September 20, 2017
Improv comedy show a big hit at RMHC Toronto
It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine, and families at Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Toronto are getting big doses of it every Tuesday night thanks to Kristie Gunter and Rockland Pickard. They are the founders of Funnies for Families, an organization that performs improv comedy shows for families in need of a laugh. The duo, both graduates of The Conservatory Program at Toronto’s Second City, started performing at RMHC Toronto in 2014 as a way to give back.
“My sister and her family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Calgary, and I was so moved by what the House provided for them,” says Rockland. “Kristie and I decided that providing entertainment for families would be a good use of our talents.”
They gathered six of their comedian friends and began performing once a month at RMHC Toronto. Their show – a mixture of improv games and sketches, with lots of audience participation – was an immediate hit.
“When we started seeing how much fun the kids were having, I realized that they are the perfect audience for this style of comedy,” says Kristie.
“The two pillars of improv are imagination and discovery, things kids respond so well to,” adds Rockland.
What began as a monthly treat has grown into a weekly highlight for families at RMHC Toronto. Given that families often stay at the House for weeks or months on end, Kristie and Rockland really get to know their loyal audiences and can cater the material to their sense of humour. With up to 23 children, plus parents, attending any given show, Funnies for Families has become one of the House’s most popular programs.
“Audience size varies week to week, but every time we come we feel like we’ve impacted at least one person,” says Rockland. “There was one week when we had no families show up. We waited around just in case, and then just as we were planning to leave, a tired-looking boy and his mom came downstairs. He clearly didn’t want to be there, but his mom got up on stage and he couldn’t help but laugh at his mom being a goofball.
“That’s what is so great about comedy: even if you don’t feel like laughing, if something is funny, you do. If even one person gets some enjoyment out of our show, we’d happily come back every day if we could.”
Kristie and Rockland have taken Funnies for Families on the road, now performing shows at women’s shelters, SickKids and Gilda’s Club. They’ve amassed a dedicated group of 50 professional comedians they can draw on as volunteers because everyone who participates finds it so rewarding.
“People want to share in joy,” says Kristie. “Everyone we perform for is going through a difficult time, so it means a lot to us to help people sit together and laugh for a while.”