From Shea Heights to oil country, Lisa Baker dives deep into Alberta/Newfoundland relations ahead of her island return with longtime friend and colleague Mike Lynch.
Shea Heights native who now calls Alberta home, Lisa Baker proudly waves the Newfoundland and Labrador flag as one of our top comedic exports to kick off the new decade.
Having shared the stage with national and international names like Mike McDonald, Tom Green, Rob Schneider, Paul Reiser and Dave Coulier, Baker’s relatable – and at times blue – hysterical comedy has made her an in-demand and sought after name across the country.
Ahead of her provincial return alongside friend and collaborator Mike Lynch for Getting to Know Me Vol. 4, Baker caught up with The Herald to talk mending Alberta/Newfoundland relations, our built-in island humour and more!
What’s the comedy climate in Alberta compared to Newfoundland? Any dramatic differences?
Honestly out here I have a bigger Alberta following than I do a Newfie following out West in the sense of people that will come to the show and say, look, I came to see you tonight. I do have quite a few Western followers, which blows my mind. All I had to get rid of were the local references. They didn’t know what Quidi Vidi was or Torbay or Shea Heights or any of that stuff. I remember when I worked in the trades I remember saying to one of the fellas one time who was bugging me, “Buddy if you knew where I was from in Newfoundland you’d shut up by now because I am from Shea Heights.’’
But other than local references I didn’t have to change much. They love my accent. Even when I do crowd work and I’m talking to a woman in the audience and I say, “now what’s your name me ducky?” and they’ll just lose it.
When I’m talking about my accent to Albertans, they’re laughing at the whole thing because “Oh my God it’s hilarious,” but in Newfoundland they’re laughing at the miscommunication factor, because to them what I’m saying sounds right.
There’s nothing wrong with the way I’m talking but here they think this whole thing is hilarious, “she sounds like a leprechaun.”
Burning question, how is life for a NL comedian living in Alberta post-election?
I don’t typically do political or topical humor. I just don’t. It divides an audience. It divides a room. We see enough of that, we hear enough of that, so I try to focus on just silliness.
But I do joke about how hard it is right now to be a Newfoundlander in Alberta and my boyfriend’s Alberta born and raised, which is something I never thought I would ever end up in. And so I talk about our language barrier and stuff. He talks funny. He has to say every single letter and every single word and every single word in every single sentence. Like who has that kind of time?
I talk about how with our relationship, we’re trying to mend Alberta/Newfoundland relations. The joke gets dirty, but I do also say the b’ys up here say they’re going to declare war against Newfoundland. Then I say yes now, why don’t you finish the Henday first? There’s a ring road they’ve been working on out here (Anthony Henday Drive) that they’ve been working on since I moved here seven years ago. You won’t get out of bed for less than 30 dollars an hour. We’ll get out for EI. We’re going to win this war.
I also talk about how I’m a reverse Newfie. I go to Newfoundland, I make the money and I come back to Alberta and spend it in the land of five per cent sales tax. So I’m a reverse Newfie. But I lead up to it explaining that I do love it here and this is my home. By the time I do it they’re clapping and cheering and they love the joke. I’ve told it in small towns where I did not think it would go over well at all.
What’s your take on Newfoundland’s comedy climate? It feels like all of us know more than a few folks who are inherently funny.
I don’t think I understood how lucky I was at the time. Comics up here that have come up through the scene in Edmonton and out West have said to me how are you so good at dealing with a heckler? And I said, because in Newfoundland the heckler may very well be funnier than you. It’s almost like a free education in comedy.
Up here you got some guy, some rough neck on his couple of days off and he’s sitting in the audience loaded drunk screaming “Go Oilers!,” where in Newfoundland the person that’s yelling stuff at you is actually saying something quite clever and witty. And so you have to try to top that.
I feel like if anything it makes us better comics. We had to hustle that little bit harder and we had to grind that little bit harder because our scene wasn’t as big and we didn’t have as much mic time. But at the same time we also have so many more experiences and relationships to draw from to be able to create authentic humor and write those jokes and come up with those funny scenarios, because nine times out of ten we’re not even exaggerating. We’re telling this story verbatim and it is hilarious. It’s a normal way of life for us. If anything we come by more naturally.
With folks like yourself, Mike Lynch, Colin Hollett, Matt Wright, Vicky Mullaley and others, it feels like there’s a new wave of Newfoundland born comics. Are you still keeping tabs on the scene here?
The raw talent on the island that I’ve seen develop into a polished sort of thing is absolutely beautiful. And even more so when you think that they did it on their own. I know they have access to the Internet. You have social media and Netflix, all that kind of stuff. They can see comedy, but still it’s not the same as having access to pro comics that are touring. I love the fact that we kind of go back, we help them out and we can stay in touch, and we can all talk to each other. But what they’re creating there is almost unheard of.
You’ll be returning to Newfoundland with your longtime friend Mike Lynch for the fourth installment of Getting to Know Me. What’s your thoughts on how the show has progressed?
It’s incredible. The first year when he messaged me and said it sold out I was like, what? Because the tickets just went on sale like 10 minutes ago. Our thing is we’ll roll with it as long as they’ll let us. Certainly we intend to do it as long as possible. We love it. We love the fact that we can be silly and creative and write these foolish sketches and people enjoy them as much as they do. We’re so grateful for that.
The response we get is overwhelming. It really is. From the time that we announce it to the tickets going on sale, to showing up on the island to show and everything, the whole experience is unbelievable. Newfoundland makes you feel like rock stars.
I can’t thank Mike enough for bringing me on board to do this with him. For whatever reason, and we don’t question it, Mike and I just work really well together. We write really well together. He’s very close to my family. My mom’s birthday was yesterday and he went over and dropped off flowers for her. We’re all pretty good friends. But I’m so stupidly proud of Mike Lynch. And he’s so humble, which annoys me sometimes. But at the same time it’s working for him. I laugh and think like dude, just be a little bit arrogant will ya? In the Edmonton scene here he is just adored. The comics here absolutely adore him. Like I’m a typical Newfoundland woman. I’m always angry, I’m always idling on about an eight, is what I tell people. But Mike is very sweet and kind and a courteous kid. But with Newfoundlanders, I could cry when I think about how lucky we are and how wonderful it is that we’re still being embraced that way.
Tickets to Getting to Know Me Vol.4 with Baker and Mike Lynch at Labrador West Arts and Culture Centre on Jan. 26th, Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre on Jan. 29th, Holy Heart Theatre on Feb.1-3 and Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre on Feb. 8th available now.