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Working For the Weekend: With comic Alicia Tobin

By Graeme Wiggins

Photo: Sarah Whitlam

VANCOUVER — We can all agree that working retail sucks. Between entitled customers, power-tripping bosses, and the annoying habits of your fellow workers, being a cog in the wheel of consumerism has never felt less glamorous. Possibly the only benefit is the generally flexible schedules, which happen to be compatible with the lives of musicians and comedians. One might consider veteran comic Alicia Tobin an expert on this life, as she co-hosts a podcast called Retail Nightmares in which she and her partner Jessica Delisle talk to various comics and musicians about the terrible retail jobs they’ve been forced to take in order to keep their dreams alive.

At the best of times in the best of places, comedy can be a difficult industry to stand out in as a stand up. Tobin has carved out a long career as one of Vancouver’s favourite comedians, with regular appearances at venues around town (as well as abroad) and is becoming a fan favourite on local podcast stalwart, Stop Podcasting Yourself. She also hosts a monthly comedy show called Come Draw with Me at Hot Art Wet City, which will be part of JFL NorthWest. We talked to Tobin about her podcast, her show and what it takes to make it through the retail grind.

BeatRoute: What do you currently do for a day job?

Alicia Tobin: I work in marketing in the natural health industry. I try to get people to eat better and stuff!

BR: What’s the hardest part of doing both comedy and working?

AT: I guess having down time. I actually pencil it into my schedule now.

BR: Are there any downfalls of being funny when you work retail? Benefits? 

AT: According to me, I’m hilarious at work. But I don’t talk about present jobs on my podcast or onstage unless it’s something positive or relatable. Being funny in retail is the only way to survive, not only can you say just the right thing when a customer is having a bad day, you can help brighten it up a bit and be the “fun one” to work with. The fun one is basically the president of the store. There is no downfall to being funny. It is a survival strategy that almost everyone can benefit from.

BR: What’s the worst job you’ve ever worked? 

AT: I worked one hour as a telemarketer. And I am going to rate scooping ice cream at Laura Secord as the second worst job because I think I was let go because I ate too much, which seems unfair.

BR: What inspired your Retail Nightmares podcast? 

AT: I was visiting Jessica Delisle at the video store she worked at when a customer who had been horrible to me at the store I worked at came in. Of course, this customer is just horrible everywhere they go and it sparked the idea that customer service people have all these amazing stories to tell that are deeply funny and so we should get them out there.

BR: Have you learned anything about the retail industry from talking to so many people about it? 

AT: No, I knew everything already. I am an expert in many areas.

BR: Do you have any advice for a struggling retail working trying to cope? 

AT: Yes, it is not okay for people to treat you badly because you are behind a cash register or a telephone. That is a reflection of who they are and not your value. Those mean people probably have a lot of problems, like farting 24/7 or something very embarrassing that makes them grouchy. To be fair, we have all had bad days too and bringing some compassion to any aspect of your life can help deal with other people and our own crap too.

BR: What’s the worst retail job a guest on your show has had?

AT: Oh so many, but I think Amber Harper-Young, who worked as a server at a strip club, had the worst job and someone was killed outside the club one night and I can’t shake that story. Between the misogyny and murder, it is just so dark.

BR: Can you tell us about the show you’re doing for JFL NorthWest? 

AT: Well, I have a little show called Come Draw with Me where the audience draws and I talk about their drawings. I will have three talented and wonderful comedians on the show too! It is a really gentle and silly show and one of the last at the wonderful Hot Art Wet City before it closes. Please, come draw with me!

BR: How has Vancouver comedy scene changed since when you started? 

AT: When I started comedy in 2007, the funniest guy in town was Graham Clark and that hasn’t changed at all. Years of hard work created what we see now, which is a bustling comedy scene with tons of great shows to see each month. From the improv community who bring this tireless enthusiasm for creating new shows, to the weekly stand-up shows that help build experience and community for an art that is quite solitary, a lot of people have worked to create a vibrant comedy culture here. It isn’t magic, but all of this hard work and passion creates so many funny and magical moments.

Catch Alicia Tobin on February 26 at Hot Art Wet City as part of JFL NorthWest.

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