Humor is serious business. That’s a phrase you’ll often hear from Catherine Lawrence who left corporate law to make people laugh.

Left a career in law to go on the stage!? You bet.

But what else would you expect from a woman who

  • crossed the Pacific as part of the crew in a brigantine to celebrate the 400th year of Sir Francis Drake’s round-the-world voyage in 1979
  • waitressed, then played summer stock at Jasper while going to university at Queens,
  • articled successfully in Toronto, then immediately took off for Peru with her husband to lead an international group of young people on a three-month community project (building a Hovercraft ramp) for Campa Indians in Puerto Bermudez on a tributary of the Amazon River (not much Spanish, and no native Campa tongue).

“You need a sense of humor when you’re thousands of miles from anywhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and living in a 132-foot brigantine with 32 people you’ve only just met.

“You need a sense of humor to cope with the stage, and even more to cope with life when you’re in a situation where you don’t speak the language.”

“But what I really love is to laugh and make people laugh,” she says. “It’s one of the most wonderful things in the world-especially when you realize that laughter is the world’s best medicine. It makes people well. It makes people whole.”

Humor was always part of Catherine's early life. Humor was always part of Catherine’s early life. She grew up in Brampton as one of five children (all roads lead to Brampton), attended Brampton Centennial Secondary School, then went on to complete high school at Havergal College.

“Laughter was a natural part of growing up,” she recalls. “I can’t ever remember a time when humor wasn’t a part of my life.”

But the first time she ever held a microphone in her hand was at Havergal College. “It was 1975 at the first Havergal father-daughter banquet. I did the toast to the fathers. I loved it, and I’ve been looking for a microphone ever since.”

In high school the humor amounted to just plain zaniness, like the play she performed in Grade 13, taking the part of a man. Her moustache came off in the middle of the action.

“We were completely off the script, but the whole thing was a success. My brothers and sisters thought I had gone crazy, but that was just an early sign that I liked the feeling of being able to make people laugh,” she says.

She studied Political Science at Queens together with courses in Theatre. Then she turned her theatre training to good use with summer stock appearances at Jasper.

She articled with Toronto law firm Baker, McKenzie, was called to the bar, and following her experience in Peru, practiced commercial law in the legal department of John Labatt Limited and Labatt Ontario Breweries for eight years.

Her legal studies in Admiralty Law stood her in good stead when a Labatt subsidiary purchased a number of fishing vessels on Lake Erie. She says, with her tongue in her cheek, she co-founded the Admiralty Bar in London, Ontario, to deal with the ship traffic on the Thames River.

Her first daughter was born in 1987, while she was working for Labatt in London. She and her husband moved to Toronto in 1988. Then came her son in 1989, and her second daughter in 1993.

About that time she took a three-week sabbatical to travel to Bhutan, a place she had always wanted to visit.

“I still remember the sign that greeted me at the air terminal in Bhutan. It read ‘Welcome. No admittance.’ I knew I had come to the right place.”

And that set the tone for her trip, which she describes as a magical experience.

On the way back from Bhutan she received an invitation to play in the World Elephant Polo Championships at Tiger Tops in Nepal. She returned two years later as the captain of the first all-women’s all Canadian team in the competition. Not only did they fare well in the round-robin tournament, she still displays with a laugh the ceremonial dagger she was awarded as a member of the best-dressed team.

How did they train for it? On the top of Ford Explorers at Eastbourne Golf Course on Lake Simcoe. How did they get the mallets? Not at Canadian Tire. They made their own from croquet mallets substituting long bamboo shoots duct-taped (shades of Red Green) to the short handles. Then they would sit on the top of the cars and try to hit balls.

When she returned to Canada she decided to follow her passion and pursue comedy as a career. And she did-using all the skills and tenacity that had helped her win a law degree in the first place.

Over the years she had done a lot of thinking about the place of laughter in life, and had come to understand that besides being a performance skill, humor is a profound therapeutic tool. She realized she wanted to help people to harness their natural humor resources to impact their energy and enthusiasm for work and life.

“I began to research the therapeutic aspects of humor,” she says. “My objective is to get people to bring more laughter into their lives. When a woman once told me her son said to her ‘Mom, you never laugh,” it struck me that a sense of fun was slipping out of our lives.”

So, in true Lawrence legal fashion, she set out to learn comedy.

“In the mid 90’s I took a standup comedy course at the Avenue Road Arts School. I went to amateur nights at Yuk Yuks. I would be sneaking off at night to do schticks. By day I was a carpool mom.

“I was keynote speaker for Havergal’s 100th-year celebrations, and followed that with MC-ing at live auctions. I was auctioning sex pills before Viagra ever came onto the market.”

As requests for her comedy skills come in, Catherine continues to learn as she practices. In San Diego, following an American Association for Therapeutic Humor Conference, she became one of the first Canadian Certified Laughter Leaders and joined the World Laughter Tour that was founded in India. (Her litigator husband ‘Cupcake’ says he believes she was always Certifiable.)

She attended The Advanced Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which she and her fellow spade-cadets managed to turn into a laughter fest. The 25th Anniversary of the Humor Project in Saratoga Springs, New York, found her trading basketballs with humor award-winner Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon.

When it comes right down to it, her needs are simple. Put a microphone in her hand, give her an audience, and she’s off. Her audiences include everyone from school kids to legal firms, corporations to associations. She’s looking for people who want to, need to laugh. She wants to Laugh them Well. Her philosophy? You must have a sense of humor to survive.

Catherine Lawrence can be reached at survivalofthefunniest@gmail.com

Shannon Moore is a writer and editor based in Toronto.