Interview with Janelle McGuinness on the power of comedy

28 January 2022 / by Rowan Flood-Dick
Janelle McGuinness' Business Cat YouTube title card

Janelle McGuinness is not only a Toronto-based actor but also a musician, singer and filmmaker. McGuinness has studied at Randolph and Sheridan College in Musical Theater. An artist in many forms and with many abilities, her works create laughter and continue important conversions such as with her film  Don’t Touch Women.  It’s clear McGuinness is hardworking and creative as she finds ways to overcome the hardships of the pandemic with her many sketches filmed inside the confines of her own home. McGuinness’s motivation and creativity is obvious when we spoke over Zoom about both past, future and current projects we can look forward to. 


Rowan Flood: As both a singer and actor, what first inspired you to enter the entertainment industry?

Janelle McGuinness: Probably singing. I was a pretty musical child and that’s why I ended up going into musical theatre. My parents put me in singing lessons and then at one point I was like, “This is a thing people do with their lives?”  I guess I’m going to be one of them. 

Flood: So theatre school is what spurred your interest?

McGuinness: Once I realized people could do acting as a career, I ended up taking a couple of musical theatre intensives in Vancouver and from there they helped me get into schools in Ontario. It all came from a need to sing.

Flood: What led to comedy being one of your main focuses throughout your career?

McGuinness: Comedies were always my favourite genre. Sheridan College had this written questionnaire when you audition and they asked, “Who is your favourite actor?” My answer was always Will Ferrell. In my head, I knew that was silly considering that I was going to musical theatre school. Once I was in school, I realized that improv was my favourite class. It wasn’t until I started taking classes at Second City that I was like, “Oh, yeah, this made sense.” Whereas with musical theatre it felt like I was going against a current, with improv and comedy it felt like I finally was going in the right direction. 

Flood: How did making your own films come about, was it always something you wanted to do?

McGuinness: It was something that I’ve always wanted to do. I had a sketch before the pandemic but between scheduling and not having good equipment, it was difficult. Once the pandemic hit we couldn’t really do a lot together. I was going crazy in my house. Then I filmed my first sketch called Pizza Bags and then I was like, “Oh that wasn’t too bad. I could do that again.” I think there was an emotional barrier that was stopping me from trying and then once I did it I realized I could do this a few more times.

Flood: Your YouTube channel has quite a few of your films, and some have more serious messages. Do you think comedy adds value to discussing important subjects?

McGuinness: I think for me it makes things more palatable. I feel like people give using comedy as a vehicle a bad reputation because some people think it devalues the point. Sometimes things are a tough pill to swallow and if you add comedy to it, someone, in my opinion, is more likely to listen if they’re laughing while they’re listening. They’re more open to the message.

Flood: How does it feel to have your own film, Business Cat, showing at the Great Canadian Comedy Film Festival?

McGuinness: It’s a weird feeling. I do internet sketches so the fact that it was at a theatre feels fake. I prefer live comedy because you get the feedback of the laughter. Realistically that’s what I do it for, for the reactions. That being said, by creating those YouTube videos you have the possibility of reaching a wider audience, which is more valuable at the end of the day. For me, an ideal would be striking a balance between being able to do live performance but also do that at the same time. 

Flood: How has filmmaking compared to your acting experiences?

McGuinness: Once you put on more than one hat in terms of acting, producing and editing, I’ve found it’s made acting a little harder. I have to almost block it out at the moment when I’m acting. In comedy, it’s not too bad because the acting is very over the top. When I have to be a little more grounded, it’s harder. There were moments when I was a lot more grounded and I kept having to shut that producer hat out and remember that I was acting. You almost have to compartmentalize what you’re doing. 

Flood: You mentioned you’re working on a project at the moment, can you talk a bit about that and future projects?

McGuinness: A good friend and I started writing this short film back in 2018. We got too busy to finish it but once the pandemic hit we were like, “Oh we should finish it, we have all this time now.” We filmed it and now we’re in the stages of editing to see how we can make jokes land better and if we can cut it down. Hopefully, I’m just going to be filming more videos. I’m supposed to be filming one tomorrow and then I want to get more regular with it. 

Flood: This will all be on your YouTube channel. How do you find using YouTube as a platform for your work?

McGuinness: Unfortunately, I’m someone who’s really bad at responding to anyone online. I look forward to one day having more interaction and then remembering to interact back because it’s happening more frequently. What I like about my YouTube channel is that I don’t have to compromise what I want to do. Even in a group sometimes my ideas may be a little too outlandish, or not match what we want to say as a group. On my channel, it can be more like, “I think this is funny so I want to do it.” Which is nice.  

Flood: How would you want people to feel after watching films you’ve either made or acted in?

McGuinness: Honestly, I just want them to laugh. Even if there is a message in what I’m saying, the driving force behind why I’m doing it, it’s silly. If there is a message, great, love that, because it adds to it, but all my favourite comedies are just so silly. 

Flood: Can you still say Will Ferrell is your favourite actor?

McGuinness: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Step Brothers is my favourite movie. 

Flood: Can you tell me a bit what the future holds?

McGuinness: It’s kind of open. I’m at a crossroads in my career where I am trying to figure out what to do. Obviously, I have an agent and I’m working towards getting better gigs that way. In terms of what I can personally control, my next goal is to get more consistent on the YouTube channel. Eventually, I would want to write a series. I would love it to be almost Flights of The Concords-y. Maybe a little less dead-pan. I would love it to have songs integrated in that way. I think I just want to write more songs first before I try to piece a bunch together in a series. 


You can find Janelle McGuinness on YouTube.