So here you are! Our guess is if you got here you’re probably looking for some info on Maggie in which case we’re gonna make it easy for you.
Maggie Cassella has tackled nearly every aspect of the business of show. From on camera, on stage and behind a podium to behind the camera, backstage, and moving the podium.
Maggie is an actor, writer, comic, producer, speaker, and consultant. Sure. Seems impossible but for anyone who’s worked with Maggie, they will attest, she’s a whirlwind. (That’s a really nice way of saying she has Attention Surplus Disorder (according to Maggie ADD is a misnomer, she doesn’t have a DEFICIT of attention she has a SURPLUS of attention). But trust us (us being Maggie who else do you think is writing this), Maggie has learned how to harness that attention and deliver whatever you (the director, producer, or client) needs. Don’t believe us (again, this is Maggie you know that right)? Check out the links below for proof of purchase.
FORD CASSELLA PRODUCTIONS: FCP is a company comprised of Maggie and Katie Ford (Miss Congeniality, Family Ties, Desperate Housewives, Prayers for Bobby) that exists to create and produce short and long form content for underserved communities. They currently have several projects in development and you can read all about hit by following the link above! Just click on it – go ahead!
And below is a cool article by Channel Klein from CBC. Give it a read it’s got a lot of interesting stuff in it! #Queerstory
This festival boosted gay comedians when nobody else would
We’re Funny That Way billed itself as the world’s first international queer comedy festival in 1996.
Before Ellen Degeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Neil Patrick Harris or Wanda Sykes came out, representation of openly queer comedians was rare. Being “outed” as gay could destroy an entertainer’s career and comedy clubs weren’t welcoming spaces for queer comedians.
One festival broke that mould in 1996 by offering a lineup full of queer performers at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre – it billed itself as the world’s first international queer comedy festival. Produced by comedic performer and former lawyer Maggie Cassella, the We’re Funny That Way festival showcases queer talent with a fundraising gala and three nights of queer comedy, improv, drag and music.
It’s where CBC Radio’s Gavin Crawford got a big break in the early years of the festival. It hosted queer comedy pioneers like Scott Thompson, Kate Clinton, Karen Williams and the late Bob Smith. After taking a hiatus in 2011, the festival returns again to provide a platform for new queer talent.
Lawyer turned comedian
When the AIDS hysteria was at its height, Maggie Cassella worked as an openly lesbian civil rights lawyer in Hartford, Connecticut. Hartford was a staunchly conservative city – marchers in the city’s first pride parades wore bags over their heads to conceal their identity.
Maggie refused to hide. She was outspoken: dealing with cases involving gay adoption, trans marriage and taking on clients with AIDS. “I was trying to help queers navigate a system that didn’t allow for us to be married or divorced or any of that stuff,” says Maggie.
Despite Cassella’s natural sense of humour and public speaking experience, being a comedian never crossed her mind. That was until Lea DeLaria (Orange is the New Black) discovered Cassella while she was speaking at the Hartford Gay & Lesbian Pride event in 1988.
“She was like, ‘You’re funny, you’re going to do stand up,'” recalls Cassella. “When Lea DeLaria says you’re gonna do something, you just do it.”
Cassella calls her style “news-comedy”: she’d open the newspaper, pick a story and take jabs at it. Comedy became another way for her to “speak for people in a setting where people aren’t speaking for them and point out stuff that people aren’t talking about.”
Your words have meaning and power.– Maggie Cassella on being a comedian.
After performing a set in Lea DeLaria’s hometown of Provincetown, Massachusetts, DeLaria encouraged Cassella to start producing her own events.
So, she did. Because when Lea DeLaria tells you to do something, you do it.
David Adkin’s documentary
When Cassella moved to Toronto in the mid-90s, she began producing the NAFTA Cabaret – a monthly event that billed itself as the “U.S./Canadian exchange of gay comics.”
Every show featured two queer comedians—one American, one Canadian—at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre at original George Street location. Kids In the Hall actor-writer Scott Thompson performed at a NAFTA Cabaret in 1995.
Shortly after that, filmmaker David Adkin approached Cassella with an idea. He was looking to do a documentary about the burgeoning queer comedy scene. Together, they co-produced the International Queer Comedy Festival in 1996 for Adkin’s documentary We’re Funny That Way.
(Video contains mature content.)
The documentary captures performances by the late Bob Smith and Steve Moore. Elvira Kurt, Karen Williams, Kate Clinton and Lea DeLaria also share screen time in the 90-minute film.
“We can say with about 99.9% certainty probably the largest gay and lesbian comedy event in the world,” says Cassella while addressing the audience in the documentary.
Stand-up comedy wasn’t the only act on the lineup. Audiences saw spoken word, dance, music and sketch comedy at the festival. The wild variety of queer performers proved to be a hit. Cassella recalls the lineups going around the block outside the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre: “It was crazy. People were very excited to see something they just haven’t seen all in one place.”
We’re Funny That Way
After the documentary was released, Cassella continued to produce the festival under the name We’re Funny That Way.
“Back then, ‘we’re funny that way,’ was a pejorative. ‘He’s funny that way,’ or, ‘She’s funny that way,’ is something they used to say about someone in the family… it meant queer,” says Cassella. “We were taking back the offensive little cliche.”
Enter Gavin Crawford: a 24-year-old character comedian living in Toronto’s gay village in the mid-90s. Crawford came across a poster for the second annual We’re Funny That Way festival while walking around the Church-Wellesley area.
A gay comedy festival? He had to check it out. More importantly, he wondered if the organizer of the event had any advice on how to “be queer and do comedy,” as Crawford recalls. “At the time, there was no queer comedy scene… 20 years ago, it was a big deal for me to do stand up and be out.”
He sent a tape of his material and a letter asking for advice to Cassella’s address in Toronto.
Instead of giving him advice, Cassella booked Crawford for the big festival gala.
“I had no idea what I was doing… Just walking out on that stage and having that huge crowd go nuts was such a crazy feeling.”
It was a pivotal moment for Crawford’s early career: sitting in the audience of the Buddies In Bad Times Theatre was his future talent agent. He recalls seeing the late Bob Smith perform and he opened for Lea DeLaria. “It was an amazing experience for me as a 24-year old kid who’s just starting out in comedy to be suddenly thrust in that environment.”
He’s remained a regular performer at the festival since those early days: “To say that We’re Funny That Way festival has been good and a seminal piece of my history is a large understatement.”
After 15 years, Cassella took a break from producing the festival. Seeing the queer comedy scene flourish and grow, she questioned if a queer showcase was as necessary now as it was in the mid-90s. After taking a hiatus, the festival returned in 2017.
“I think we have to transform, there are a lot of queer comics [now],” says Cassella. Boosting more intersectional perspectives outside the white queer experience is a part of that transformation.
Cassella booked producer-comedian Brandon Ash-Mohammed and his show The Ethnic Rainbow, “Canada’s first & only comedy show showcasing LGBTQ2S+ comedians of colour.”
“There had literally never been a space for QPOC (queer people of colour) to do comedy in Canada,” says Ash-Mohammed over an email. As a QPOC, he describes feeling out of place at queer comedy shows as a person of colour (POC). When he performed at POC shows, he didn’t fit in because he would be the only queer comedian. “I felt a sorta disconnect with those spaces because of that. They weren’t my true home.”
Much like how Cassella did in the mid-90s, Ash-Mohammed created The Ethnic Rainbow show last year to empower marginalized voices through comedy. “I hope a person who hasn’t seen themselves reflected on stage before finally sees that,” says Ash-Mohammed. “I’ve had so many instances of people coming up to me after the show and telling me how it was so great to see someone like themselves doing comedy!”
Comedian Martha Chaves will headline the Ethnic Rainbow at We’re Funny That Way on Friday, June 14.
This year’s festival will feature recording artist Shawnee, a drag performance from Selena Vyle and more – check the full festival schedule here.
The festival’s big ticket variety show gala continues to support the We’re Funny That Way Foundation – a charity that raises money for queer charities across Canada. The proceeds from this year’s gala will go toward the Two Spirit Renewal Program in Red Deer, Alberta.
We’re Funny That Way Festival runs from June 13 – June 15, 2019 at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre.