Before Rebecca Black was “gettin’ down on Friday” Toronto’s own (okay- technically Orangeville, but I claim her for Team Toronto) Alana Johnston, currently courting fame, fortune and glamour in Los Angeles, was “makin’ it work” with her debut album Self Esteem Party.
Where to even start with this girl!? Alana Johnston is an Improv and Sketch Comedy Queen who has performed in venues across Toronto with a wide array of Comedy Troupes as well as in Chicago and now in LA as well. She was nominated for a 2010 Canadian Comedy Award for her work on YTV’s critically acclaimed sketch show for kids That’s So Weird. In Toronto, Johnston is most well known for her vibrant performance style, a mixture of panache, celebrity, self deprecation and joie de vivre with a delightful post modern edge. Johnston, usually with hilarious cohorts Inessa Frantowski and Kayla Lorette in tow, knows how to turn even the most impetuous comedy show in a venue where an actual tree trunk masquerades as a chair, into an Event of a Lifetime that even the Kardashian sisters would kill to be invited to.
With the vivacity and sassafrass ‘tude of a socialite, the comedic prowess of a cast member from Saturday Night Live and the attention span of a six year old boy at his birthday party who has eaten nothing but Fun Dip for three days straight, Alana Johnston’s foray into the world of pop music is a natural progression. Self Esteem Party is an album made up of a series of extremely short songs that tackle important issues relating to the quest for self love and acceptance.
Self Esteem Party actually works on more than one level. Simply, it is made up of nineteen almost absurdly short songs, the longest of which is only one minute and fourteen seconds long, which combine catchy lyrics and infectious beats (by Henri Fletcher, Ian Docherty and Randall Savoy) to create fun, quirky little bursts of music that are perfect to pump you up or to appropriate into daily affirmations. What this album was made for, ideally, was as the core of Johnston’s live Self Esteem Parties, which have played to sold out crowds in Toronto and Los Angeles is getting their second dose on June 13th at the Comedy Central Stage. I attended one of these shows in Toronto a few months ago and it was absolutely terrific.
One part stand up, one part concert, with an exclusive viewing of “The Making Of Documentary” for the music video for the single “50 Pounds,” The Self Esteem Party showcases Alana Johnston and all her unique talents and abilities to the utmost maximum potential. She shines especially bright as a character actor, solidifying in her audiences’ minds that she belongs on a show like Saturday Night Live or The Carol Burnett Show that will adequately be able to foster her creativity, gusto and gift for making people laugh. Each of the sketches that she performs on this evening relate to one’s self esteem, which proves immediately to be a topic with maximum comedic potential. At the same time, her seemingly incidental stories, with the sly and often sultry punch lines that never seem an ounce rehearsed, delve deep into issues of self esteem too, which is perfect for her natural self deprecating humour. Art mirrors life mirrors art as she brings up her talented guests, but refuses to allow them the opportunity to upstage her. She has even written in song an ode to the (high profile) power struggles between her, her best friend, Kayla Lorette and her younger sister, Allison Johnston, a theme that permeates through the evening. The most self-referential of the tracks is the one entitled “Pink Eye,” which references the first Self Esteem Party Show that Johnston was forced to cancel when she got pink eye in both her eyes. Alana Johnston knows how to sell a song; she knows how to play the pop star role and how to work a camera and a crowd magnificently. Seeing her perform her songs in concert is a joyful, hilarious and also surprisingly poignant experience.
Without taking things too seriously, for Alana Johnston is undoubtedly a comic singer, and delving too far into sixteen seconds of song, I must say there is something that resonates out of these little ditties. From “Gay” whose message is as simple and uncomplicated as perhaps it should be (it’s okay to be gay) to “Self Esteem Party” and “Makin’ it Work” there is something inspiring and motivating, especially in the repetition, which actually affirms Johnston’s positive declaration in your brain. Other tracks are more postmodern in their pastiche of contemporary music and the society we live in. “So What” is the song Lady Gaga would write about her period. “Party Mom” and “50 Pounds/Gain 50 Pounds” mirror so much of what we see on reality and in pageant shows.
Self Esteem Party is truly a unique album and if you have the opportunity to see Alana perform this material live, I would grab it as fast as I could. For more information, and to hear these tunes please head over to her website.
Say yes to life, Say yes to love, Say yes to Alana and Self Esteem Parties.
Self Esteem Party plays at the Comedy Central Stage (6539 Santa Monica Boulevard (Hudson Ave in between Highland and Vine), Los Angeles, CA June 13th, 2011 at 8:00pm. It is a free show, but reservations (323.960.5519) are available.
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