Chaves gives comedy chops a workout

Last Update: 18 February 2001

Source: Toronto Sun

07 February 2001

Chaves gives comedy chops a workout


TORONTO -- Martha Chaves has to laugh when her mother asks what she wants to do with her life.

Chaves is a Nicaraguan-born stand-up comic living in Toronto, mostly getting by on her resilience and her stranger-in-a-strange-land sense of humour.

She's doing all right. But Gloria, her mom living in Guatemala, asks her occasionally, "Are you continuing to make faces for a living?"

Well, yes and no. Chaves still does stand-up, but she's doing what a lot of comedians are doing these days: She's acting in movies.

She just finished a small role in the thriller Don't Say A Word, which is currently shooting in town with Michael Douglas and Famke Janssen. Chaves plays a neighbour to a distraught psychiatrist (Douglas) whose daughter has been kidnapped.

Happy hostage

Last fall, she appeared in the hostage drama John Q with Denzel Washington and James Woods, which wrapped here in early November. "I am the hostage who makes Denzel's character smile," she says proudly.

Her movie debut came with a cameo part as a maid in the Chris Rock comedy Down To Earth, which completed filming here last March and is set for release in a few weeks.

Although she won't be too specific, Chaves hints that she is also being considered for a few TV sitcoms.

All things considered, she's managed a decent showbiz career for a Nicaraguan political exile who ended up in Montreal more than a decade ago with lots of ambition and not much direction.

Comedy classes

Her theatre background led her to Concordia University, where she took comedy writing courses -- "You can't teach a sense of humour, but you can learn structure," says Chaves -- taught by Just For Laughs co-organizer Andy Nulman.

That relationship and some natural comedy chops led to her appearances at the high-profile Just For Laughs comedy festival and jobs across the country, even a few L.A. showcases.

Two years ago, she decided to give Toronto a chance. "My second exile," she says, laughing.

Even better, fine-tuning her routines on the Canadian Yuk-Yuk's club circuit has given her enough confidence to write a one-woman, eight-character show she hopes to stage in Toronto by June.

"It's not going to be like other comics who just do their comedy act with furniture on a stage," says Chaves.

In the show, called Rebel With Applause, she plans to recall her dramatic life and times in war-torn Nicaragua, where her brother was killed.

Then there are her exile years, working as a translator for the Hispanic wives of Expos baseball players and "trying to get audience members in Moose Jaw to break into a smile when they don't want to break."

Can't wait until June? Catch the rising star at the Raising The Roof homeless benefit Sunday at Second City, where she will continue to make faces for a living.

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