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Al Val On Bringing Her Trans Journey To The Stage And On Tour

Al Val On Bringing Her Trans Journey To The Stage And On Tour

We chatted with Toronto-based transgender comedian Al Val about her comedy journey, her upcoming special, and how she got involved with Gay AF Comedy’s first national tour

By Stephan Petar
Photos by Loretta Meyer

After five years of making countless people laugh out loud, Gay AF Comedy is headed on its first national tour. The Gay AF Comedy Tour will bring queer joy and laughter to six cities across Canada starting April 4, with stops in Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

Founded by comedian Robert Watson, Gay AF Comedy focuses on amplifying 2SLGBTQI+ voices. The brand gives audiences the chance to see themselves represented in comedy shows, while providing hilarious, personal and unique takes on common experiences.

The inaugural tour is headlined by transgender comedian Al Val, whose comedy touches upon her trans journey in an insightful, vulnerable and universal way that can relate to everyone, even those beyond the 2SLGBTQI+ community. She has appeared on programs for CBC, OutTV and MTV, and at festivals like Just for Laughs, Halifax Comedy Fest, The San Francisco Comedy Festival and others throughout North America.

We chatted with Al Val about her comedy inspirations, how coming out liberated her to speak more freely about her experiences on stage, her comedy special coming to YouTube later this year, and how she got involved with this tour.

How did you get into comedy and discover your comedic voice?
I knew from a very early age that this is what I wanted to do. I’m one of the lucky ones. I catch a lot of flak for this, but Dane Cook made me want to do stand-up, especially his album Retaliation. It was hearing and listening to the audience’s response. Say what you want about his comedy, but the energy in that room and the response from the audience was invigorating. It was visceral as a listener, and I wanted to experience that for myself.

Do you have other comedic inspirations?
My family used to watch Mr. Bean – he was a household comic; I’ll call him a comic – and Whose Line Is It Anyway? Those were the two main comedy things that brought our family together the most. Even before Dane Cook, it was watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? and seeing how quick, how skilled and how sharp they were. It was very inspiring.

Those are two very different types of comedy that inspired youOne is improv and the other is focused on physicality.
Mr. Bean and Whose Line Is It Anyway? aren’t necessarily stand-up, but it’s interesting reflecting back on how those things influenced me. Stand-up is a solo effort, and I’ve always appreciated that because I live and die by my own agency and my own artistry, and I don’t have to count on anybody else. It’s full ownership and it is very appealing to me. But, also, I improvise a lot on stage and I’m very physical. So, you can kind of see that Mr. Bean and Whose Line Is It Anyway? [are an] influence in my comedy DNA. 

How would you describe your stand-up to someone who has never seen you perform?
After this interview, I think I’m going to say Mr. Bean meets Whose Line Is It Anyway? meets Dane Cook (I’ll whisper the Dane Cook part). I would describe it as very personal material about my life, especially when it comes to my trans journey, but universally delivered. I am speaking about a human experience and I do it with a lot of energy and a lot of hand waving. I’m like a wacky inflatable tube man outside a used car dealership, but I’m outside a dealership that deals in hugs.

Your comedy carries a vulnerability as you talk about your trans journey and coming out. Did you always want to insert that vulnerability or did that come as you discovered your identity?
It was this cathartic thing. Before I transitioned, my act was not about me. There was nothing personal. Audiences would leave feeling entertained, but not know anything about who I was as a person because my act was pretty much a deflection away from me.… When your entire identity is built around assimilating and maintaining the status quo and fitting in, you have no real sense of self. It’s impossible to tell anybody about who you are because who you are is manufactured around the opinions of other people. Once you’ve liberated yourself from that, it’s easy to talk about yourself because you really embrace how unique your experience is. 

What do you hope your impact on the community will be?
It’s really heartwarming getting personal messages from people who are trans who will say, ‘I’m in the early stages and I’m figuring things out’ and ‘You make me feel like it’s all going to be okay’ and ‘You’ve helped connect me with some of the insecurities that I’m experiencing.…’ It is so invaluable, and I wish I’d had more of that starting out. 

Beyond that, I’ll get messages from all kinds of people who see me unabashedly putting my insecurities out there on full display and speaking authentically from the heart. I’ll get messages from people who take inspiration from that and say, ‘I’m not trans, but you’ve inspired me to take ownership of who I am a whole lot more.’ If I influence one person to dance like nobody’s watching, then I’ve done a fine job.

You’re touring with Gay AF Comedy on its national tour. How did you get involved?
I met Robert Watson, who I’m touring with, at a Pride-themed comedy show, and he had me headline one of his Gay AF Comedy shows and we hit it off right away.… He was asking me some unrelated question and I misinterpreted it as an offer to go on tour. I was enthusiastically like, ‘Yeah, we could hit this city and this city,’ and he just took it and ran.

What are you most excited about for this tour?
I love a well-organized, extended tour with multiple locations. There are cities on this tour that I have either never seen or haven’t been to in a very long time. I’m excited to see them with fresh eyes and perspective. There’s also this sense of accomplishment. I’ve been doing comedy for 17 years, and it took a long time to make this a profession. I still haven’t gotten used to the feeling of being on the road and having those moments where I look around and feel so grateful that this is my life. 

ABOVE: Al Val with Gay AF Comedy founder comedian Robert Watson

Tell us about your upcoming comedy special.
It is a beautiful photographic capturing of who I was in that moment because I tend to improvise a lot in my sets and I encouraged people to call out and heckle if they wanted to. This special is super fun and I’m so proud of it because it’s got all that authenticity and anecdotal, meaty, beautiful, chewy, humanizing stuff about my journey. It also has a lot of spontaneity and showcases my personality nicely, and I can’t wait until people see it.

Are there any trans comedians in Canada, or beyond, we should be following?
Bee Bertrand I find excellent. Mickey Dykeman is a relatively young comic and they are super funny and charming and they’re going to go places. Then you’ve got Robin Tran in the United States.

Was there anything else you wanted to add?
Even though this is the Gay AF Comedy Tour, I don’t want to discourage anyone outside that [2SLGBTQI+] umbrella from coming, because Robert is very funny and, like I’ve been saying, my comedy is very accessible. It’s personal, but my stories can relate to anybody. Everybody is welcome and everyone is encouraged to come, as long as they come with an open mind, an open heart and eagerness to laugh.


Follow Al Val on InstagramTikTok or YouTube. The Gay AF Comedy Tour will stop in Victoria (April 4), Vancouver (April 6), Edmonton (April 11), Calgary (April 14), Toronto (April 18) and Montreal (April 21). For tickets, visit linktr.ee/gayafcomedy or follow the tour on Instagram.


STEPHAN PETAR is a born and raised Torontonian, known for developing lifestyle, entertainment, travel, historical and 2SLGBTQI+ content. He enjoys wandering the streets of any destination he visits, where he’s guaranteed to discover something new or meet someone who will inspire his next story.


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