Comedian Travis Lindsay vowed he wouldn’t perform virtual shows—then a Zoom invitation reignited his career, leading to bookings aplenty and a This Hour Has 22 Minutes gigT
ravis Lindsay began his stand-up comedy career at age 16, when he didn’t make the cut for his high-school improv team.
Stung by the rejection, he signed up for a talent show instead.
There he proved himself, winning the competition.
“With my self-esteem and being self-conscious, I thought it was because they didn’t think I was funny,” he says. “I didn’t even care about winning the talent show; I just know it felt better when I was on stage. It was just this weird feeling of ‘Oh, this is where I am at my most comfortable and my most self,’ which is ridiculous because I am a horrendously shy person off stage.”
From that moment, Lindsay was hooked on performing standup.
“I always like making people laugh and thought I could do it for a job,” Lindsay says. “Then, something clicked … I just got addicted to it. It’s really hard to describe the feeling of when you connect with the audience with your standup.”
But making comedy into a career is tough. He moved to Toronto in 2014 to attend Humber College, where he studied comedy, writing, and performance. There, he had one of his worst performances ever.
Two campuses were hosting Humber’s Got Talent, and he went to the wrong one. When he finally got on stage, the audience was indifferent. From the balcony, someone yelled “Just get off, man! Stop doing this to yourself.”
It hurt, but it goes with the territory.
“With comedy, if you are going to do this and pursue this as a career, you have to have horrendous shows,” Lindsay says. “You are going to have bad nights, but in the long run, they make you a better comic because if you are only doing good, then you should leave whatever room you are doing it is because you’re not growing.”
And his next show was the polar opposite. “It was great, and boom—my confidence was back,” he recalls. “You are only as good as your last show.”
Before the pandemic, Lindsay had a busy schedule, with books coming quickly after a mad Christmas rush of performances throughout the Maritimes. Then came March 2020, and the calendar quickly cleared. A planned Western Canadian tour evaporated.
Like many entertainers, Lindsay switched to virtual shows, but misses the energy of a live crowd.
“It was a weird adjustment,” he says. “I was like ‘Yeah, I am done—I don’t know what to do’ because this is all I have done since I was a teenager. That was a scary thing. At first, I was very anti-internet shows … You don’t connect in the same way.”
But he accepted an invitation to do a Zoom show, and it was better than he feared. “They are 100% not the same, but they can be fun,” he says. “It does keep your brain sharp.”
And there have been some silver linings for Lindsay. When the virtual Halifax ComedyFest happened last autumn, Lindsay had more performances than he had scheduled for the original live version. He was also booked as an opening act before tapings CBC’s This Hour has 22 Minutes, leading to on-camera appearances and a writing gig with the show.
“For the first six or seven months, it was this big, awful struggle but thankfully, I am fortunate enough to be here in Halifax where shows are going on again now,” he says of his recent success. “I have this weird guilt because all this good stuff happened because of COVID. I’ve never had more things going on in a time when you are not supposed to have things going on. It’s an odd feeling.”
Christina Edwards, one of the organizers of Halifax ComedyFest, first saw Lindsay six years ago when he did a matinee performance at the Lower Deck, competing against a dozen other comedians in Halifax’s Funniest, where the winner booking a spot in the Festival. He didn’t win, but he made an impression.
“Smart funny is the best kind of funny to be,” Edwards says. “And he has really smart, funny standup material. He’s been at the festival two years in a row now. He’s always done an amazing job. We love when we have someone local that we can put in front of the television camera to help promote, spread their wings, and their content across the country.”
Edwards believes Lindsay has a lot of success yet to come.
“When he first started, we knew that he was such an incredibly talented smart comedian,” she says. “I love that he’s such a hard worker … I have great hopes for Travis. He’s a smart and funny guy.”
Lindsay is a storytelling comedian, drawing on daily life, current events, and his own experiences.
“It’s a lot of me rambling until something coherent comes out,” he says. “All my stuff has happened, so I have a template, and then it’s up to me to get the jokes within the stories and try to find a punchline … When it comes to sitting down and writing material, I have a hard time doing that.”
The trick is not to force it. “I find that the moment I try to be funny, it’s out the window,” he explains. “There will be nights where I have an open mic, and I want to do new stuff, but nothing has come to me all day and then as I am walking on stage, my brain finally loads, and it’s like boom, boom, boom—three ideas and I kind of just go off.”
Lindsay has had several comedy mentors. Brian Thompson helped him become comfortable on stage, while Brian Aylward influenced his storytelling style. He also recalls the kindness Peter White showed when he had his mic at Yuk Yuks.
“These are the guys that told me what I was doing right and how to shape a five-minute set and an eight-minute set and welcomed me in this scene,” he says. “That’s so crucial to anyone who wants to do this for any length of time … It can be a very lonely game. It’s great to have people look out for you and have your back.”
Lindsay believes he’s the only full-time Black Atlantic Canadian comedian. His audiences are often largely white, which means the stories from his life sometimes leave them unsure how to react.
“I am open about my experiences as a person of colour,” he says. “More progressive people can sometimes be like ‘I don’t know if we’re allowed to laugh’ … I am here telling you on stage through jokes you’re allowed to laugh at this experience; just make sure you are laughing at the right parts.”
Lindsay reminds audiences to listen to what the performer is really saying. “They’ll hear a word, and then immediately, they’ll shut down,” he says. “Listen for what direction the word is going and then make that judgment call.”
Yuk Yuk’s Halifax mainstay Francois Weber believes Lindsay plays a key part in Halifax’s comedic community.
“He’s just consistently writing,” he says. “It’s that dedication that he has to his craft. He has the ability to touch on social issues, which as a comic, isn’t easy to do. We watch it a lot on Netflix and on other comics in the States who have reached that pro level, but it’s not an easy thing to do. That’s why the best of the best can do it—you have to teach your position, and you have to back that position up with facts and with funny. It takes somebody special.”
Lindsay remains busy and, if the pandemic permits, hopes to perform in June. He’s also working on his second comedy album.
For now, Lindsay remains focused on giving some levity during challenging times.
“People need to laugh,” he says. “It’s a tension breaker, it’s an important thing, and it’s also a way to get the truth out to people that may not have heard the truth any other way. It’s a much more palatable way to mention stuff that is going on in the world that people weren’t thinking about or apprehensive before. But I think if you can make someone laugh on a topic, you can make someone listen to your point of view. It’s something that can bring a bunch of people together. And in these times, it’s just fun to talk about pizza pockets and Baby Yoda.”