When comedian Alison Leiby had an abortion four and a half years ago, she couldn’t decide on an outfit. What does one wear to an abortion? She eventually settled on a pair of leggings. As it turns out, so did everyone else in the waiting room—they all just wanted to be comfortable.

 “I was blown away by how not big of a deal it all felt,” says Leiby. “When I found out I was pregnant, I called and I went. It was all so easy. I feel like it gets so dramatized that I was like, Man, I gotta write some jokes about this.”

These jokes eventually became Leiby’s one-woman standup show Oh God, A Show About Abortion. With such an upfront title, there is no confusion about what audiences can expect. Crafting a comedy show based on a politically charged issue was tricky at first. But Leiby found that most people came in with an open mind—and ended up laughing more than they expected to. When she found this sweet spot, it resonated—The New York Times named her show “the best political comedy of 2021”.

Leiby is bringing Oh God, A Show About Abortion to Just For Laughs Toronto this month—her first time performing it in Canada. “I’m very interested in the way that a Canadian audience is going to respond to me talking about how things are in the United States and what is at stake in this new landscape post Roe,” says Leiby. 

In 2022, a few weeks into her run of the show at New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre, the infamous Supreme Court draft was leaked. Six weeks later, by the end of the show’s run, Roe v. Wade was overturned. 

Oh God, A Show About Abortion is about the humour Leiby found in her own abortion experience, so despite a massive shift in the political climate, most of the show’s content remained unchanged. But she noticed that certain moments definitely felt more intense—a fundamental right was stripped away in the blink of an eye, and many people wouldn’t be able to have the same no-hassle experience she did just a few years ago. 

“People came in throughout that really hectic time wanting to hear that it’s going to be okay,” says Leiby. She found that telling her own story on stage was the best way to start conversations during an unsettling time. “As someone who was also grappling with the reality of what the Supreme Court had done, it felt really good being in the room with people and being able to tell this story and having an outlet for the rage I have at what has happened.”

The ripple effects of the Supreme Court’s decision don’t stop with abortion. The many facets of reproductive health are all connected, and are often just as misrepresented and stigmatized as abortion. This is why Leiby felt it was important for the show to touch on sex ed, birth control, and her choice to be childfree.

“It’s really hard to look at the experience of having an abortion in a vacuum,” says Leiby. “A big part of the story is me being shocked at how simple the procedure really was and how it wasn’t super dramatic. And boy, that’s not the way we teach what an unplanned pregnancy can look like in sex ed! I also talk a lot about birth control and how it’s marketed to women and how it’s treated in our culture. All of those things are why I think abortion becomes this terrifying, big issue.”

Even within communities that support abortion rights, stigma lingers. There is unease about expressing relief or confidence in the decision to have an abortion, or even being hesitant to say the word abortion. With this show, Leiby was intent on normalizing abortion and discussing it like you would any other medical procedure.

“There is a mosaic of abortion experiences,” Leiby says. “Often the depiction of abortion in pop culture is the worst-case scenario. It’s a young person. It’s someone who has been victimized. It’s somebody with a horrific choice that they’re trying to wrap their head around. With this show, I present a version of abortion that is none of those things.” 

Near the end of the show, Leiby addresses the privilege that allowed her to have such a seamless experience and easy access to the healthcare she needed. “I am a white woman, I live in a liberal state where I have access to things and I know that my story is the easiest to swallow. My real hope is that all it does is open the door for more people.”

That is the gift that comes with a show like this, where one person so openly sharing their story on a stage empowers others to share their own abortion stories, often for the very first time. “I remember at opening night, two women who were talking about how their mothers had illegal abortions before Roe. They knew each other for 60 years and never spoke about it, and then finally at an older age one of them opened up to the other and they were like wait…I did too.”

Hearing how audience members have felt free to open up about their abortions has been heartwarming for Leiby to witness. These conversations, this openness, and the destigmatization of abortion is ultimately what she hoped for from her show.

“I’m not going to change the mind of somebody who wants to deny abortion rights,” says Leiby. “I want to help people be able to connect over it in ways that they haven’t been able to—because we really don’t talk about it.”

Alison Leiby will perform Oh God, A Show About Abortion at Just For Laughs Toronto from September 21-24. Tickets are available here.