News and Interviews

The Word on the Street interview with comedian Shawn Hitchins


It's nearly time for The Word on the Street! We're continuing our series in celebration of the festival, talking to some of the talented authors from the Vibrant Voices tent.

Today we chat with Shawn Hitchins, author of A Brief History of Oversharing: One Ginger’s Anthology of Humiliation (ECW Press). As the title suggests, Hitchins, an acclaimed comedian, holds nothing back in his debut collection of essays. From his awkward adolescence and his mother plotting the murder of their family cat, to being a sperm donor for a lesbian couple and his stint as a Provincetown drag queen, the wild true stories in A Brief History of Oversharing are side-splittingly funny and simultaneously relatable and surprising. 

Shawn tells us about the tricky task of selecting a PG-rated passage from his book, shares his go-to reading advice (which requires a doctor's cooperation), and posts one very daunting to-do list.

You can catch Shawn in person at The Word on the Street, reading in the Vibrant Voices tent at 11:45am on Sunday, September 24


Open Book:

Tell us about what you’ll be reading in the Vibrant Voices tent this year.

Shawn Hitchins:

I have absolutely no idea. I was that kid in school who was traumatized by having to read aloud. I would divert my eyes and shrimp myself trying not to be called on by the teacher. So, I'm now as an adult being asked to read in front of audiences for the first time, and it terrifies me. (I'm pounding through my bottle of beta-blockers these days.) It's not that I'm afraid of being on stage (I could sleep in front of a live audience), reading is a very different style of performance that I'm not accustomed to. The most insecure I've ever felt was having to record my audiobook, but that process exhausted most of my fears. I can confirm: I have the ability to make left-to-right eye movements, compute a combination of letters and punctuation, and vocalize them in full sentences.

I'm overthinking this, right? 

My panel is in the morning, so I'm trying to settle on a five-minute piece that has the least amount of swears and references to my penis.  


Have you attended The Word on the Street in the past? If so, tell us about a favourite memory. If not, what are you most looking forward to?


This is my first Word On The Street as both a participant and an attendee. (I KNOW!) The literary world is a brand new place, full of new audiences and new best-facebook-friends-forever. For me, after working in theatre and comedy for twenty years, I'm excited to see how my experiences translate to a new segment of the industry.

In addition to my experiences, I have excellent communication skills, I am able to multitask to meet important deadlines. I am organized and can adapt to various working situations. I have the ability to work independently or collaboratively with a team. Also, I am bondable, have my CPR certificate, and can start training as soon as possible.


The Vibrant Voices tent celebrates Ontario authored and published books. Tell us about a favourite Ontario author or book you've read.


My Grandma recently self-published a non-fiction book about her hometown Udora, Ontario. I was so proud of her. She gave me a copy and it's on my inspiration shelf alongside Sedaris and Leacock. I'm a very particular reader. I'm picky about what I read because I never want to be influenced by someone's else work while I'm creating or writing, so I read a lot of Nordic thrillers. Gory political crime in a miserable town: yes and please. Recently, I picked-up The Handmaid's Tale to give it a good ol' re-read, at least I thought I was... turns out I was just reading my Twitter feed (which is a spew of dystopian prophecies predicted by Margaret Atwood now our second-by-second reality). 


What's the best advice you've ever received or the best advice you would offer about public readings? 


Two words... BETA BLOCKERS.


Do you have a favourite spot in Ontario? 


If you take two high-back dining chairs, separate them back-to-back, then drape a duvet over the structure you can create an amazing yurt. For a year or so, this makeshift yurt in my apartment was my favourite spot in Ontario, because it kept the shitstorm of adult reality I was facing at bay. Otherwise, I have fond childhood memories of Haliburton, Ontario and I love (love, love, love) Cornwall, Ontario because it means you're only an hour-and-a-half away from arriving in Montreal.


What can you tell us about your next project? 


Instead of answering this, here's a list select list of things I need to do before adapting the book into another 75min touring show:
- repaint master & guest bedroom (including the ceilings and trim)
- go on a trip to the Azores (as prescribed by my therapist)
- see friends that I haven't seen since being in isolation for the last year finishing the book
- smile naturally, but not too much
- get rid of my thigh biscuits and restore a natural gap
- join a gay curling team
- pen a thoughtful resignation letter to the curling team (sorry guys, it's just not me)
- befriend Shelagh Rogers outside of twitter
- work on posture to remove hump
- find a means of financial security so that buying cheese isn't considered a luxury


Best known for sparking the global wave of Ginger Pride by marching hundreds of redheads through the streets of Edinburgh, Shawn Hitchins is an award-winning entertainer who has toured throughout Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. Hitchins was raised in a hayfield, educated in a swamp, and still has all his own teeth. He resides in Toronto, Ontario (a city he’s tried to escape since Y2K).

The Word On The Street is a is a national celebration of literacy and the written word. Each September, in communities coast to coast, the public is invited to participate in hundreds of author events, presentations and workshops and to browse a marketplace that boasts the best selection of Canadian books and magazines you'll find anywhere.

The Word On The Street takes place in Toronto at the Harbourfront Centre (235 Queen Quay West) on Sunday, September 24, 2017 and features dozens of fantastic author readings, kids programming, author signings, food tents and much more.

Buy the Book

A Brief History of Oversharing: One Ginger’s Anthology of Humiliation

Musings from a “one-man flash mob” (Toronto Star)

Comedian Shawn Hitchins explores his irreverent nature in this debut collection of essays. Hitchins doesn’t shy away from his failures or celebrate his mild successes — he sacrifices them for an audience’s amusement. He roasts his younger self, the effeminate ginger-haired kid with a competitive streak. The ups and downs of being a sperm donor to a lesbian couple. Then the fiery redhead professes his love for actress Shelley Long, declares his hatred of musical theatre, and recounts a summer spent in Provincetown working as a drag queen.

Nothing is sacred. His first major break-up, how his mother plotted the murder of the family cat, his difficult relationship with his father, becoming an unintentional spokesperson for all redheads, and mandy moore many more.

Blunt, awkward, emotional, ribald, this anthology of humiliation culminates in a greater understanding of love, work, and family. Like the final scene in a Murder She Wrote episode, A Brief History of Oversharing promises everyone the A-ha! moment Oprah tells us to experience. Paired with bourbon, Scottish wool, and Humpty Dumpty Party Mix, this journey is best read through a lens of schadenfreude.