Did you hear the one about the P.E.I. comedian who makes people laugh during COVID-19?

·3 min read

The live laughter and applause have been replaced with LOLs and the clap emoji, but a P.E.I. comedian says people are appreciating humour as much as ever during COVID-19.

Sandy Gillis, who has performed as the thick-accented, blue-collared Jimmy the Janitor since 1987, hasn't done a live show since March. But like many other comedians, he has managed to connect with his audience online, usually through Facebook.

"There are a lot of people who have written and said, 'This is what we need, we need someone to cheer us up,'" he said.

"So that's very fulfilling to me, to be able to do that — not performing in front of people, but to people."

There are a lot of people who have written and said, 'This is what we need, we need someone to cheer us up.' — Sandy Gillis

Janitors have become the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping everything clean and sanitized, from schools to hospitals to theatres.

Gillis said that even before COVID-19, he always gave a shoutout to the custodial staff wherever he performed, and they always "got a kick out of it."

Jimmy the Janitor/Facebook
Jimmy the Janitor/Facebook

Though he's still able to feed off the "likes" and reactions in the Facebook comments, posting memes and one-liners online or cracking jokes over Zoom isn't quite the same as performing live. He is looking forward to the day when he can get back on stage, likely next November.

"That's one of the fun things for a comedian… you know when they are going to laugh. You can just see it happen and you're watching this person right in front of you and you know that in two, three — boom, bang — and you can watch it happen. And you can't see that or hear it on Zoom."

Humour at the dinner table

Gillis, a retired radio executive who lives in Stanhope, said people often send him funny material that he reposts, but he can find humour everywhere — in the grocery store, in the car or at the dinner table.

"One night we were sitting around a table of six or eight and after dinner this woman said, 'Toilet paper. We have to talk about toilet paper.' And the question was: 'Are you an over-the-topper or are you a pull-from-under?'"

That turned into a four-minute sketch that has been a hit in his live shows. (About 70 per cent of people are over-the-toppers, according to his audience polls.)

Jimmy the Janitor can be seen this Saturday during the annual Christmas Daddies telethon, where he has been a host for the past 43 years. The telethon raises money to allows less-fortunate children around the Maritimes have a better Christmas.

Jimmy the Janitor/Facebook
Jimmy the Janitor/Facebook

It won't be live — Gillis's segments have been pre-taped due to COVID-19 restrictions — but he's happy to get Jimmy back out in front of a TV audience.

He's in no hurry to put away the mop and bucket just yet.

"Psychologically, I'm a happy camper. I'm creating stuff every day, which makes me happy," he said. "This is my escape."

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