Riel Hahn has her fingers in a lot of different pies these days, but for the talented Vancouver comedian, writer, singer and actress, her many creative pursuits all boil down to one thing: telling a good story.
“At the end of the day, everything I do comes out of being a storyteller, it’s just the nature of how those stories are being told,” she said. “I am, and have been since I was really little, a writer and a storyteller.”
Hahn, who’s father co-founded the world-renowned improv group Vancouver TheatreSports League in 1980, was surrounded by talented comedians from an early age and grew up listening to her grandparents old stand-up albums.
“I don’t know why they left me alone with George Carlin, but I listened to a lot of him, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen and Richard Pryor actually,” she said. “I started doing stand-up a little over 10 years ago and it kind of grew out of being an improviser because I was around so many comedians, although I think I wanted to be a stand-up since I was about 15.”
Hahn’s diverse performances blend storytelling and music with her own unique brand of comedy, something she calls “stand-up tragedy.”
I also do a lot of storytelling shows, and when I do storytelling shows they’re not always funny, although I think that my favourite thing to do is blend,” she said. “I like to make people laugh and cry, and I think that comes from pretty much all of my performances being based out of true experience. I don’t make up much onstage. Over the years I’ve had lots of stand-up sets and jokes I’ve written, but I’ve found that it’s more rewarding for myself and the audience when I am just being really honest, so that can go both ways.”
Hahn has only recently started to incorporate her original songs — some comedic, some not — into her shows. She said she’s never really thought of herself as a musician and was initially reluctant to perform with guitar in-hand in front of audiences.
“I had taken a break from stand-up for a while to work and be mellow, and then I wrote this really funny song randomly, and I had a little temper tantrum over it,” she said. “I was so scared of singing in front of people, but I had a war with myself because the song was so funny, I thought I can’t not play this.”
Despite regularly performing to rooms full of strangers, Hahn admitted she’s “a very shy and sensitive person” in everyday life, but opens up easily with a microphone in-hand.
“I guess being shy and being a performer, I don’t think are mutually exclusive. So many performers I know are really shy people,” she said. “I noticed when I don’t (perform), I’m not a nice person. It’s such a compulsion to connect … If there’s kind of a barrier between me and people, I can communicate easily with them. When we’re are all at the same level and people are all around me at a party, I don’t always know what to say unless I get sort of comedian-y.”
When Hahn isn’t busy being “comedian-y” she can be found finishing up her short story collection, acting in small TV and film roles (including a speaking cameo in the 2011 blockbuster, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which she called “the funnest day ever”) and organizing her unique weekly comedy showcase in Vancouver, Amuse Bouche.
The show, which is on hiatus with Hahn planning to move to California next month, puts comics in a small, intimate setting with no microphones.
“It’s such an interesting way to see comedians, they’re not raised up on the stage,” Han said. “It’s kind of like they’re holding court at a party. Something really interesting happens to comedians when they don’t have a microphone, which is that they get really truthful. I often saw stuff come out of the comics that you would never see them do in any other environment.”
Come see Hahn’s unique performance at Dusty’s Bar on Friday (Dec. 14) at 9 p.m. as part of another Creative 5 Eclectic night, Whistler’s bi-weekly cabaret-style showcase hosted by longtime local Stephen Vogler. Admission is by donation.
If you’re in the Vancouver area, Hahn is also appearing in an innovative improv show called The Life Game at Granville Island’s Studio 1398 until Sunday (Dec. 16). Tickets are $17.50 in advance at www.thelifegamevancouver.com, or $20 at the door.