Most find it hard to make people laugh. But for some, it comes naturally. This clever couple has been working hard to put Canada on the map in the world of comedy.
It takes more than a funny bone—or two—to make it in Canada’s competitive comedy industry. But for Naomi Snieckus and Matt Baram, their collective skills have helped them become the hilarious “it-couple,” taking on the challenge one scene at a time.
You may recognize them from your television screens. Matt stars as the nerdy character Jonathan in the Citytv show Seed, and Naomi can be seen as Bobbi, the no-nonsense teacher, in the CBC comedy series Mr. D.
It’s never a dull moment, on stage or off, when it comes to the lives of these two actors who are masters of the art of improvisation. For them, there is no off-switch.
Whether they are in the comfort of their own home or in a training space, they are constantly thinking of fresh material. And that’s something they have to do to thrive in
such a fast-paced environment that feeds off of captivating an audience and playing with emotions.
Before coming together as a power duo, they each hailed from different acting backgrounds. Matt studied at the University of Alberta’s Fine Arts Acting Conservatory. He moved to Toronto to become a serious, classically trained actor, but couldn’t get auditions for those types of festivals. “In the meantime, I didn’t want to wait around for the phone to ring,” says Matt. “So I went and produced my own shows.”
He eventually auditioned for a role with the Second City Comedy Theatre, one of Toronto’s legendary improv hubs. It was there that Naomi and Matt first crossed paths.
Naomi graduated from the Ryerson Theatre School, where she discovered her passion for acting and never looked back. “It was exactly what I wanted to do,” she says.
Later, when Naomi landed a position with Second City, she knew she chose the right career. Naomi and Matt ended up working on five shows together, with Second City, where they established their undeniable chemistry and made lasting connections and industry relationships.
In 2008, they founded The National Theatre of the World (along with Ron Pederson), a nonprofit, Toronto-based theatre company. They specialize in improvisation and work hard to create exciting and provocative theatre. The company puts on various shows throughout the year; some of its productions include I Seen You on TV, Baram and Snieckus and The Script Tease Project. They also hold workshops and drop-in classes.
As formally-trained performers, the pair believes that having an educational background is important when getting started in improv. This framework of technique has definitely been beneficial to their careers. “Anybody can go around and improvise, but not everybody has the craft behind it,” says Naomi. “So theatre school, for me, allowed me an opportunity to train in stage presence and having a strong voice.”
They hope to teach others the skills they’ve gained over the years, but this industry is not for the weak. In order to get your name out there, persistence is key. “I never stop having to audition. You could finish a series, and the next day you’re out of work,” says Matt. “It’s always back to zero, no matter who you are.”
Disappointment is something to embrace in this industry, and for aspiring actors and actresses hoping to break into comedy, it’s all about creating your own opportunities
and taking that first step towards doing what you love. “Any opportunity could go anywhere,” says Naomi. “Make sure, every time, you’re giving your A game, because you never know who is in the audience.”
They agree that having a plan is necessary, whereas a backup plan may not be the right way to go. “If you have a backup plan, you will go to it too quickly,” says Matt. “It’s better to try something and fail than to not try it at all.”
But can anyone turn an act of telling jokes into a career? “Everybody’s got the muscle to be funny,” says Naomi. “It’s just the matter of exercising it.” But you have to take initiative, the couple agrees. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Make things happen!
It’s also important to surround yourself with like-minded people in such a character-driven atmosphere. “Do your research,” she adds. “And hang around with people that inspire you.”
Choosing the right crowd can be that determining factor. “It’s an industry where it’s who you know. If it’s who you know, then hang around people you like. Don’t hang around people who are going to bring you down,” says Matt. “Pick the people who you put yourself with, because you become a reflection of the people you’re around.”
Naomi and Matt are perfect proof that success, and a lot of laughs, comes in good company.