Gueph grad Natalie Metcalfe has a career as a sketch comedian.

Before Natalie Metcalfe became a comedian, she was “terrified of comedy.” Although she’s been performing since she was eight, and attended U of G’s School of English and Theatre Studies, comedy wasn’t a natural fit.

“It’s what you find funny,” she says. “You’re throwing it in front of other people and just hoping that something lands. You think you’re funny, your friends think you’re funny, but who knows if the outside world will think the same way?”

Fortunately, Metcalfe hasn’t heard much silence from her audiences, but when a joke falls flat, “you just want to crawl into a hole and die,” she says with a laugh. Just because a joke fails the first time doesn’t mean it can’t be reworked into something funnier – some of her funniest jokes started off as cricket chirpers. Knowing your audience is also key. “If you can make a group of comedians laugh, you killed it.”

A coupon for comedy lessons at Second City gave Metcalfe the courage she needed to take her first step towards a comedic career. Her first day of comedy school was much like any other new student’s: she didn’t know anyone at first, “but it ended up being the absolute best thing I’ve ever done.” After graduating from Second City’s conservatory program, she began performing in bars.

Three years later, she’s still making people laugh as part of two sketch comedy groups: 2 Humans and O Dat Dum. She will perform with both groups at the 10th annual Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, which runs until March 15.

Sharing the stage with Metcalfe is Second City alum Michael Mongiardi, the other half of 2 Humans, which has been nominated for the Tim Sims Encouragement Award and NOW Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award for Best Sketch Troupe.

She refers to O Dat Dum as a “super troupe” of six comedians, including U of G drama grad Matt Kowall, who she met in second year. As the only female performer in the group, she refuses to tell jokes that degrade women or people with disabilities.

Metcalfe says she enjoys playing characters that allow her to use her “huge facial expressions” to convey her feelings without saying a word. “I also really like to say dirty things,” and performing allows her to get away with more expletives than she would say off stage.

“I’m not necessarily the physical comedy type,” she says of sketch comedy, “but it’s taken me out of my shell entirely into doing things I never ever thought I would do. Sketch comedy lets you put your whole heart out on stage.”

Although she occasionally still gets stage fright, she doesn’t let it affect her performance but instead feeds off the nervous energy. “It doesn’t overcome me,” she says. “I’m pretty good at plowing through it and using it rather than letting it consume me.”

Growing up, she describes herself as more of a tomboy than a class clown, playing more sports than characters on stage.

Metcalfe credits U of G’s theatre program for its focus not just on acting, but on everything that goes on behind the scenes, such as sound, lighting and set design.

“You’re working with some of the best people,” she says of the program. “You’re working with Sky Gilbert and Judith Thompson, who are the best possible professors you can have.”