Rodney Ramsey has been a stand-up comedian for more than 20 years. A co-creator of the Unknown Comedy Club, a first-of-its-kind virtual showcase for Canadian comics, he has appeared on Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud network, closed out a BBC World Service comedy special and starred in CBC’s Absofreakinglutely—a round-up of some of Montreal’s funniest comics. But it wasn’t until eight years into his career that Ramsey found himself on a bill headlined exclusively by Black comedians. It was a welcome change, he tells The Coast.
“I ended up working a weekend with two other Black comics … and it was the most remarkable thing to me,” says Ramsay, who grew up in the far west end of Montreal. “We got to talking, and I’m like, ‘Are there any Black tours in this country?’”
So began the idea for the Underground Comedy Railroad Tour, a showcase of Black Canadian comics that Ramsey has been co-running for 12 years and counting. Co-created by Toronto comic Daniel Woodrow, the tour is the longest-running Black comedy showcase in Canada. It stops in Halifax this Saturday, Feb. 10, at Pickford & Black—and the show promises to deliver.
22 Minutes’ Travis Lindsay: ‘I’ve been the only Black comic down here pretty much my entire time’
Travis Lindsay can relate to Ramsey. Born and raised in Lower Sackville, the Halifax-based comic has made a career out of his sharp wit and storytelling flair. (Watch Lindsay’s bit on “cool names” for a sample.) Since winning his first talent show at Sackville High at age 16, the 31-year-old has been a regular in Halifax’s comedy clubs—even sneaking in as an under-aged comic so he could perform in bars before he was old enough to drink in them.
“I found out that if you have a note from the Liquor Commission saying, ‘Hey, I’m a performing artist,’ they’ll let you in,” Lindsay says, speaking by phone with The Coast. “I wasn’t patient, so I just forged it… it was very shoddy, typed up at the library.”
Lindsay’s debut comedy album, 2019’s The Kid is Alright, reached #1 on the iTunes comedy charts, and he’s been a regular on This Hour Has 22 Minutes—Canada’s hallowed ground for television comedy—since 2021. More remarkably, he’s found success on his own terms: Where other comics might have left for Toronto or the United States in search of opportunities, Lindsay has carved out an enviable career at home. (Next month, he’ll host the JUNO Comedy Showcase at Alderney Landing.) But working in comedy in Atlantic Canada has come with its own trade-offs.
“I’ve been the only Black comic down here pretty much my entire time,” Lindsay says.
In front of a good crowd, that distinction makes little difference beyond the make-up of Lindsay’s audiences. Maybe it colours the jokes he’ll tell.
“I had always thought that if I’m funny enough, they’ll just see who I am and not what I am,” Lindsay wrote for The Maritime [EDIT] magazine.
But then, there are other times—like during a corporate Christmas gig, when one spectator shouted a racial slur. (“That was the only time a show almost made me quit comedy,” Lindsay continued.) Or the time, as Lindsay joked during a Just For Laughs special, that he finished a set in small-town New Brunswick, only for the bar’s waitress to tell him, “just so you know, I’m down with the Blacks.”
“That’s not as comforting as you think it is,” he joked. “I didn’t know what to say. I just gave her [a Black power salute] and let her go on her way. I [figured], ‘Well, this is going in the act.’”
Having a show like the Underground Comedy Railroad Tour visit Halifax—one with a talented troupe of Black Canadian comics, from Daniel Woodrow to Keesha Brownie—has been great “on a personal level, as well as a career level,” Lindsay tells The Coast. This February will mark his second time joining the tour for a set—and the appreciation is mutual.
“He’s so smart,” Ramsey says of Lindsay. “He’s a craftsman, and you can see it when he’s up there. I respect the hell out of him.”
Tickets are still available for the pair of shows at Pickford & Black (1869 Upper Water Street) on Saturday evening. The first show starts at 7:30pm. The late show starts at 10:30pm.