It’s funny to have a bit—you know, a joke or thing that you repeat over and over and continue to escalate for fun. What happens when the bit goes too far?
That’s the premise of I Have Nothing, the new docu-comedy series streaming on Crave. The brainchild of Canadian comedy veteran Carolyn Taylor (Baroness Von Sketch), I Have Nothing sets out a premise equal parts simple and absurd: Taylor wants to choreograph a competitive, gold-medal-worthy, pairs figure-skating routine set to the titular Whitney Houston song.
Has she skated? Not really. Has she ever choreographed anything? Nope. Does she know any professional skaters? No. And does she have the rights to Whitney Houston’s music catalogue? Definitely not. To be frank: she’s got nothing.
Except for a dream. In 2014, while driving with her girlfriend, the song came on the radio and Taylor had a “vision” of the routine she was born to choreograph. After describing this vision as a bit onstage as part of her stand-up set for years, that dream becomes a reality with this show.
“We were in pandemic lockdown. And you know, we all go inside ourselves. And I just still couldn’t shake this thing and I’m like, ‘But what if what if this could actually be a show?’” Taylor says. “I think it was asking that question and having time to actually, you know, contemplate it and really think about how it could be done, that it started to materialize.”
The end product is a six-episode series that chronicles Taylor’s quest to achieve this goal, from the ground up. The show itself is filmed documentary-style, with a small crew of producers joining Taylor as she tackles everything from learning to skate, to securing the rights to the song, to getting professional skaters to agree to this, to the performance itself (if it actually happens). Viewers will likely be surprised to learn that Taylor says that very little was actually assured when production started, considering just how far things go.
In many ways, the show itself is a meditation on queer obsession. Queer and trans people often spend a lifetime getting told that we’re too much. We love too deeply and we obsess too fervently, whether that’s about our favourite pop stars, our straight crush or a single line from a decades-old movie.
Taylor’s lifelong obsession with the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, and particularly its skaters, frames the series. And chief among those is German legend Katarina Witt, whom Taylor describes in the show as a “closeted that you’re even in the closet” type of early queer obsession for her young queer self.
Taylor says she wanted to see what happens when you’re given space to actually explore and execute that obsession to comedic effect, but also as a serious pursuit.
“As a comedian, it is really hard to lose the critical distance where I’m commenting and crafting something funny and start to say, ‘No, I’m actually going to now live in this reality and see what happens if I actually buy into it completely,’” she says.
She spends much of the show miming specific flourishes from Witt’s ’88 routine, or trying to describe certain moves that simply must happen at certain sections of the song down to hyper-specificity. Much of the show is Taylor learning to reconcile her idea of what skating and choreography is with what it actually is.
But embracing the original inspiration to a tee isn’t always easy. Taylor says that as a queer person, she wanted to queer the skating world, while also staying true to the very queer aspects of skating that already exist. She considered using a same-sex couple for the routine, but decided against it in order to stay true to her vision.
“One: actually, that wouldn’t be true to the vision, which was I need these Olympians. I’m fixated with 1988, these are my idols,” she says. “And two: actually, the straight world in skating is so queer. It’s gender performance, and they’re playing roles, and I’m really leaning into the binary in a way to show it’s a construction.”
And Olympians do make appearances on the show: notably gold medallists and Olympic veterans David Pelletier and Ekaterina Gordeeva, who somehow agree to join Taylor in this mission along with choreographer Sandra Bezic, who serves as Taylor’s mentor.
Longtime friend and fellow comedian Mae Martin serves as an audience surrogate throughout the show, as they check in on Taylor’s descent into madness. Taylor says Martin was there the first time she performed the bit on stages, so it was fitting to have them along for the ride.
“I asked Mae to be part of it, but I think Mae also was like, ‘I need to see this thing happen, like, out of sheer curiosity, if nothing else,’” Taylor says. “They give such great analysis and they’re such a good reality check throughout the series.”
Other appearances on the show range from comedians like Sabrina Jalees to skating legends like Kurt Browning, Adam Rippon and Brian Orser. These supporting players and guest appearances are mostly queer, and each bring their own dash of sparkle to their scenes, including a skating lesson between Orser and Taylor where they “look into each other’s eyes in the true homosexual-to-homosexual way.”
Ultimately, Taylor hopes that viewers come away from the show with that inspiration to chase queer joy and obsession, and work toward those dreams, even if they might seem silly.
“There was something really fun about, you know, being the buffoon, but beyond that, allowing the buffoon to triumph in some way,” she says. “We all have dreams. And yeah, everyone’s dream is not … that.
“Why not give it a try? Like, it won’t end up being what you thought it was going to be. The routine is not what I thought it was going to be. This sounds so after-school special, but in the end, it’s the things you learn along the way.”
Carolyn Taylor’s I Have Nothing is now streaming on Crave.