Highlights

11 february 2013

2nd Edition of the Underground Comedy Railroad Tour

Picture

Courtesy of Andrew Searles
Poster for Montreal Show February 17th, 2013

It went so well last year, they’re doing it again this year. 

Andrew Searles is described on the poster as the 'First Negro to play the Fiddle' and Rodney Ramsey as the 'First Negro on Skis'.  It's all in keeping with their tongue-in-cheek attitudes.  These two young comedians grew up in Montreal and have taken a chapter from the canon of Black Canadian History and put a comic twist on it to make a point, and make people laugh.  February is Black History Month in Canada, as it is in the United States, but with our harsh winter, perhaps we have a greater appreciation for getting together to laugh.

The historical Underground Railroad refers to the network of secret pathways and routes that connected safe-houses and brought slaves from the American south, north to freedom in Canada, where slavery, while practised, was not institutionalized, back in the mid-nineteenth century.

The railroad provided the code; people involved in helping the ‘passengers’ were known as ‘conductors’ and while thousands crossed into Canada all along the border from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, the majority made their escape at Detroit, known as Midnight, crossing the Detroit River, known as the Jordan, referring to the biblical river of the Promised Land, to present day Windsor, in Canada, then known as Dawn.

This history would be familiar to Andrew Searles and Rodney Ramsey and the other performers on the bill, as growing up in the Montreal area, Black History Month is an educational tradition in most Montreal schools today.  This comedy tour got organized around the humour of the Black Canadian experience, as unique from the Black American experience. 

Another catalyst was the reaction of a club owner who ran his establishment according to a quota system, refusing a third black comedian stage-time on an open mike night, asking how he could feature 3 black comedians; 'what would people think?'

On their first outing last year, the Underground Comedy Railroad organized shows in Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg.  While a big hit in Winnipeg, they are taking their stories and observations to Toronto this year, adding a couple of other acts and counting on a successful debut in Canada’s most multi-cultural city. (ck)

Carmel Kilkenny spoke with Andrew Searles to hear more about the experience last year, and the plans for this year.
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