Michelle Christine thinks she’s about to set a record, of sorts. “I don’t know if anyone has done a motorcycle comedy tour across Canada before, ever – I may be the first one,” she says. “I mean, how cool is that?”
It’s pretty cool, but it sure ain’t easy. After riding a motorcycle for hundreds of kilometres on unfamiliar roads, through all kinds of weather, most riders like to end the day with a decent meal and a drink and some relaxation. She ends every day with an hour-long stand-up comedy set, trying to make strangers laugh.
Well, not always strangers. “My husband’s parents came out to the show in Toronto. They’d never been to one of my shows before, and I really let them have it,” she says. “I talked all about my sex toys, our sex life – they thought it was great.”
Trading in for an ADV
Michelle Christine is 31 years old and from Ajax, Ontario, but she’s been living in Los Angeles for the last three years with her husband, Dean, a computer programmer. She’s working hard there to make a name as a stand-up comedian, and she takes her show on the road as often as she can line up dates.
This past winter, she was in Australia for two months (winning a Best Emerging Artist award at the Adelaide Fringe Festival), and then began the cross-Canada tour in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on June 4. She’ll finish in the Yukon at the end of July, and then flies straight to Scotland for another tour. Dean is staying home with their dog and his motorcycle, an Aprilia Tuono, and a stack of video games.
Michelle’s been riding bikes since buying a Kawasaki Ninja 250 nine years ago, then moving up to a Suzuki SV1000. In California, she took an off-road training course and rode to the Grand Canyon, and decided then she wanted to trade in the big SV for an adventure tourer. In Australia, she rode a BMW F700GS that “just fitted me so well. I like that it’s nimble and fun to ride, without being too small or too big.”
When she lined up the first dates for the Canadian tour, she went online and saw that The Toybox motorcycle dealer in Mount Pearl had an F700GS for sale. It wasn’t going to be easy to import it home to California afterwards, however, so she called up BMW and asked if they would consider providing her with a bike for the tour.
It no doubt helped that she’s filming her tour as a documentary, with a two-person camera crew driving behind for the whole distance in a minivan. “She’s very … persuasive,” says BMW’s Rob Dexter, choosing his words carefully.
Next thing she knew, BMW told her to go to The Toybox and collect her loaner bike. “I think it’s the same one they were selling,” she says. “I mean, it must be, right?”
Working every day
It’s a gruelling schedule, riding clear across Canada from eastern Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, and then up to Whitehorse and Dawson City in the Yukon. There aren’t many down days, and in Newfoundland, the temperature never rose into double digits. The heated grips help, but that’s about the only creature comfort for the ride.
“I’ve toured in a car before and it was way easier,” she says. “You can carry more stuff. You have a heater, you have air-conditioning, you have protection from the rain and the wind. On a bike, you’re barer to the elements and that’s fun, for sure, but it’s also more tiring and more challenging.
“You have to be on all the time. It’s more mentally and physically draining, but you also can have higher highs, and lower lows. But I just love riding a bike, so that’s why I’m doing it on a bike.”
Michelle says she listens to music when she rides, through a Sena 30K in-helmet sound system that Dean gave her as a gift, and the small crew travels on the cheap. She’s paying their costs herself. Sometimes, she’s provided with a hotel room by the venue, or with a place to stay by friends of friends.
“Most of the time, comedy’s about struggle, and right now, I have plenty of struggle,” she says. “I don’t have a lot of money, I don’t have a really stable life, I don’t have a lot of the creature comforts that a lot of people have, like a lot of times I’m living out of a suitcase. Everything is being sacrificed for my career right now.”
She graduated from the University of Waterloo in Environmental Studies and Business, but then went to an office job in Mississauga and got laid off after eight months. When they gave her a severance cheque for $5,000, she spent the money on comedy classes and was hooked. Now, she’s using the tour to work on her act and on her future.
It’s a pretty raunchy set that she’s been playing to audiences as small as 10 and as large as 50, though she did a clean show inside a church in Lewisporte, NF. “That was a cold day. It was 3 degrees, 400 kilometres and it was raining. It was not the funnest day on a motorcycle, as you can imagine, but whatever.”
There’ve been plenty of good days, though. After her show in Moncton, New Brunswick, she met a guy with a Harley who offered to show her the scenic route to her next gig in Saint John, and the two of them rode the next day past Cape Enrage and Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy. “It was a beautiful sunny day with some fun roads, and he was a relaxed dude,” she says. The crew gave her a GoPro camera and met up again at the other end of the ride. “I was humming. If you ever hear me humming, you know I’m in a good mood.”
Now she’s half-way across the country, playing tonight and tomorrow night in Thunder Bay and then on to Winnipeg for Canada Day. Her show is called “50% Canadian, 100% Crazy – let’s laugh” and here’s her schedule.
“I’ve been fantasizing about doing a motorcycle comedy tour of this scale since I started comedy,” she says, “because I’ve been riding motorcycles longer than I’ve been a comedian. I’ve always thought, with the places I’ve travelled to, about ‘what bike could I ride?’
“I’ve been touring this show for two years now but I haven’t done it in Canada, where I was born and raised, and I thought it would be this perfect swansong. Take it coast to coast, and make a documentary and then, like, push it out on an ice floe and send it off. It will be a perfect way to capture it. I think it will make for a wonderful documentary and all the more special because I’m on a cool bike.”