Comedians try to solve puzzles in Shannon Lahaie’s Escape Capade

I’m with Shannon Lahaie at Rooster Coffee House near Broadview and Danforth. Do you come here a lot?
I come here frequently enough. I don’t drink coffee a ton. I’m a tea person. But, when I want to go outside of my house, this is a nice place to come.

Yeah, it’s got a lovely view of the park. I love it.
That’s the best part of it!

Alright, tell me about Escape Capade!
Escape Capade is an improvised podcast. It’s based on escape rooms. Ahead of time, I map out a room and figure out puzzles for it. Then I bring on two improvisers and they hear about the room for the first time on air as I’m recording. They have to then come up with characters and a narrative on the spot. And they have to try to solve the puzzles and get out!

Shannon Lahaie Escape Capade Podcast Logo

They have to improvise a relationship and their own history.
Yeah, some people will decide their characters ahead of time and then force it into the room, which is fun. And some people wait until they hear the room and then come up with their characters based on what the room is described as. Either way is fine. But, yeah, they come up with who they are, what their relationship is with each other, and why they’re in that room. I do try to limit them to 45 minutes because usually escape rooms are on a time limit.

I imagine that makes it pretty hard for the improvisers to solve the riddles. Because they’re also focusing on creating those relationships and the narrative. I notice when I listen, I figure out some of the puzzles right away, but it takes them, like, 20 minutes to get to the solution.
[Laughs] there are so many moving parts to it. Honestly, I’m always trying to walk the line of—what are some simple puzzles that are reasonable for a person to figure out but hard enough that we’re not going to have a 5-minute episode and be done? And it really helps when the improvisers get so distracted by their own thing that they miss something very small and obvious. And I’m like, “Nice, that just bought us 20 minutes.”

It’s so funny for the listener. Because you’re along for this ride and you’re like, “Oh my God, it’s right in front of you! Why can’t you see it?!” And then it’s so exciting when they finally get it.
Someone told me recently that one episode they listened to was fun and the improvisers were so funny, but also so infuriatingly bad at the puzzles.

Is it the newest one with Paul Bates and Alastair Forbes?
Yes! It’s so great. That’s one of my favourite episodes. I tell every guest that the goal is to break out of the room, but if you never leave the room, that’s also fine.

Have you recorded any episodes where the characters didn’t make it out of the room?
Episode 2 with Chris Leveille and Leigh Cameron. It’s the one where they’re in a penthouse. They get into the elevator but, in the end, they can’t get the elevator to work. They missed a whole bunch of stuff and then ran out of time. There have been others where I’ve pushed it at the end—where they were close to not getting out but I helped them along a little.

Shannon Lahaie, host of Escape Capade Podcast
Photo by: Denise Grant Photography

So, you write all the puzzles yourself. Have you always loved puzzles and escape rooms?
Absolutely. I always have. I carry mini puzzles in my purse. I like mind games and things like that. I always used to play those online escape room games where you click around. My favourite one is The Rusty Lake series. It’s creepy and weird and great. A lot of my ideas are inspired by those games. Honestly, just sitting down and writing out puzzles for people to solve is so much fun for me. I love doing it.

If you had to pick one episode for a new listener to start with, which would you pick?
I would say Episode 2. Because, even though they don’t get out, Chris and Leigh strike such a fun balance between solving the puzzles and always staying completely in character. It’s just a lot of fun to listen to them really go for it but constantly as those characters. They’re two socialites. They’re so funny.

That’s a great one. I also really love The Wine Cellar one with Gavin Pounds and Nick Nemeroff.
That one was my first lesson in like—oh shit, they can do anything. For that one I had this whole puzzle set up based on the wall where all the wine was stored and the first thing they did was, “Okay, we take everything off the wall!” And I was like, “Oh, shit…”

[Laughs] Immediately derailed the whole thing.
Yeah, immediately!

Who would be your dream guests? If you could get anyone in the world to do the show. Any two people, I guess, since you generally have them in pairs.
It’s an improv podcast so I’d have to pick improvisers. I feel like—Tina Fey and Amy Poehler! How great would that be? Or Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. Oh my God, those two would be very funny together.

What are some of your favourite podcasts?
I love The Sonar Network. Sonar has become like my Netflix of podcasts. Killed to Death, for sure. Um, I listen to My Favourite Murder, as I’m sure everyone does. Last Podcast on the Left. The Crimson Wave is really cool.

Did you know they’re making a movie about a true crime podcast that kills you? It’s called Meet Jimmy and it’s about this girl who listens to a podcast about a serial killer and then somehow gets murdered… or something.
That’s so… I want to see that. I like those things a lot. I remember watching Unsolved Mysteries and American Justice growing up and just obsessing over those stories.

Last year, I went down this rabbit hole of being obsessed with captive stories—like, women who were captured and kept in a shed for 5 or 15 years.
Yes! For me there’s this obsession with like—If this happens to me, I want to have something to reference in my brain. So I can almost be prepared for it.

Dame Judy Dench, Toronto Sketch Comedy Group
Dame Judy Dench having a little laugh | Photo by: Hayley Andoff Photography

Yeah, there is definitely an element of that. Well, let’s move on to lighter topics!
Let’s talk about your comedy. You’re in a group called Dame Judy Dench. Tell me about that.

Dame Judy Dench is our sketch group. It’s Chris Leveille, Gavin Pounds, Jessica Greco, and Claire Farmer, and they’re all wonderful. Jess, Claire and I started it by writing some sketches—just a small show at Comedy Bar. Then we applied to Fringe on a whim. And we got in! And we realized three people writing an hour-long show was hard. So we got Gavin and Chris. The show went really well and we wanted to keep writing, so we applied again the next year and we got in again. And by the time the third year came, it was like—we’re an established group. It’s very funny how it seamlessly morphed from this thing—no obligation, no commitment, we’re just writing one thing—to “oh, we do everything together. We’re best friends!”

You bought graves next to each other.
Yeah! You have to. [Laughs]. But yeah, I feel very spoiled. Dame Judy Dench has been more fulfilling than I ever thought.

And you and Gavin Pounds do improv together.
We’re in a group called The Kids’ Table with Griffin Toplitsky, Steve Cooke, Laura Del Maschio, Alex Cabrera-Aragon. Forever ago, Griffin and Steve reached out to me and asked me to do Killed to Death. So the first episode of Killed to Death that I did was also the first time I met them.

The Kids' Table Improv Group, Toronto, Ontario
The Kids’ Table

That’s interesting because it sounds like you guys immediately had amazing chemistry.
Oh, it was an immediate love. I instantly fell in love with those two. I left their house knowing these people are going to be in my life. I was so grateful. So, we did a bunch of episodes of their podcast and then they wanted to start an improv group. And I got a text one day from Gavin saying “Griffin and Steve want to start an improv group and they want you to be in it.” And I was like “Yes! Oh my God, yes!”

A dream come true!
It was! It was too perfect. One of my best friends asking me to do improv with two guys who I wanted to be best friends with. And then I got to meet Alex and Laura who are just so lovely. I’ve been so spoiled.

Good! Okay, let’s move on to some random questions.
What was your last Halloween costume?
Oooh, I haven’t done Halloween in a while, but the last costume I can remember was Bea Arthur. I did it because we were going to a university party and everyone was being, like, sexy bugs. “I’m a sexy bee!” “I’m a sexy ladybug!” It was so ridiculous. So, I was like, I’m going to be Bea Arthur. I got old lady pants and this old cardigan and I did the wrinkle lines on my face and everything.

That’s amazing.
When was the last time you couldn’t stop laughing?
Just twenty minutes ago! I was watching this video of a [giggles] sheep in a tire swing, swinging. [Giggles more] And it just keeps jumping! It’s in the tire swing and its feet are on the ground [still giggling] and then it just runs and swings itself. It’s so good.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
When I grow up, I want to be just someone who can pay their bills. That’d be great.

That’s realistic. You could be anything. A princess who pays her bills.
Ok, I want to be, like, … [makes motorcycle revving motions]

You want to be a motorcycle?
I want to be in all leather and have a motorcycle.

You want to be in a biker gang.
Yeah, but I want to be the Robin Hood of bikers. And pay my bills.

If you had an evil twin, how could I tell you apart?
They would have some sort of scratch or bite on one side of their face because we, for sure, have gotten into a fight and I go for the face when I fight.

So, you’re a violent person.
I know how to defend myself! So, for sure, they’ve been scratched up. And I feel like my evil twin would be like—you know Regina in Mean Girls? She would be that kind of bubblegum-princessy. Because I’m not like that. I like being feminine but I don’t like the Clueless, fuzzy style. She would dress like that. And her name would be Alison. I only say that because my dad wanted to name me Alison and my mom didn’t like that name because she had a bully named Alison.

If you could compete on a reality TV show, which one would you choose?
I would do Project Runway. I sew a lot. I used to have a sewing blog but, you only have so much room in your life for stuff. So that fell away. But I would totally do that show. I looooove that show.

Oh, me too It’s one of my guilty pleasures. Because it’s so formulaic—the same shit every time.
Absolutely. And it’s shaming these poor people who, at the end of the day, they’re just trying to make it in a fashion industry that’s already over-saturated. These people aren’t heart surgeons, but we treat them like this is the most important thing they’ve ever done. And it’s all ridiculous garbage, but I cry every time. And I get so indignant about it! I’m like, “No! She’s not the one that deserves to stay!”

It’s really just garbage TV, but it does soothe me.
My mom used to say this about books—she reads romance novels and I hate romance novels. But, she would say that you need these kinds of books in your life to sort of cleanse your palette so you can take in the more serious stuff. If it’s always intense stuff, you’ll go insane. So, people can make fun of reality TV all they want, but man is it a palette cleanser.

If you had a full set of encyclopaedias and you could only read one letter, which one would you pick?
I want to say S. I feel like a lot of stuff is in S. Saints…

Oh, yeah, exactly. Sex. Species. Science. There’s a broad scope in S. Also, my name starts with S. That’s funny because the only other one I can think of is L. And those are my initials. I’m biased.

If you could wade through a pool of something that isn’t water, what would it be?
You know those balls in bubble teas?

Tapioca. Really slimy.
Aw, yeahhh. So weird. Absolutely. I feel like I’d regret it, though. Every 5 seconds I would be like, “Oh God, what is that?!” But it could also be so calming.

I would put a tiny bit of bubble tea in there just to loosen it a little.
Yeah! I do imagine I could wade through them and they would sort of move out of my way. Just enough, though.

Okay. If you could ask me one question what would it be?
Oooh. You’re in a time machine and you’re sent back in time. It’s a two-part question. First, where in time do you end up? Answer that one first.

Part of me wants to say dinosaur times just because I like dinosaurs, but, I know I’ll just get eaten immediately and I have zero survival skills. So, let’s say the 60’s. That’s a relatively safe time for women. We were loud and proud for a brief moment there.
Yeah! Okay, aside from the time machine, what piece of technology would you bring with you that would solidify you as, like, a God?

You know how doctors can do surgeries remotely now? There are those robots they can control from a computer that will frickin’ do heart surgery! I would bring that. That would blow people’s minds. And then I would just coast on my fame.
Yeah, you would just have to do one surgery remotely and then coast.

Wait, I have to do the surgery?
Okay, you would have to train someone else to do a surgery remotely.

Oh, right. Because no one there would know how to use it! I would be the only person with any authority on it. Oh no. I guess I would have to read a bunch of books.
I always think about this question. Like, people from the 50’s seeing us use FaceTime. I think that would explode their heads. They still had operators manually pushing buttons!

Yeah, I love that question. It’s so fun.
Well, we’ve made it to the end of our interview. Thank you so much for meeting with me, Shannon! Let’s plug your stuff!
Escape Capade, for sure!
I’m also part of Blockbuster Week at Bad Dog. I’m doing a show called The Makeout Teens of Fantasy Maze. Friday, August 17th at 8pm at Bad Dog Theatre!
And in general just follow The Kids’ Table on Facebook. We always post about the cool stuff we’re doing and we’ll have some fun announcements coming soon!

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