She moved to Montreal for university. But in a French-dominant province of Quebec, Guelph native Jackie Pirico's options for a job were limited.
Little did she know the limited options helped her find her way into a decade-long stand-up comedy career, and her first Juno Award nomination.
"It was 2006, and I needed a part-time job during school," she told GuelphToday. "But my French was too poor to really be passable in a serving job, or a bar or restaurant."
The only place that would take her in a serving role was The Comedy Nest, a highly-regarded English-speaking comedy club in the same building as the historic Montreal Forum.
She served cocktails throughout her university career, and eventually stayed in Montreal.
But after absorbing "thousands of hours of stand-up comedy" in her role, Pirico decided to give stand-up a shot herself in 2013.
Turns out, the John F. Ross high school grad was good.
Her comedy stylings have taken her to comedy festival stages nationwide. She's also been featured on television, including Just for Laughs, to episodes of CTV's Roast Battle Canada and the sitcom Children Ruin Everything.
Pirico gathers her material from her own observations and experiences, but cranks it up "to a place of hyper realness, or surrealness because I really amplify these things almost in a cartoonish heightened way."
"My perception of mundane events is heightened in a way that I think that people can expect to go on a bit of a ride," she said. "A bit of a Willy Wonka haunted boat ride, kind of twisty turny, insane narrative where they don't necessarily know where it's going to go next."
Speaking of twisty turny pathways, Pirico did not expect her success to lead her to the Juno Awards earlier this month, when her album Splash Pad was nominated for comedy album of the year.
Its recognition, she said, is "worth its weight in gold in terms of encouragement."
"It was so thrilling. It's those moments of encouragement that we get from this industry, that's the only thing that keeps us going as comedians, is those moments of the industry saying 'hey, keep going, you're good,'" she said.
And being able to go to Edmonton was a glamorous experience Pirico is still reeling from.
"First of all, we don't get enough opportunities, especially as comedians, to get dressed up," she said. "There's not a lot of awards or accolades in Canada for comedy. It was also very fun to be at an event that is sort of outside of my own industry."
Comedy tends to be an outlier at the Junos, which mainly celebrates Canadian music.
But at the little table of comedians, Pirico was able to hang out with her comrades, including Jon Dore, who won the comedy album of the year award and someone Pirico has been following since she was a teenager.
There were other influences along the way, including the late George Carlin and his expressive nature, and Tim Heidecker's alternative and quirky sense of humour.
Then there was the hours and hours of watching Seinfeld as a kid, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus' portrayal of the character Elaine Benes.
"I know she's not a stand-up comedian in the traditional sense, she's improv and sketch and actor," Pirico said of Louis-Dreyfus. "But to me, there was no funnier person. The way she can deliver a line, there's nobody like her."
Quite the variety, but Pirico said the one thing her influences have in common is "they're all weirdos."
It's a tough act, hitting the stage for what she calls one of the most difficult forms of performance art, one that's vulnerable and where you "have to really be able to take your lumps."
She's taken her lumps, and has become one of the most sought after comedians in the country.
But home is where the heart is, and Pirico loves coming back to Guelph, and one of the best audiences she's had along the way.
You can catch her in Guelph Tuesday, March 28, as part of the Comedy at the Canteen show at Fixed Gear Brewing.
Visit fixedgearbrewing.com, or call 519-265-7026 for more information.