Credit card debt: A comedy

Credit card debt is no laughing matter. Unless, of course, you're Jen Gallant, a Canadian comedienne whose latest show finds the funny in high interest rates, surly collections agents and mounting bills.

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The critically lauded one-woman sketch comedy, "Visa Called This Morning," charts Gallant's real-life relationship with money through dozens of characters -- from the wide-eyed child receiving her first loonie to the police officer tailing her through town.

"I had to get comical when creditors started calling me just to keep myself sane," recalls Gallant, who managed to accumulate $10,000 in credit card debt and a $36,000 student loan after leaving a modest home life in Hamilton for the bright lights -- and big utility bills -- of Toronto.

"I always thought I was responsible with money but credit cards were really misleading," says Gallant. "I looked at credit cards as all this money I had to spend. When you see that minimum payment at the end of the month you think, 'I can afford that,' but then, all of a sudden, that minimum payment becomes a couple hundred dollars and then you're in a spot where you can't go back."

For years, Gallant says endless calls from creditors had her "feeling like a criminal running from the law. When creditors are calling you every day, it got to the point where I just couldn't deal. There was so much debt, I couldn't even prioritize the payments."

To wipe the slate clean, Gallant set off for Korea and Taiwan, where she was able to earn enough money teaching English to pay off her credit card debt. But the haunting experience of fuming bank managers, disappointed parents and relentless collections agents stuck.

"I started writing about my debt experience because I was so frustrated with dealing with creditors," says Gallant. "The only way for me to deal with serious things is to make jokes."

Fortunately, audiences are laughing. Whether it's recounting some of the excuses she used for missing important bank appointments ("I hit a squirrel with my bike.") to the unnatural relationships she forged with persistent collections agents ("I'd actually seek advice from my creditor about my personal life"), "Visa Called This Morning" speaks to people from all walks of life and income brackets.

"The second you start talking about money, you realize everbody's been there," says Gallant. "Even if you have a lot of money, you still have problems. So when you take something like credit card debt, which is very serious because it affects your credit for the rest of your life, when you make light of it, it allows people to laugh at themselves."

Not that "Visa Called This Morning" is all fun and games. "As much as it's a comedy, there's a lot of truth to the show. There are moments when I have to expose myself to the audience and take responsibility." But that's a whole lot easier when someone's laughing alongside you.

Gallant plans to remount her hit show in Toronto this coming October. Keep an eye out for upcoming dates.

See related: Deep in debt? Meet the new characters in your life; Canada's best money savvy mommy bloggers

Updated September 15, 2011

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