A beer bottle hurtles past your head, you’re heckled off stage and your income relies on landing a part in a cringe-worthy commercial. Life for a standup comedian can be brutal, but for everyone else, it’s hilarious.
Comedian, actor, writer and producer Kirsten Van Ritzen hopes her fellow comics aren’t regularly dodging projectiles or the caustic outcries of drunken hecklers, but she knows the anecdotes in her debut book will hit particularly close to home for those with whom she shares the standup spotlight. The Comedy Diva Diaries, officially launched today, chronicles the struggles of a 29-year-old comedienne who imposes an ultimatum: get famous by her next birthday, or die trying.
Van Ritzen makes it clear, that although she may share a hair colour and profession with the generally unlikeable protagonist Comedy Diva, the similarities end there. The career-obsessed narcissist’s diaries are a complete work of fiction, an outlet the performer first discovered while writing a satirical blog under the same name 10 years ago while living in Toronto.
“I was going to a lot of auditions, going to improv and comedy shows and occasionally things go wrong,” Van Ritzen says. “The casting director says something mean to you or the other actor blows their lines and you can’t say anything about it because that’s just career suicide. You have to be gracious and not even mention that you might have just made six-months rent on an American commercial for deli meat.”
Diaries is a variation on old-style chick lit, but instead of following an “adorkable” character choose between men, learn some life lessons and walk down the aisle, it showcases an acid-tongued and unlikeable woman not fretting about men, but instead obsessing about her career path.
“The fun of playing a character and writing as a character, is that you can say and do the things that you could never do in real life.”
Van Ritzen, an adept character comic has taken on countless such roles over the years, perhaps most recognizably in Victoria for her work acting in and producing Sin City, a live improvised soap opera. Though she’s garnered much attention for her writing in 2012 – her play All My Day Jobs, which debuted at the 2011 Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, was selected for publication in an anthology of plays, had an excerpt published in a major national newspaper, and is currently being produced (selections) by a Winnipeg-based theatre company – penning The Comedy Diva Diaries has been a completely new challenge.
“In live performance, you get that immediate feedback. People laugh or don’t laugh – maybe cry if it’s a play. There’s something interesting about having written something that goes from my brain to my computer and now it’s printed in a permanent way, for other people to read.”
Van Ritzen humbly labels the work “fluffy commercial genre entertainment” – yet it’s the product of support and encouragement from both her husband, author Ian Ferguson, and her brother-in-law, recent Giller Prize winner Will Ferguson, who provided feedback on an early draft of the book.
“I still say I’m an actor first because I’m around people who are real writers and that’s their craft and they’ve won amazing awards. I’m not setting out to compete with any other writer in the world.”
She’s too busy with her next set of projects: co-producing a live television series for Aboriginal Peoples Television Network; acting in Langham Court Theatre’s production of That Face; taking the stage in Sin City; and leading acting and comedy classes. For Van Ritzen, none of those endeavours have involved ultimatums.
“I never set out to pursue fame or fortune,” she says. “Fortune would be awesome if it came my way, but the idea of being chased by paparazzi has absolutely no appeal to me at all. I’d rather do small, interesting projects that I care about with people that I like.”
Van Ritzen launches The Comedy Diva Diaries, Dec. 7 at the Ramada Victoria, 123 Gorge Rd. E. Van Ritzen will read excerpts from her book, between performances by some of her favourite local comics. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $5, with book sales for $15 (cash only).