Yes, And: 10 Years In, Blind Tiger Comedy School Is Still Serious About Getting Laughs

Though Blind Tiger Comedy was founded by improvisers who are used to living in the moment, the comedy school has staying power.

Improvisers may not strike you as the ideal people to start a business, given their famous lack of planning—but you can’t deny their ability to roll with the punches. Ten years ago, the founders of the Blind Tiger Comedy school (then operating out of the former Little Mountain Gallery) needed some extra space one day to run an early sketch class, and experimentally rebranded a dank storage room as a writers’ den they dubbed the Raccoon Room. “Unfortunately,” recalls BTC creative director Tom Hill, “it should’ve been called the Rat Room. It really was not fit for human occupancy.”

But while the early days were a “chaotic, wild, fun mess,” a decade on, the school—founded by six members of improv groups The Sunday Service and HipBang—has matured into a well-oiled machine, operating out of seven (hopefully rat-free) spaces around Greater Vancouver, including Green Thumb Studios in the Kensington–Cedar Cottage area, Carousel Studios on Granville Island and the cozy China Cloud Studios in Chinatown. Blind Tiger’s courses cover improv, sketch and stand-up comedy, all taught by a faculty of working comedy professionals. Students learn the foundations of the comedic arts, starting with the basic toolkit of improv: establish your scene, avoid questions and always agree with your scene partner’s suggestions—and building toward a performance or performances every semester. “We have a curriculum that we stick by but depending on who your instructor is, you’re gonna get a completely different ‘in’ into the world,” says Kevin Vidal, who started teaching with the company after relocating from Toronto with his husband in 2020. “It’s a teaching experience that’s very artist-forward.”

To be clear, just because it’s a company run by comedians, that doesn’t mean everything is a joke. Blind Tiger’s three-pronged mission includes not only a promise of outstanding training to their students and a living wage for teachers and admin, but also the creation of a safe and inclusive place for all—particularly those who may have been traditionally under-represented in the world of comedy.

“We knew early on that we needed to make inclusion a big part of what we were doing,” says Hill. “Blind Tiger was founded by six cis white folks, but we saw the importance of a more diverse classroom and a more diverse faculty than we started with.” A key tenet to creating that inclusive environment has been removing barriers to access of entry: the school offers scholarships at every level, from Intro to Improv to high-level Longform classes. “We’re a business but we can absolutely afford to have two spots open in every class,” says Hill. “And the increased representation of these folks in the comedy scene has made Vancouver a better place to do and see comedy.” The school has also been running specific classes for identity-based groups for over seven years, with courses designated for BIPOC folks only, plus Improv for Autistic Folks, a hugely successful series for trans and non-binary folks and more. “People are just more comfortable to try things when they’re confident they can share themselves,” says Hill.

This sentiment has proven to be true within the faculty every bit as much as it has been for students. In addition to his regular class schedule, Vidal recently introduced an Improv for ADHD workshop to the school’s course offering after receiving his own diagnosis during the pandemic. While most workshops work toward an end goal of performance, Vidal focuses on active listening and play to harness the energy inherent to ADHD, without placing pressure on getting on stage. “There are so many correlations between improv and neurodiversity,” he explains. “It has helped me with anxiety, my impulsiveness, allowing myself to make mistakes… Improv thrives on failure. You’re definitely not going to get an F.”

Over the decade, several alumni have gone on to become working comedians within the BTC faculty and beyond: you’ll spot grads at Second City in Toronto, performing on Just for Laughs, crushing it in the States at Upright Citizens Brigade or working the Fringe Festival circuit. Alum Della Haddock herself is in the midst of the Comedy Story Room Intensive program, a professional training initiative for emerging BIPOC writers run by the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto. “I don’t think I’d be here if I hadn’t been given the space to learn,” says Haddock. “I did the intro class and it was like, ‘Oh! I can actually be purposefully funny.’ It has opened up pathways and now I get to call myself a comedian on paper.”

Not to get too corny, but beyond the performance skills, the magic of Blind Tiger lies in the friends you make along the way. “I met such great people that I’m still friends with today,” says Haddock, who hit the ground running after her first class in 2016, working her way through most of the advanced curriculum before forming her house team, coached by veteran comedian Ryan Beil. “You can walk into a Blind Tiger show by yourself and be fine. It’s been a great place to find collaborators and friends and community.”

Whether you have aspirations of a career in the entertainment world or you simply have the urge to break out of your shell and be creatively silly with other people, Blind Tiger has cultivated one of the best places in Vancouver to explore that impulse. “It’s a constant that everyone is having these hilarious moments of personal joy, personal pride and personal expression,” says Hill. One heartwarming example he points to: seeing BTC level two players backstage at the old Little Mountain Gallery (yes, in front of the infamous Racoon/Rat Room) forming a tunnel of people to celebrate intro students leaving the stage after their first show. “It was just like, ‘How did this much joy get contained in this horrid little hallway?’”

Blind Tiger class
Classes culminate in wild, wonderful shows.

Blind Tiger crew