One of the last shows I caught at the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival before COVID-19 shut it down was Elena Eli Belyea and Sydney Campbell’s truly endearing Gender? I Hardly Know Them, a playful blend of silliness and social commentary.
As the title of their show suggests, pronouns and gender figure prominently. Both Belyea and Campbell identify as queer, and Campbell as trans. Each of them takes a moment to address the audience as themselves, sharing a little of their personal history, and inviting us in to see the complex relationship people can have with their identity and the terminology that describes it. This line in particular really struck me: “My gay agenda is to be myself.”
Confiding in us, they create a very intimate bond with their audience. This vulnerability gives their sketches—which feel quick and scattershot—significant emotional weight.
There is the ongoing story of two seemingly hetero dudes whose idle chatter gradually reveals their deep, hidden feelings for each other. An adorable meet-cute turns into an absurdist play on hyper-enthusiastic consent culture. Also brilliant: a teller trying to sell their bank’s uber-woke, performative allyship to a queer client.
These are giddy, ridiculous scenarios; the butt of the joke, though, is never the inclusivity or healthy social awareness on display. The humour comes out of just how goofy we humans can be even when our intentions are good.
Their finale is a bittersweet little ditty inspired by Alberta premier Jason Kenney’s conservatism and the rough time “prairie queers” are having right now. With their ukulele and some clever lyrics, I felt a sudden burst of affection for these two performers; they seem like a force for good in the world—and certainly a valuable asset to the comedy scene.