‘First’ all-Black Canadian comedy tour returns to Halifax

Underground Comedy Railroad Tour skewers race relations and more

4 min read
Rodney Ramsey
caption Toronto comedian Rodney Ramsey tells jokes on the stage of the Pickford & Black craft beer & seafood bar in Halifax on Feb. 10, 2024. Ramsey was a part of the Underground Comedy Railroad Tour that made its way from coast to coast during African Heritage Month.
Ethan Hunt

Editor's Note

This story contains coarse language.

Black comics followed each other onto the stage on a Saturday night, filling a purple-lit Halifax barroom with laughter at topics ranging from race relations to the foibles of social media.

Local funnyman Travis Lindsay closed the evening at the Underground Comedy Railroad Tour on Feb. 10 at Pickford & Black, ranting about his shock at being able to get free sweet and sour sauce at an American McDonald’s.

As he performed, Toronto comedian Rodney Ramsey slouched in a corner booth with the other artists, quiet and exhausted. Just the thought of upcoming tour stops in Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver drained the 20-year comedy veteran who co-founded the showcase to give Black performers a bigger stage.

Ramsey and fellow Toronto funnyman Daniel Woodrow named their show the Underground Comedy Railroad Tour as a nod to the secret routes African Americans took to Canada to escape slavery. Comics hit the road every year during African Heritage Month and the founders bill it as Canada’s first and longest-running all-Black comedy tour.

“There’s a market for an all-Black tour in Canada,” Ramsey said in an interview with The Signal. “And nobody’s done it, so I’m going to do it.”

The idea came about when Ramsey noticed he was one of the few Black performers in Canadian comedy lineups. The only regular Black-themed show was a monthly Toronto event hosted by Kenny Robinson, a standup comedian who has brought in superstars such as Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart.

Underground Comedy Railroad Tour poster
caption Toronto comics started the Underground Comedy Railroad Tour in 2012 with the mission of showcasing Black comedic talent across Canada.
Underground Comedy Railroad Tour

Taking it out East

Ramsey and Woodrow had always planned to add a Halifax date because Nova Scotia is believed to have been the first port of call for Mathieu da Costa, who historians say was the first Black person in Canada. Da Costa worked as an interpreter for French explorer Samuel de Champlain between 1604 and 1607.

“We were dying to do Halifax,” Ramsey said.

Performers mined the topic of race relations during their comedy sets. Ramsey recounted how a middle-aged white woman once approached him and his son near their home and revealed she had been watching the boy for three years. She offered to babysit.

Ramsey observed that had a Black man said the same thing to a white woman and her child, “you wouldn’t have to call the police, they’d just be there.”

The crowd exploded in laughter.

Headliner arrives … eventually

Travis Lindsay
caption Halifax comedian Travis Lindsay tells jokes on the stage of Pickford & Black bar in Halifax on Feb. 10, 2024. Woodrow was a part of the Underground Comedy Railroad Tour that made its way from coast to coast during African Heritage Month.
Ethan Hunt

Local headliner Travis Lindsay was running late for his set so Woodrow, who hosted the event, killed time onstage by offering to FaceTime Lindsay in his Uber. The Halifax humorist arrived not long after Woodrow’s FaceTime joke, telling the audience he was battling a scratchy voice because he had hurt his neck suppressing a sneeze.

Lindsay cautioned the crowd not to make him out to be a spokesperson for sneeze-neck injuries because, in his words, “that’s the least gangsta shit.”

Lindsay sat down with The Signal after performing three sets and said he never felt being Black was a disadvantage – it just means he stands out on the mostly-white Canadian comedy scene.

“Rural audiences make you feel a little different sometimes,” Lindsay acknowledged. “But that scene has always been like, ‘funny is funny’ and that was the standard.”

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