Cancer is funny: Kelly Dear returns to stand-up comedy

Kelly Dear performs with her former student Ryan Dennee at the Kingston Brewing Company this weekend

The last time Kelly Dear performed standup, Ethyl and Myrtle were on stage with her. This weekend, when Dear takes the stage for a comedy set at the Kingston Brewing Company, Ethel will sadly not be joining her. Ethyl has been replaced by Fethyl – fake Ethyl.

All of these names refer to Kelly Dear’s breasts. Dear was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and only recently finished chemotherapy and ‘rang the bell’ to signify the completion of her treatment. Ethyl, sadly, had to go, and was replaced by foam – the aforementioned Fethyl.

Prior to her diagnosis, Dear was a high school teacher in Kingston for 20 years, teaching media studies, English, and drama. One of her drama students in the mid-90s was Ryan Dennee, now one of Kingston’s most prominent comedians. Dear and Dennee are sharing a stand-up stage for the first time this weekend.

“He was hopeless,” remembers Dear, with a laugh. “But he was hilarious.”  

Dear reconnected with Dennee several years ago, and the seed was planted to do a show together. Dear, however, was still a teacher and was reluctant at the time to “be associated with that, shall we say, rawness,” she says, referring to Dennee’s no-filter comedy act.

“Now that I’m not actively in the classroom, it should be OK,” she says, with only a little trepidation in her voice. “He’s surpassed me in his abilities, so to work with him will be such a privilege.”

While being a full-time teacher, Dear was an active comedian for more than 15 years, hosting fundraisers, headlining comedy shows, and serving as a keynote speaker at events across Canada. This weekend marks her first full-length comedy set in over five years, and her first since she found out she had cancer. She’s been extremely forthcoming about her cancer experience.

“Oh yes, it’s very funny,” she quips. “The only way to get through it was to find the humour in it.”

While she’s quick with a joke about having cancer and going through chemotherapy, she’s also very forthcoming about the struggles of treatment.

“Cancer is easy,” she says. “Chemotherapy is hard. My brain was deteriorating to the point where I couldn’t even remember what I taught. I was trying to remember the ‘Five Cs,’ which was the foundation of my program for 20 years. It took me three days to remember one: Concentration. I thought the irony of that was hysterical.”

During the shows tonight and tomorrow, Dennee will act as the MC and do a comedy set of his own, and Dear will close each show, but she has some concerns about her energy levels, post-chemotherapy.

“It’s going to be quite something,” says Dear. “I can’t do anything for 40 minutes except babble. Of all the things that I’ve lost – I’m missing years and years of my life – but I still have a rapier wit’”

Ryan Dennee and Kelly Dear take the stage at the Kingston Brewing Company (Dragon’s Lair) tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door.


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