Jo-Anna Downey was the heart of the Toronto comedy scene and gave so many comedians their start. She was this wonderful blend of sassy and kind that made it impossible to dislike her. I interviewed her several times while at j-school (that’s what us cool kids called journalism school) in 2011 and she was not only generous with her time (and free beer), but so easy and open to chat with. She made you feel like a long lost pal within minutes of meeting her.
I’m trying to find the audio from our first interview as I never get rid of stuff like this, but I do lose things for years on end. I wrote a very choppy and cringe-tastic article about open mic nights for school, but during the interview we had a way more interesting chat about how the Spirits Open Mic night got started. I never got to use it for school, but always felt it belonged somewhere.
After our first interview, I mentioned to her that I tried my hand at stand-up several times when I was in my early 20s. She said she didn’t remember me and asked if I had ever been on her stage. I said no, because I was too shy back then to do it anywhere legit. I’ll never forget her response: “If you didn’t do stand-up on my stage, you didn’t do stand-up in Toronto.” This absolutely sums up who she was in this city. Her room was the base, the glue, the ground zero of Toronto’s stand-up comedy scene for so many years and she will be very missed.
RIP Jo-Anna. Your impact on the Toronto comedy scene is everlasting. Thank you for giving so many talented people a safe and supportive space to hone their craft, and thank you for saving my ass more than once while I struggled to meet endless deadlines.. And thank you for the free beer, of course.