Everything I know about gratitude might be wrong.
I’ve tried appreciating the important things in my life by making lists: I’ve got my loved ones, standup comedy and my ego (which is just strong enough to tell me that I should be on stage performing standup comedy).
However, according to the Huberman Lab podcast where a Stanford professor tells his audience about evidence-based ways to improve their lives, my method of listing things I’ve grateful for might not be the most effective strategy.
Science says that gratitude and its holistic benefits — including anxiety reduction and an improved immune system — is based in story.
Huberman quotes a study that showed people who listened to the same story in different times and places showed similar heart rates and breathing changes at the same points in the story, no matter where they were or when they listened.
Since a comedian’s goal is to get everyone to laugh at the same time during jokes and stories, it makes sense to me that narrative can change our bodies at this fundamental level. But I didn’t know this was backed up by science.
Huberman goes on to describe an effective gratitude practice as one where you remember a story about someone appreciating you, or a story of someone else receiving genuine appreciation. When you find this story, note down some details and how you or the person receiving the gratitude felt before and after and the emotional weight of the story. When you have these bullet points, you have a shortcut of sorts to return to a state of gratitude.
Doing this at least three times a week for just one to five minutes can provide great benefit, which is more fully outlined in the episode and show notes.
I love comedy for its ability to pack a lot of story into short bits. I love that story is so engrained in us as humans that even thinking about someone else getting appreciation can improve your own life.
Given that, I’d like to share with you how much I appreciate Vancouver comedian, comedy producer and community builder Jackie Hoffart.
A brave space for new comedy
I met Hoffart in 2016 and we figured out that we both liked vulnerability in comedy, disliked hateful jokes and were going to do what we could to make the standup scene feel more welcoming to folks with marginalized identities. They really put the work into this, which is why I appreciate them so much.
Hoffart knew what kind of scene they wanted to be a part of, then built it. They did this by running a weekly show in the Projection Room at the Fox Cabaret and intentionally booking women, queer folks and folks of colour with one token straight cis-male per show at maximum.
This produced a sort of low-key revolution. Some felt this approach to the lineup was exclusionary. Some people, myself included, could feel our minds expanding: that you could have a comedy show that promoted diversity explicitly felt extraordinary, subversive and healing.
I started comedy in 2007, around the time when Christopher Hitchens’ hot take on "Why Women Aren’t Funny" was floating around. I can remember the feeling of flushed anger reading it, this whole essay in Vanity Fair that was claiming to be edgy for saying the very thing that people already believed, that I could feel when I tried to dig into comedy, that I didn’t belong there and it wasn’t for me.
I knew the article was crap. But I didn’t realize how these kinds of little moments piled up in me and changed how I saw myself until I met Hoffart, who so clearly rejects that shit. When faced with someone who questions the "status bro," you are forced to reconcile what you have absorbed, rationalized and accepted in the pursuit of the thing you love. Hoffart knows that all these folks who didn’t traditionally fit the comedian stereotype also belong on stage and reminds us that our stories belong and are worth hearing. Hoffart sees you.
They continue to run their show, now called New Moon Comedy, at the Projection Room above the Fox Cabaret.
Hoffart and their wife, Robyn Pekar, create a space with audiences who are delighted to see different stories on stage. Performers can skip the long preamble of explaining their identity and get to what is funny about their experience or their day. Safety can look like starting a conversation trusting that people will understand you without your mask on. Community can look like folks who show up regularly with curiosity and kindness.
Jackie fought for me
This year Hoffart wanted to get back to their filmmaking roots. They applied for and received a Telus Storyhive grant. In traditional Jackie fashion, they over-delivered and produced a series of eight short comedy specials and interviews called YVR Funny, with comedians they had worked with on their show.
I say over-delivered because the budget would have been more appropriate for a less ambitious project, but Hoffart found a way to wrangle eight comedians, book a venue, promote, sell out the show, hire local filmmakers, host the show and film separate interviews with all eight comedians. I was lucky enough to be one of those comedians.
They did this because they want to make films, but also, they knew that this would give us exposure and a television credit. They are thinking about how to elevate Vancouver comedians beyond their local show. As an adult, it is truly wild to see another person fight and work for you because they believe in you, particularly in an expensive city when breaking even is a good outcome for producing comedy shows.
Throughout the filming process there were caring messages of support, and little thoughtful touches of snacks and our own blotting papers and makeup of the day of the taping, because Hoffart thinks ahead and knows you might have the comedy sweats under those bright lights.
They spent a good chunk of the year lovingly editing these specials and interviews. I know they look slick and professional because they went on to host a premier screening of them all at the Fox Cabaret, this time in the main downstairs room.
A space for us
It was such a delight to invite friends to this show. Queer friends who get talk trapped at their day jobs listening to straight women talk about hair straighteners were thrilled to get to watch all these funny people be themselves. I was amazed to notice how good it felt to sit in the black booths at the back of the Fox and look up to see my contemporaries on a big screen, larger than life, their stories and jokes reverberating with the laughter of the audience.
I have been doing comedy for over 15 years, and I have never seen my comedy filmed, well lit and well edited. I got to see myself how Jackie Hoffart sees me. And I’m really funny. We all are.
The comedy specials and interviews are available on Telus Optik TV and YouTube. Hoffart is already working on the second season of YVR Funny, helping another crop of people see their own abilities and another crop of audiences hear their stories and jokes. I’m eternally grateful.
I hope hearing about how much I appreciate Hoffart makes you feel as good as it does to be in community with them. I will think about the hustle and heart they bring to comedy when I need to return to gratitude.
‘YVR Funny’ is available on Telus Optik TV and is streaming on YouTube. Find the specials here.
Happy holidays, readers. Our comment threads will be closed from Friday, Dec. 23 until Tuesday, Jan. 3 to give our moderators a well-deserved break. See you in 2023!