TORONTO — Without meaning to, Brittany Lyseng has found herself building a life around breaking the glass ceiling.
The 33-year-old Calgary native did just that for 12 years when she was believed to be the first female elevator mechanic in her area — if not the entire province — and she’s now in a similar situation as she navigates the world of standup comedy.
“There are pockets of women but it’s mostly dominated by men still,” Lyseng said in a recent phone interview to promote her new comedy album “Going Up,” launched Thursday through Comedy Here Often, an imprint of Nickelback singer Chad Kroeger’s 604 Records.
“The conditions of being a comedian are similar to that of being on a job site. You’re going from town to town, you’re in motels and hotels and on the road driving a ton. It’s a lot more other work than just being onstage and I don’t know if that appeals to most women.”
Lyseng got into her first vocation after growing up playing hockey in a blue-collar family.
Her parents worked in the construction industry — her dad as a project manager, her mom in the accounting department — while her uncle and a couple of cousins were elevator mechanics.
“That’s just kind of the way of the world in Alberta,” she said.
“When it became time to choose a job, I looked towards my family and saw what they were doing and chose a lucrative position as an elevator mechanic…. It was just sort of a lack of direction.”
But Lyseng found she loved the job and excelled at it. And she enjoyed being the only woman, proving to her shocked male colleagues that she was able to pull her weight.
“They said, ‘You know you’re the only girl, right?’ I said, ‘Oh no, I didn’t even think about it,'” said Lyseng, who notes in her comedy album she was the first female elevator mechanic in Western Canada.
“They said, ‘You’ll be the first girl that’s ever done this if you get the job,’ and I said, ‘All right, let’s give it a whirl.’ I kind of clumsily fall into things that way with no real intention of making a splash, but it always turns out I do.”
Comedy was something Lyseng had always wanted to do but she never knew how to get into it.
“The idea of telling jokes and getting paid and going from town to town sounds insane to anybody who works in Alberta,” she said.
“They’re like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not a real job.’ So I started looking online for open mics and I started writing down jokes and stashing them away and figuring, ‘Maybe I’ll be able to tell these some day.'”
It was when Lyseng was 27 and her dad survived a heart attack that she took the plunge.
“I realized, ‘Life is so short, I should really try the things I want to do and find out how to do them,'” she said.
Lyseng started an open mic night in Calgary and her standup career took off from there, with stints at comedy clubs across Canada and Just for Laughs festivals, and a semi-finalist spot in Sirius XM’s Top Comic competition.
She got her comedy album deal after Sirius XM host/comedian Ben Miner suggested her name to 604 Records’ co-founder, entertainment lawyer Jonathan Simkin, who was looking for new talent for their comedy imprint.
“604 has kind of swung open a huge door in Canada,” Lyseng said.
“They’ve taken some huge steps to make some things accessible that wouldn’t typically be accessible to comedians, like the studio space to record things and proper recording techniques.”
The title of Lyseng’s album, “Going Up,” refers to her former job as an elevator mechanic and touches on topics including her family and her career path.
The album is available for download on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, and Google Play.
“It’s slowly changing,” Lyseng said of diversity in the standup world.
“I think people expect things to change quickly, and it takes time. It’s the little things that change. Women are so sought after now in the realm of comedy and that’s a big change, and all these comics coming out with these big specials.
“It’s always going to be a rough-and-tumble world. It’s not for the faint of heart and that kind of weeds people out who don’t want to do it. So I hope that it’s changing in terms of respect for women but I kind of like it being rough around the edges.”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press