We saw the protests in the United States in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many who came before. We saw the protests across Canada in response to the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Chantel Moore, and too many who came before.
Then the comedy community, specifically IBPOC comedians, began to publicly share their painful experiences with comedy institutions across North America. We heard the stories of racism, tokenism, gaslighting, box checking, and discrimination.
While the intent of TOsketchfest has always been to elevate, celebrate and support all sketch comedians, a sober and critical look at our own history tells us that our intent has not always matched outcomes. We have fallen short.
To our artists, staff, volunteers and audiences we apologize for failing to create an inclusive, safe, and accessible space at TOsketchfest.
Specifically, we apologize for the times we did not quickly and decisively shut down racism on our stages; for the fact that IBPOC and other marginalized voices have been almost entirely excluded from strategy, mandate and artistic direction decisions for 15 years; for the subtle and overt ways we have centred white artists and white comedy in our programming, marketing and sketch community culture; and for believing that the progress we’d made in creating space and opportunity for underrepresented identities was good enough. We’d like to thank the people who have brought these and other issues to our attention, and acknowledge that there is still much to learn.
We deeply regret and apologize for not doing better, sooner. This will change. Here’s how.
In the coming weeks and months, TOsketchfest will do the following:
- We will hire a consultant to conduct a diversity audit of our organization to uncover weaknesses and to identify areas for improvement.
- We will consult with IBPOC members of our community for an unbiased assessment of our activities, mandate, and role in the artistic community, and pay them for their time and expertise.
- We will change the composition of our Board, staff and committees to give more voice and decision making power to IBPOC community members.
- At the end of our analysis, we will report all findings and the actions we will take to improve.
These are the first steps. There will be more. We commit to ongoing learning, listening, and growth to make The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival an actively anti-racist space where IBPOC are at home, celebrated, and empowered on and off stage.
Comedy isn’t just a laugh. At its best, comedy is an art form that can identify and articulate social injustice. Comedy can initiate the uncomfortable conversations required for social change. Comedy needs diverse voices.
Black Lives Matter. Black Comedy Matters.
We have work to do. It’s time to get started.
Paul Snepsts, Julianne Snepsts, Damien Nelson and Megan MacKeigan