A couple of weeks ago, Naomi, myself, Jen Pogue and Deanna Palazzo were on a Skype call scheming and dreaming what might be next for The National Theatre of The World. Naomi and I are spending lots of time in LA these days and there’s definitely plans to start up a monthly show here in January but for the time being, we collectively agreed there isn’t much going on with NTOW these days. So what do we do to stay relevant? How can we continue to bring positivity to the world while we gather ourselves and plan our next move?
We decided that while we wait for the inspiration to come, we would take the time to share with our followers and fans the people who inspired us along the way. What better way to do this than to hand out our our own brand of awards we now proudly call the “Worldies”. A symbolic gesture by The National Theatre of The World that takes the time to celebrate folks who inspire us and spread general goodness in our community.
The name of the awards may be a hold over from a conversation I had with Ron Pederson back when he was a regular member of NTOW and in fact the whole idea may be his brainchild altogether. I honestly don’t remember. The point is, we like it.
What does this have to do with Jo-Anne Downey? Good question. We were all set to hand out our first “Worldie” right here on The National Blog of The World to honour our dear friend Susan Messing from Chicago. But that will have to respectfully wait while we take the time to offer our very first “Worldie” posthumously to the late, renowned and gifted comic, Jo-Anna Downey.
JO-ANNA DOWNEY was a talented and brilliant comedian known for her quick wit, fearlessness and sassiness. As one of the nation’s best stand-up comics, she created a home for comedians to learn, explore, challenge and experiment by starting two successful weekly open mic rooms in Toronto — the legendary open mics at Spirits pub on Church St (Wednesdays) and The Eton House on Danforth (Tuesdays). Some 700 + comics played her shows, including crashers like Robin Williams and Lewis Black and a reportedly very drunk Michael Moriarty.
Joanna appeared on CBC, the Comedy Network, the Discovery Channel and on a CTV special titled Women of the Night, which earned a 2002 Gemini nomination. She toured the country, performing at Just For Laughs in Montreal and Toronto. She was featured on the cover of NOW Magazine and voted favourite stand-up comic by the people of Toronto.
In the last few years of her life, Joanna battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and the illness has left her unable to speak. Since her diagnosis, the comedy community and fans banded together throwing multiple fundraisers and tribute shows to help her through a very difficult time.
Toronto Star Article posted in 2012:
HOW JOANNA KEPT SPIRITS COMEDY NIGHT GOING FOR 16 YEARS
This past Friday the comedy community was rocked when it lost it’s “Mama”. Outpouring of love and emotion came from all over North America with members of the large comedy family collecting together at stages to remember this powerful matriarch. Reading through some of the heartfelt posts, there is no doubt that Jo-Anna was someone who changed so many people’s lives and careers. It seems like everyone has a story about Jo-anna. I know when I was trying to make a start as a stand up at Eton House, Jo-Anna was often the only person in the room who laughed. And I know I’m not the only one she did that for.
She was an amazing advocate of tough, bold ladies–once i told her i’d like to try and do stand up and she said: “you’d be FUCKING AWESOME!” – in that moment she could have told me I could do open heart surgery and I would have believed her. – Naomi Snieckus
The National Theatre of The World will forever be inspired by Jo-anna, and vow to keep her spirit and passion alive in every comedy hall we pass.