Allana Harkin grew up on the west Mountain doing all the normal Hamilton stuff: sledding down the Chedoke hill on an inner tube; riding her bike around streets named San Francisco, San Pedro and San Marino; and learning to make sausage so her peers wouldn’t think she was “a loser.”
“You just wait! I am going to learn to make sausage and it’s going to be disgusting,” says Harkin, recalling a dispute from her days at St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School. “It was like shoving ground beef into a pair of nylons.”
Her recent work is a bit more high-profile. From 2016 to 2022, Harkin was a contributor and correspondent on late-night comedy show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, winning an Emmy Award for her production work on the show last fall.
The award was a bittersweet honour for Harkin, who directed the show’s scripted content in addition to her on-screen role. After seven seasons, the show was cancelled over the summer, during a hiatus from filming.
“At that point in September [when the Emmys were handed out], we would have [normally] been in production for about a week and a half,” she told CBC Hamilton.
“It’s only been a few months [since that time] and it still hits me every once in a while, especially when a really incredible story is on the news.”
In the tradition of the Daily Show, on which Full Frontal host Bee was previously a correspondent, the show revolved around parodying the news. It was one of several shows cancelled after a merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery Inc.
On the show, Harkin often played the field reporter role, speaking to everyday people at political events, football games and even a remote island that was being swallowed by the sea.
“I don’t know if I thought this was possible as a little girl living in Hamilton,” says Harkin, who now lives with her husband Michael and daughters Olive and Charlotte in Toronto.
‘I was always sent to all the Trump rallies’
Her style on the show was characterized by an ability to befriend people of drastically different viewpoints from her own, even while playfully questioning their values. She’d often end up joking with them on big issues that have polarized swaths of American society, such as feminism, climate change or gun control.
“I was always sent to all the Trump rallies — I think because I look like a Republican,” said Harkin, who grew up attending Regina Mundi Catholic Church on the Mountain, and has been able to draw on her knowledge of Christianity in her interviews. “But it would be disarming and they would start talking to me.”
Harkin says growing up with Irish-immigrant parents meant she got “really good at saying, ‘Here’s this really awful thing that happened and also 10 jokes.’ It was always part of who I was.”
She said one of her guiding principles was to respect people’s views and learn to read people quick enough to know if an interview is going to go off the rails.
“You can tell right away,” she said, describing some politically charged scenes outside the Democratic and Republican national conventions. “Within five seconds, I can tell if … it’s a situation I shouldn’t be in.”
‘Sacred about church and the arts’
Harkin was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and attended St. Theresa of Avila elementary school. Every Sunday after mass, her family would visit the Art Gallery of Hamilton as part of their weekly routine.
“My parents were sacred about church and the arts,” said Harkin, who would go on to work as an usher at Hamilton Place (now FirstOntario Concert Hall). “I was exposed to everything: The ballet, the symphony. I remember the Geritol Follies [the seniors variety troupe which began in Hamilton]. I thought they were the bomb.”
Her friend Lisa Brown remembers the younger Harkin as someone who was always creative and comfortable in front of a crowd.
“In high school, she was directing and putting on plays,” said Brown, now a teacher at Guardian Angels Catholic Elementary School in Waterdown. “They weren’t happening regularly so she just made up those opportunities.”
The friends are still close — Harkin has been known to ask Brown to bring a Roma pizza when she comes to visit in Toronto.
“She has a huge heart and she empathizes and sympathizes with people,” Brown said. “She tries to see the other side of things, which I love.”
I was exposed to everything: The ballet, the symphony. I remember the Geritol Follies. I thought they were the bomb.– Comic Allana Harkin
The friends both attended Western University, living together for the duration of their undergraduate degrees. Harkin studied English and theatre, followed by a master’s degree in theatre performance at York University.
In 2005, a comedic play she wrote about realtors called Real Estate had a run at Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius.
“Having something come back to Hamilton is just so meaningful,” she said. “I was so happy [my parents] got to see my name on a marquis.”
‘You really had to hold your own’
These days, Harkin is spending more time directing, and has recently been working on a teen comedy shooting in Toronto called Popularity Papers.
She’s also working to bring to life a sketchy comedy show for kids that she created, called Best Day Ever, which she describes as in a similar spirit as “Key and Peele” or “I Think You Should Leave [with Tim Robinson].”
“There’s so many shows for kids that have an educational element — this is really about laughs,” Harkin said.
She says being from Hamilton is something she’s fiercely proud of, noting the people she grew up with taught her to be real, to have big feelings and to learn how to laugh about nearly everything.
“I credit [Hamilton] a lot for who I am now,” she says. “You really had to hold your own.”