Running the risk 

Jessica Holmes as Celine & Liza.
  • Jessica Holmes as Celine & Liza.

Jessica Holmes brings Celine, Liza to Comedy in the Sky

Who: Jessica Holmes

What : Comedy in the Sky, Whistler comedy festival opening gala

Where: Whistler Conference Centre,

When: Thursday, Sept. 18, 8 p.m.

This Thursday evening Quebecoise super-diva Celine Dion and cabaret queen Liza Minnelli will both take the stage for the opening gala of Comedy in the Sky, the Whistler comedy festival.

To be more accurate, their larger than life personas will be here courtesy of the talents of one petite, blond Eastern Canadian. Comedienne Jessica Holmes, star of her own sketch comedy vehicle The Holmes Show currently running on CTV’s the Comedy Network, has made a name for herself with hilarious parodies of the two super-celebs, to the point where she receives constant requests for impromptu performances.

"It happens mostly when I’m in the mall," says Holmes over the phone from Toronto. "I was shopping in Ottawa last weekend and four different gaggles of girls came up to me, and were like ‘can you do your Liza?’"

One gets the feeling Holmes doesn’t really mind. A good parody is as much about admiration as it is lampooning.

"I guess I find them really charismatic," says Holmes. "I find them really interesting, and I think that’s the reason I end up doing a parody of them."

Like any gifted comedian, there’s more to Holmes than her innate ability to mimic voice cadences and facial tics. A graduate of Ryerson’s television program and an alumnus of Toronto’s famous Second City touring company, Holmes says a lull in her schedule two years ago inspired her to type up the proposal for a Carol Burnett-style sketch comedy television show. The show was picked up for one season by CTV, which funded the taping of 22 episodes, currently still running on the Comedy Network.

Since the completion of the show, Holmes says she has been doing more stand-up and festival appearances, and focusing on new roles. She is involved in a CBC series about a Mulroney-esque ex-Prime Minister set to air in January 2004, and is expanding her career into film with a part in an upcoming Ray Romano movie.

The step away from sketch comedy has allowed her to step away from parody and focus more on "building a character from the ground up."

"Doing parody means you’re taking a quality of someone and exaggerating it to an absurd level, and people laugh at things that they recognize," she explains. "Whereas when you’re building a new character, it just uses the imagination a little more, and people are laughing at the concept."

After a spell in front of the camera, she is also excited to re-explore the dynamics of performing live.

"I feel so comfortable on camera, I really like being on television, I like watching myself act," says Holmes, "but there’s still nothing that beats a live audience. That’s where you figure out what works. That’s where you really get to connect with people and take chances. So I wouldn’t want to have one without the other."

The path of her career, from live performances to televised sketch comedy to films, is mirroring that of another celebrated Canadian comedienne, a certain Catherine O’Hara, who Holmes enthusiastically names as a major influence, along with Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers and Will Ferrell.

And in turn, she is becoming an influence for young comediennes of the future. While performing recently at Yuk-Yuks she says a younger woman requested career advice.

"I just said to start living it," says Holmes. "Your only enemy in comedy is fear. So I just say the best thing to do is get over your fear. If you find out you can handle that fear, and you actually enjoy the challenge, then you’ll know you’re someone that could be in comedy for a long time. But a lot of people who are really, really funny, don’t end up working in comedy because they know they wouldn’t enjoy that risk taking. I’m the least funny person in my family, but I’m the only person who decided to take this crazy risk and get up on stage."

Catch Holmes, along with comics Russell Peters, Martha Chaves and Nikki Payne at the opening gala of Comedy in the Sky, the Whistler comedy festival, this Thursday at the Whistler Conference Centre. Tickets $20-$25 available through Tourism Whistler’s Activity & Information Centre and at the door after 5 p.m. Show starts 8 p.m.

Ph: 604-938-2769, or check out for more information.

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