“I like snacks. I like being in bed by nine. I think it’s nice to be nice. I’m passionate about nature. I’m really interested in where we are living in the natural world right now. And I spend a lot of time by myself.”
When I ask Vancouver comedian Alicia Tobin to describe herself, the answer is short and direct; a grab-bag of quirks and interests thrown together like a Jackson Pollock piece. But when I ask Tobin how she would describe herself comedically, I get an equally genuine response.
“I’m interested in doing things that make me laugh and don’t hurt other people,” says Tobin. “I’m not really interested in creating things that cause more sadness or negativity. I like comedy that’s victimless. That’s important to me.”
Tobin grew up in Rosemère, a suburb of Montreal. She’s loved comedy for as long as she can remember, admiring The Kids in the Hall, Saturday Night Live, and any sitcom with Tim Conway. While she wasn’t the class clown type of kid, Tobin had an affinity for getting people’s attention.
“I remember feeling very shy as a child, but my behaviour would indicate otherwise,” says Tobin. “If I was nervous or wanted attention, I would just fake tap dance. I think I really wanted attention and when I tried to get it, I would just fail. I remember getting in trouble for fake tap dancing too much. People would be in conversations and I would fake tap dance and interrupt them.”
Fortunately, this habit of attention-seeking matured into Tobin regularly performing stand-up around the city. First grabbing the mic at Zesty’s (which now goes by the name Zawa Restaurant) in 2004, Tobin had a solid five minutes, one joke of which was about the confusion of raccoon blowjobs, a personal favourite of hers. While she loved comedy, the experience of stand-up remained a little confusing to Tobin. She never felt the same rush as the other comics.
“I thought I was good at it, in that I had something to work on. I was getting something from it, but I wasn’t sure what, because I felt like barfing most of the time. The anxiety leading up to a performance and the crash afterwards was really hard. There were certain things that I liked and certain things that I didn’t like about performing.”
It was in that comic ambiguity, a time where Tobin questioned the value of stand-up in her life, that she stumbled onto her new passion. In March of 2012, Tobin came up with the idea of Come Draw With Me, an interactive, crowd-driven comedy show where the audience draws pictures and Tobin dissects their drawings in a loving, comedic way.
“I was going to a show and I didn’t really have anything new prepared,” says Tobin. “I was walking across the Georgia Street Viaduct and I came up with the idea of ‘Well, why don’t you get them to draw?’ And I love drawing… and I felt it was something I wanted to do more of and to learn how to draw better. And that combination of ideas led to me trying it one night and I was surprised by how well it went. I was more surprised than anybody. And I just kept doing it.”
Tobin emphasizes that the vibe of the show is so crucial to its success and that the first few times she did it, she felt people were scared that she would make fun of them. By now, however, the support and enthusiasm of its audience characterizes the show. Whereas 15 people may have drawn when the show started, now close to 40 people do each time. And with that many drawings, there are bound to be some “interesting” ones.
“There have been some weird ones,” says Tobin. “This one guy drew his girlfriend naked. And unprompted, like it was an unnecessary addition to the show. And it was an incredibly strange picture. When I began to understand the picture, that he was really terrible at drawing and she was a muscular yoga practitioner, I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ But she was a small-frame person and it’s like ‘Oh, that’s why she’s only triangles.’”
With love and care, Tobin is bravely tackling Vancouver with her delightful, charming style of comedy. Focussing on the (mostly poor) artistic abilities of strangers, Tobin has found her niche and is happy to stay in it. So whether you’re the second coming of Da Vinci or you have trouble with the legs on stick figures, Alicia Tobin welcomes you with open arms.
Tobin performs Come Draw With Me monthly at Hot Art Wet City, with the next show on May 23.
Tobin will also be performing at “Kyle Bottom’s Going Away Show” at the Comedy Mix on May 6.