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Isabel Kanaan channels Filipina immigration experience to Canada through comedy

Isabel Kanaan

By Carlito Pablo

Isabel Kanaan relates in a 2021 video blog that although she had broken into mainstream Canadian film, theatre, and TV, she wasn’t feeling content.

The now Hamilton, Ontario–based actor and writer—who came from the Philippines with her family when she was a teen—says that she felt “empty”.

Kanaan explains that it was because she didn’t see Filipinas and queer people in TV  shows that she had watched in the past.

“Where am I?” she asks.

Fast forward to the first episode of her sketch comedy series Abroad on OMNI Television in 2022, wherein Kanaan suggests a deal with the audience: she will continue to learn more about the wider community through fare like Law & Order, while they get to know her more through her show.

The first season of Abroad wrapped up after 12 episodes. The show, which showcases the Filipino immigrant experience in Canada, started its second season on June 11, 2023.

“I find comedy is one of the easiest and most digestible ways people can open their eyes to new ideas,” Kanaan states in a written interview about her medium.

“Comedy is inviting, but it is all about the truth as well, so this makes people ponder on what they’ve just watched,” she adds. “People come for the laughs, stay for the thought-provoking questions, and keep coming back for the heart.”

Isabel Kanaan explains how she infiltrated into Canadian theatre, film, and TV.

Kanaan studied at Seneca College

Kanaan was in high school when she and her family left the Philippines in 2008 and settled in Burlington. Her hometown is Makati, a city in the Greater Manila region.

After finishing secondary school, she took up math, philosophy and religious studies, before eventually finding herself at Seneca College, where she completed training in acting for camera and voice.

Kanaan started her career in theatre as well as in TV, specifically with the series Haunted or Hoax. She remembered her teachers at Seneca telling her that she can find comedy in everything. With that in mind, Kanaan took the conservatory program at Second City, a renowned comedy school in Toronto.

This set her up for a career in comedy, both as a performer and writer.

Her credits include Tall Boyz and This Hour Has 22 Minutes over at CBC. Also, Hudson & Rex at CityTV, and Nurses at Global.

Wanting to express her Filipino heritage, Kanaan and a friend set up the Tita Collective. It’s a Toronto-based all-women’s ensemble dedicated to the exploration of cultural identity and narratives related to Filipino immigration. [Tita is a Tagalog word for “auntie”.]

“It’s hilarious and heart warming!” Kanaan says about her having made comedy her full-time job. “I love to laugh, so having a career in making people laugh feels right. When I see people smile because of a scene I wrote or when I hear them chuckle from a character I’ve embodied, it makes me feel fulfilled.”

Working on a novel

Kanaan is sure about what she wants to do in the future.

“Maybe there will be Abroad Season 3, so stay tuned!” she says.

“No matter what though, I will be creating stories, whether that be on stage, film, TV, books, or even social media.”

Kanaan also shares that she’s working on her first novel.

“Since my personal mandate is to showcase Filipino and immigrant stories, my novels are guaranteed to exhibit these elements as well,” she says.

As for the most important thing for her as an immigrant, Kanaan says it’s family.

“When we moved, we had no one but each other to rely on. Now that I’m older and have made new connections in Canada, family is still what matters most, but now this is comprised of the family I grew up with and my chosen family of friends and loved ones.”

Season two of Abroad started on June 11, features eight episodes, and airs Sundays on OMNI Television.

Follow Isabel Kanaan on Instagram @isabelkanaan. Carlito Pablo is on Twitter @carlitopablo. Learn more about the communities that make up Canada on the Toronto Spark website.


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Carlito Pablo

Carlito Pablo

Carlito Pablo is editor of Canadian Filipino Net.

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