A fan is harassing Karin Shard. It's a Friday afternoon at a virtually empty Howe Sound Brew Pub and she can't escape enthusiastic female fans. Or, well, maybe the woman is a friend. Let's say both because in a small town like Squamish everyone's a friend and for Shard, the mastermind behind the humour coffee paper Tongue in Cheek, everyone seems to be a fan.
"I'm 10 years into this and I get people stopping me two or three times a week to thank me for the paper, and they share their stories," she says.
Every week, Shard publishes her two-sided, 11x17 sheet of hilarity in Squamish. As of April 1, it has returned to Whistler and Pemberton after a five-year absence. Shard calls it the Sea to Sky's "10-to-15 minute chuckle."
"It's a break, you know? It's a break from the news," she says.
For Shard, it's a whole lot more. It's her livelihood and her passion. She's the editor, publisher, sales rep and distributor. Everything that the reader sees on a weekly basis is her own doing.
Except, well...except for the jokes. Shard will sometimes contribute her own jokes, and writers will occasionally submit some of their own, but the vast majority of what's featured week after week is mined from the Internet. Every day, Shard scours the web for new jokes, altering them when she can to make them more "reader-friendly."
Racist jokes are never included and she finds crude humour an embarrassment to comedy.
"My audience is pretty much from eight years old to 80," she laughs. "There were a lot of kids that were reading it, so obviously when you print something, there's a fine line. You have to be careful not to insult or hurt anyone's feelings and with jokes it's really tricky."
Tongue in Cheek dabbles in light social commentary, poking fun at the complexities of love and the absurdities of our modern age. She acts as a comedy filter, in a sense - if she finds something funny, she'll include it in the paper.
"When people read my paper, they always tell me they like my sense of humour. I've only had five complaints in the past 10 years," she says.
She came to Squamish in 1996 when her brother opened the Howe Sound Brew Pub - which explains her notoriety here - and had planned to stay for only six months. She's been a local ever since but for years she was having difficulty deciding on a career. The idea of a coffee paper had been floating around and by 2001 it seemed like something she was willing to tackle.
"There were a lot of bad things going on in Squamish in 2001. A lot of people were losing their jobs. The industry was leaving and, of course, 9/11 happened and there was this real over-arching sadness. I thought, 'This is my time, this is when I'm going to start this.'"
She thought that it had to be something people would actually read. That meant it had to be funny. She launched the paper in December 2001, the week before Christmas, as a one-sided 11x17 sheet of paper. She printed 1,000 copies and distributed it to waiting rooms in doctor's offices and restaurants. Within three months, business owners were asking for more copies and she had sold out the advertising space.
"It really took off. Everyone was talking about it. It was a weird kind of experience," she says.
Now she distributes 2,600 copies. Five years ago, she expanded Tongue in Cheek to two pages (the Whistler/Pemberton edition is still only one page).
"I agonized going to two pages. The bigger it gets, the harder it is to keep the quality. To be honest, it is really hard to find jokes that haven't been told over and over again," she says.
Her success may seem small in the grand scheme of things. She hasn't landed a book deal or a television series. She isn't rich.
But it's no small feat to provide a consistent source of entertainment that a community can rely on, week after week. As the news seems to grow more serious every day, it's the brief flights of humour that Tongue in Cheek provides that can pull people through their day. Tongue in Cheek is a pill for the soul. The little things, sometimes they kill, but sometimes they save.
Of course, she's a bit modest about her little coffee paper's success. It's funny. That's it.
She says, "The whole intention of this paper is not to hurt anybody. It's just to provide a laugh."
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