Q&A: Royal Canadian Air Farce veteran Luba Goy

The comedienne extraordinaire discusses her Ukrainian heritage, performing and comedy.


 

She’s played everyone from Kim Campbell to Sheila Copps, Rita MacNeil and the Queen of England on Royal Canadian Air Farce but on May 7 to 26, Luba Goy will take the stage at Berkeley Street Theatre in her one-woman show Luba, Simply Luba as herself. Don’t worry, she’ll be doing some of her favourite characters in the play but here’s a chance to catch Canada’s funny woman retrace her own, compelling personal story. Accompanied on stage by Victor Mishalow, a Ukrainian-Canadian musician with a bandura [a 67-string lute-like instrument], Goy will explore growing up as a Ukrainian immigrant in Ottawa to being honoured at Rideau Hall and of course, her time on CBC radio and TV with Air Farce. We catch up with one of Canada’s most beloved comedic actors here.

How did the play come about?

Andrey Tarasiuk and Diane Flacks. I’ve known Diane for many years; she was actually a guest on Air Farce. She wrote my story. It’s a collaboration between Andre, Diane and myself. Years ago, we did another play in the ’80s and toured it across Canada. Even back then, [Andre] was saying, “When Air Farce is finished, you’re going to do your one woman show and I’m going to produce and direct it.” Sure enough, he made it happen.

Tell me about the show.

It’s basically about my growing up in Ottawa as an immigrant child from my very beginnings in Canada to my going to Rideau Hall as a guest to meet the president of Ukraine. It’s that whole journey of how it came to be where I am now. Diane essentially put a global, epic, tragic comedy in one act.

What was it like growing up in Ottawa?

As an immigrant child, the Ukrainian community was extremely important. Winters were amazing in Ottawa. We would have forts, snowball fights and I loved skating. I was an only child and a bit lonely. I often played by myself but when I went to the skating rink, there were children there. There was a shack and a coal burning stove and the smell of wool mittens really brings me back. As a teenager, I worked at Le Hibou, a coffeehouse on Sussex Drive. Dave Broadfoot did plays there and I served coffee to Gordon Lightfoot—Bruce Cockburn also used to play there. I met all these people and wanted to be part of that entertainment world.

Where did you get your comic sensibility from?

That came from my father. He was called the Charlie Chaplin of the Ukrainian community. He would do one-man shows that had this country bumpkin character that was very funny and he directed plays. He also played the mandolin and sang in an all male choir. When I started kindergarten in Belgium, my father would direct plays and have these musical evenings where children could perform. I took piano lessons but they couldn’t afford a piano so I got an accordion instead. They say it’s the same as a piano. But it’s not. You reach the stage where you get breasts and they get in the bellows. It’s not a sexy instrument.

When Air Farce went from radio to TV, how did it change for you?

Not a lot of groups can go from radio to TV successfully. We have an enormous following of fans who still chastise us with “why did you leave radio?” Radio is theatre of the mind. With TV, the camera is your servant. But HD is not much fun for anyone over 30.

What’s your favourite Air Farce sketch or character?

I always enjoyed playing the political leaders or any of the wives. Loved Laura Bush. And when she was around, Sheila Cobbs beause she was such a screamer. So full of life. I enjoyed doing the Queen. She was limited but she was always fun to do.

What is it about political characters that you like?

They’re real. I adore doing Brenda the Bingo Lady. She was a great character because she would talk about what was going on around her.

What do you want the audience to take away from the show?

Luba, Simply Luba means they’ll get to know more about me than just that I’m an Air Farce comedian who does a lot of characters. They’ll learn about my life which is quite interesting. We all have those lives, all those elements. I’m just fortunate to have the opportunity to tell my story. Canadian theatre is all about telling stories.

How does it feel to be known as Canada’s Queen of Comedy?

That sits with me just great. When I was in TV and doing the weekly show, many people enjoyed my work in particular. I thought it was because I was the only woman but it’s because I love what I do. I love performing and love the stage. The audience has to work just as hard as I do. They have to come and sit and listen and laugh and interact. It’s a great way to make a living. It doesn’t even feel like work. My whole life, I’ve been blessed to do what I love. People would be so jealous. They’d walk past our offices at the CBC and hear laughter. There was always laughter.

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