When the new season of CBC’s The Great Canadian Baking Show premieres on Valentine’s Day, along with the usual made-from-scratch baked savories and the years-in-the-refining decadent pastries, Canada will be served another treat: co-host Ann Pornel.
The Toronto-based comedian’s warm, witty humour is a perfect fit for her new gig, and her comedic timing and infectious energy will keep audiences entertained between oven timers.
“I want to have the best time possible and make sure the people around you are also having a blast. No matter what I’m doing, I want people to look at me and say ‘Oh, she’s having so much fun!’ Chances are, you’re also gonna wanna get in on the fun.”
While she may need an introduction to some, Pornel isn’t an overnight breakthrough, or an unknown to Toronto comedy fans. Her career began over a decade ago, including three arduous auditions that lead to the comedian finally joining Toronto’s seminal and notoriously demanding sketch comedy troupe: The Sketchersons.
As part of the cast, Pornel and her cohorts would be tasked to write and perform an entirely new weekly sketch show every week – Sunday Night Live – performing Toronto’s famed Comedy Bar. An early standout, Pornel excelled whether as a background character in an office sketch or taking the lead and being mercilessly sassy.
Pornel then joined the ranks of The Second City, where she was able to evolve and hone her raw talent into a deeper understanding of her craft. One memorable sketch consisted of Pornel constructing an entire narrative silently to “Grown Woman” by Beyoncé, the stage shared only by a broom. Pornel’s natural energy elevated the sketch from the simple to the sublime.
Several “mainstage” productions at The Second City followed, including 2019’s She The People, a history-making show featuring the company’s first all-female cast, as well as guest roles in Baroness Von Sketch and This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
“I’m so grateful and proud of the work and accomplishments from my years on stage because I think it really helped prepare me for what is next in my career,” says Pornel.
Although her work ethic is evident, her approach to her art is fun on her own terms.
Pornel lights up when asked what it was like to shoot The Great Canadian Baking show this summer.
“It was like getting to sit in the sun after being locked in your basement for months. There was PPE everywhere and strict Covid protocols, but it didn’t take away from the absolute joy of getting to work on that show with those folks.”
“The bakers, the judges, the crew, everyone was so lovely and a pleasure to work with even though I don’t really know what most people look like because they had masks on the entire time….and the smell of baked goods everyday for 6 weeks? Yes, please!”
Pornel is forthcoming about the similarities she can find between herself and past co-hosts (who include Schitt’s Creek‘s Dan Levy, and Baroness von Sketch‘s Aurora Brown and Carolyn Taylor) – and also what makes her unique: “I possess a lot of the same traits as many of my peers and friends in this industry, maybe it’s just the fact that I also happen to be fat and Filipina? Those traits certainly find their way into my comedy because… it’s literally what I look like and it’s the first thing the audience sees. And it’s also the first thing that I get judged on.”
Another thing audiences will notice is Pornel’s attention to fashion and style. The passion is so real that she even inspired the “Pornel skirt” – a busty, flowery wrap top and A-line by Canadian fashion Label Rue 107. And her TikTok and Instagram accounts serve as technicoloured tributes to the latest trends and flyest threads.
Pornel wants you to know that there’s a purpose behind the glam.
“The world still thinks fat people are ugly, lazy, and disgusting, it is important to me that I show up looking fine as fuck to show that, nope, that’s not true. It’s the easiest way for me to make a statement without having to say a single thing. If you’ve seen me perform around [Toronto], you know that, no matter the show, I’ve outdressed everyone else. That’s not tea or shade, it’s just truth. And it comes from my refusal to let my fatness be weaponized against me. I take great pride and delight in looking like a babe.”
For the Great Canadian Baking Show, Pornel collobrated with Toronto-based costume designer Vanessa Magic on the wardrobe for this season.
“In trying things on we got to this modern 60’s vibe,” says Magic. “It worked well with her hourglass figure and the spirit of baking.”
“A lot of the stuff I picked for her I got them altered and tailored. Just to make sure they were showing her off her best. I’d say her finale look was one of my favourites. It was one of those moments… when I put a dress on someone and it fits like a glove. I could see her eyes light up.”
“I wanted the wardrobe to enhance the personality Ann has. I didn’t need to make it literal with a cupcake print.”
“I’m so so so grateful to have had Vanessa style me for the Great Canadian Baking Show,” says Pornel.
“She has an incredible eye and amazing taste. When you’re fat, wardrobe is always incredibly stressful because you never know if the stylist has brought things that: A, will fit you, and B, will flatter you.”
“I don’t trust most stylists because when they say they’ve dressed plus bodies, it usually means they put them in a loose tunic and a pair of soft pants. And that’s not me at all. I love showing off my curves, I love wearing bright, flashy, and colourful outfits and Vanessa made that happen in all the looks for the show.”
The world still thinks fat people are ugly, lazy, and disgusting, it is important to me that I show up looking fine as fuck to show that, nope, that’s not true.– Ann Pornel
“I felt like a Barbie doll being put in the cutest outfits, and as a lifelong fat woman, those opportunities don’t come up that often.”
Pornel’s loud clothes dress a humble heart that is grappling with where to take her career, and figuring out what comes next, after the pandemic.
“For as long as anyone thinks I’m funny and have something of value to add, comedy will always be my love. It’s how I’m able to connect with people who I would probably otherwise disagree with, it’s how I can show my humanity to those who might not respect the fact that I’m fat, Asian and a woman, it’s how we all break down walls with each other. If you can get someone to laugh, you can change their mind at least a little bit, and I think that’s so important.”
Of all the ingredients that went into this current batch of her career, Pornel says the most simple and secret one is “Joy.”
“I never dreamed that [this] was something I could do. So now that I’m here, I want to enjoy every minute of it, because there’s nothing more powerful than seeing joy. I want to see more joy in the world, so that’s what I want to put out there.”
The Great Canadian Baking show premieres on CBC February 14th at 8pm.