one of them,’” she laughs.
And so the idea for The Candy Show was born instead, out of nothing more than a young teen’s daydreams. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Mötley Crüe was right here in my bedroom and I could ask them all the questions I wanted to ask them?” she smiles. Years later, she’s realized her dream: “My set people created this pink palace with this king-sized pink bed with a heart-shaped headboard.”
After performing on stage, guests make their way to Candy’s bed with her to chat and then autograph her bedroom wall. “People thought it was this boudoir, this sexual thing, but I said ‘It’s not like that. Remember when you were a little girl…’” she says. “In my heart of hearts, I knew the bed would resonate.”
Although it’s a good fit for her “on-air” persona, “Candy” isn’t a stage name. “My parents gave me a name like Candy hoping I’d become a hooker or a stripper,” she laughs. “I became a lawyer, so they weren’t that far off.”
“My parents gave me a name like Candy hoping I’d become a hooker or a stripper… I became a lawyer, so they weren’t that far off.” —Candy Palmeter
That career grew from a life of activism. “I unionized a Tim Hortons when I was 24 or 25,” she recalls. “I reassured all my coworkers that I knew the labour laws and we couldn’t be fired for unionizing.”
They were officially unionized one morning around 11 a.m. By 4 p.m., the store was gone. “It shocked me,” Palmater says. “That was a defining moment in terms of understanding that you need the education to have
She studied law at Dalhousie University and became a lawyer. But, it wasn’t what she’d hoped. “The stuff we were doing, and the people we were doing it for, was not the advocacy dream that I had,” she says. “[I realized] I cannot do something for the rest of my life that doesn’t speak to who I am as a person.”
Today Palmater leads something of a double life. She works in the provincial education department as the liaison officer for Aboriginal students. She’s also obtaining her Masters of Education from St. Francis Xavier University.
On her desk in her very professional looking office sit a stack of typical looking business cards stating her position and contact information as a liaison officer. Behind them, but not quite hidden, sits a second stack of business cards. Hot pink letters pop off of a black background advertising The Candy Show—the other half of her life.
The two lives tend to overlap. She often speaks in schools on such topics as the power of language and overcoming adversity. She says students often do their research and know of the show ahead of time.
Although she doesn’t bring her comedy to these talks, she says this aspect of her life helps student relate to her. “I’m always inundated [afterwards] with people messaging me telling me their stories about how they’re going to come out because I’m out,” she says.
Filming for the second season of the show has recently come to end; the new episodes will air in September on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network. Palmater describes this season as “pinker and shinier” than ever. “I played bass with Neon Highway,” she says. “I got set on fire. I did a hand balancing act with Atlantic Cirque. I’ll try just about anything.”
Palmater says it is important to her that her show continue to showcase local and Atlantic Canadian talent. “Appearing on The Candy Show is great opportunity for the bands I have worked with,” says Hogan, who is also a publicist for several bands, citing extra exposure on TV and online. “Candy and crew are eager to support all styles of music including the louder styles while much of the mainstream pays little attention.”
Although the show airs on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, Palmater stresses that it’s for everyone. “The feeling I try to create for that audience is no matter who you are, what you look like, you’re perfect the way you are,” she says.
She cites a line from a column by well-known Canadian writer and Sunday Herald columnist Silver Donald Cameron that always stuck with her. Cameron described the audience of The Candy Show as “an audience of minorities—black, white, Asian, Aboriginal, young, old, men, women, gay, straight—brought together entirely by taste and attitude.”
With the success the show has seen already, Palmater says some fans question her decision to remain in Halifax, telling her that she could gain a much larger following in a city like Toronto or Los Angeles. But she insists she has no plans to leave.
“I can’t say enough about how much I love Halifax,” she says. “I love that I can get a good meal from any culture in the world. I can lay down money to see great bands. My city is big enough to do all that but small enough that if I break down on the side of the road, someone will stop and help me. It’s just a big old hometown.”
Palmater loves Halifax for the same reasons people love Palmater—nuance, texture, complexity. “There [is] a feel to it I couldn’t find anywhere else, gritty layers,” she says. “I think it has a potential that hasn’t even been realized yet.”