Thomas Leblanc & Tranna Wintour

Friendship and rivalries stoked by the Best of MTL

Tranna Wintour and James Brown on their positions in the 2019 edition of Cult MTL’s readers poll.

Tranna Wintour, a Montreal comedian whose career has taken off since an auspicious first open-mic a little over six years ago, hosts the first monthly queer and female comedy show in town, Stand Back (among many other projects). James Brown co-hosts Squad Laughs with Tatyana Olal; the show has become an underground staple of the anglo comedy scene. In the wake of the 2019 edition of Cult MTL’s annual Best of MTL readers poll, I spoke to Wintour and Brown about placing so well in the survey’s comedy categories.

Wintour, who placed first in Best Comedian (Stand Back also placed first in Best Comedy Night), and Brown, who placed fourth (Squad Laughs, meanwhile, placed second) both seemed humbled and surprised that categories that can seem to ossify for years underwent surprising changes.

Wintour discussed reading the Mirror’s survey results prior to Cult MTL’s existence, and the surreal thrill of showing up on the poll she used to read: “I really wasn’t expecting the number one spot in comedy. There have been these categories for years where the number one has been untouchable…those number one spots usually go to the people who are just the most well-known Montrealers who don’t even live here anymore, most of them. It’s been really cool this year to see these categories that haven’t changed in so long, change. Like Best Drag Queen this year: Uma Gahd dethroning Mado. Mado is amazing, not to take anything away from Mado, but maybe this is the beginning of a new wave, a new generation. It’s really exciting to see that recognized in the polls by the Montrealers who voted.”

Brown credits Squad Laugh’s success with targeting, well, the hip young people, and with avoiding the bro comedy that happens downtown. The show is pretty intentionally secluded, and Brown says that’s its forte: “It’s pretty personal. It feels like you’re hanging out with me or Tatyana, like you’re in someone’s living room. It doesn’t feel like a normal comedy thing.”

Squad Laughs made the eighth spot in the readers poll last year, and it stoked Brown’s tongue-in-cheek competitive fire, compelling him to target the franco comedy night Open Mic du Bordel on his Facebook page: “That day I publicly declared a rivalry with Open Mic Bordel, vowing to pass them on the list the next year. This year Open Mic Bordel has not even made the list!”

This year Brown has other plans: “I decided to point my sights at an even more ambitious target: Sugar Sammy. He came third and I truly believe that I can surpass him in next year’s readers poll voting and that I can essentially become the new Sugar Sammy in Montreal. You know, tu va laugher. And Sugar Sammy, to my knowledge, upon hearing about our new public feud, his response was to fly to a different continent and re-establish a career in France, so I think that tells you all you need to know about his confidence when it comes to publicly feuding with…a figure like me.”

Hearing about Brown’s plan, Sugar Sammy quipped, “How Canadian of him to be aiming for third place.”

On a more bashful note, Brown added, “My dream [is] for Sugar Sammy to brush me aside.”

Wintour, meanwhile, took the opportunity to shout out not only to James Brown, but to Travis Cannon, “an icon who I don’t think gets enough recognition.”

Moreover, we needn’t fear that Wintour will be leaving Montreal to hustle elsewhere any time soon. “Beyond being my hometown, [Montreal] really is where I feel most myself and feel like the best version of myself…I mean you have to sacrifice for career, especially as an independent artist, but there’s certain things I’m not willing to sacrifice and that home base, feeling good where I am, is one of those things.”

More recently Wintour’s begun performing in French, and took care to remind Montrealers to do better at bridging the gap between the French and English comedy scenes: “For me there’s always just the joy in the exchange, so why not open that up even wider?” ■

Tranna Wintour co-hosts L’Après Fringe: 13th Hour + Dance Party! with Thomas Leblanc at MainLine Theatre (3997 St-Laurent) nightly through June 16, 1–3 a.m. The talk-show podcast they co-host as part of CBC Podcasts, Chosen Family, will launch its second season on June 19.

James Brown and Tatyana Olal will be presenting the next Squad Laughs at La Plante (address by messaging Squad Laughs on Facebook), June date TBA, Doors 8:30 p.m., Show 9 p.m. $5/PWYC/BYOB