Calgary-born standup comic Brittany Lyseng is making a name for herself on the national comedy circuit lately with an act infused with funny, raunchy anecdotes, including some from her 12-year construction career.
Lyseng, 33, is from a family of trades people including uncles who were elevator constructors and so it seemed like a viable and respectable lifestyle for her. She earned her journeyperson’s ticket in four years with International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 130 and then worked on jobs around the province, including a stint at the 60-storey Telus Sky project in Calgary.
But she always liked being funny, and had often considered taking her chances in standup, so when five years ago her father suffered a heart attack, she thought, life is short, now is the time to take a chance. It’s been hard work and taken patience, but today she can be heard on CBC Radio’s Laugh Out Loud and seen on Kevin Hart’s LOL network, and she’s been on stage at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival and the JFL Northwest in Vancouver as well as multiple appearances at her hometown YYCOMEDY festival in Calgary.
Naturally, her dozen years in construction provides her with ample fodder for humour. Her anecdotes are played for laughs but it does not take long to learn that Lyseng absolutely loved the job and time spent with co-workers.
“I was the first female in Alberta to do that job so I was the first female in that union, so there are going to be some negative experiences,” said Lyseng, who recently recorded a comedy album with Vancouver’s 604 Records. “But I don’t think anyone was coming from a bad place. They were not used to having a girl on site, they didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know if I was strong enough to pick up the other end. In their mind, they are thinking, that’s a safety hazard.
“It is a lot of fun on a construction site. There aren’t a lot of rules for what you say. So you can say some pretty funny things without getting in trouble. A lot of things that came out of my mouth were worse than theirs.”
There’s one joke where she tells her father, a carpenter originally who is now a project manager, that the other workers yell at her all day long.
“He says, ‘Are you sure they are yelling?’ ‘Yes, they are screaming at me all day long.’ And then I realized, I don’t think they are yelling, they just need what they need quicker than you’re getting it.”
Even directly provocative comments and challenges from some co-workers were easily deflected, she said. If someone started to say something that might have made her uncomfortable, usually another male would interject and comment it was inappropriate.
“You’ve definitely got to stand up for yourself. If they are trying to pick at you and prod you and get you going, if you just realize you are way smarter than them and can see through the garbage, then you can stand up for yourself a little bit and say why,” she said.
Lyseng gave up her elevator job two years ago, when her comedy career got too busy to do both. Now she manages to make a living on her comedy wages supplemented by occasionally building decks.
She compares the bonding that takes places sitting at the back of a comedy club with other comics with the camaraderie she felt on worksites. It’s just like the construction lunchroom, she said.
“When you are building a hydraulic elevator, it is just you and another guy building the elevator but when you are on a highrise there can be 15 or 16 guys on site,” Lyseng said. “I always liked the atmosphere where there are a lot of guys and you are having a lot of fun. It is a pretty neat and interesting job and I had a lot of fun doing it.”