In 1989, five-year-old Ann Pornel, and her family never imagined she’d grow up to become a favourite comedian on Canadian stages and TV.
“I kind of accidentally found myself in comedy,” she said. “[It] helps show that there are different ways for different people.”
In August 2018, Pornel starred in an all-women comedy production with Second City called She the People: A girlfriend’s guide to sisters doing it themselves.
A year later, the award-nominated host of The Canadian Baking Show started writing for 22 Minutes using her signature wit and humour to humanize issues like student debt, sexual education and housing affordability in Toronto and Vancouver.
“I tried hard to figure out what it was that I believed in, the points of view that resonate with me,” Pornel said about how her personal experience and background influence her comedy.
“I’m a fat woman, and I’m a woman. These parts of my identity made me special. I knew I had to have opinions and find ways to make them funny so that other people could see humanity in these groups.”
Pornel didn’t attend school for performance, writing or comedy, but pursued every opportunity with passion and hard work to challenge stereotypes and promote diversity.
She said watching her parents work hard, and knowing that nothing would come easy, shaped her comedic perspective.
“I think something that is true in every immigrant story is that we constantly have to prove ourselves to everyone.
“But it gives us the resilience needed in this world.”
Pornel graduated from the University of Toronto with a science degree, which she said raised her family’s hopes, but she never intends to use.
“I auditioned for a sketch show that happened at my college only because friends of mine were going, and I had nothing else to do that night,” Pornel said.
She got the part and produced a yearly show while finishing her studies. Looking back, she said she used comedy to relieve stress about the uncertainty of her future.
“When I graduated, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. Trying to discover different aspects of myself, and what I believed about that, is how I developed comedy.”
After graduating, Pornel spent two years producing shows at Second City, in Toronto. She was eventually hired to tour with the company and promoted to the main stage, where she wrote three critically acclaimed shows.
“I thought, well, I guess I’m pursuing comedy as a career because it just kept working out,” she said. “I thought if it’s working, I’m getting opportunities, and I’m still enjoying myself, I might as well pursue it.”
She wrote sketches about what it’s like to be an Asian woman on dating apps, and explored jokes about handling racialized body issues.
“We live in a very fat-phobic society, and fat people are treated differently,” she said. “I’ve witnessed and experienced these things.
“I wanted my comedy to address them because I know I’m not the only fat person, Filipino or woman.”
In 2017, Pornel won Entertainer of the Year from the Canadian Comedy Awards. And this year, she has been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for best host or presenter, factual or reality/competition for her work on The Great Canadian Baking Show.
Educating Canada in giggle-ology
“People don’t often realize they’re learning when they’re laughing,” Pornel said about her love for comedy and its power to convey important messages.
“It’s like a teaspoon of sugar that helps the medicine go down.”
In Canada, where so many different cultures and communities coexist, having comedians from diverse backgrounds on stage and screen can make a significant difference, she said.
“There’s something about seeing a person of colour do that, and maybe they’re not even talking about a specific issue — they’re just there.”