Garihanna Jean-Louis

Comedian, actor and speaker

“I want people to understand that they don’t have to face this hardship alone, that there’s a team available to help them emotionally, spiritually, and financially. There’s support until the very end, which, we hope, will be happy one, of course.”

The first and only Black woman to graduate from École nationale de l’humour, Garihanna Jean-Louis was born in Montreal to parents from Haiti. After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics, the call of the stage just could not be ignored! So, today, she wears many hats: stand-up comedian, actor, author, teacher, speaker, and entrepreneur. With her sister Cynthia, she founded Les Sœurs Jean-Louis Inc., a production company presenting shows in Canada, the USA, Guadeloupe, and Haiti. This year, she unveiled her very first one-woman show featuring her mix of mango-maple humour.

Garihanna Jean-Louis has been shaving her head at least once a year since she was a teenager. It has now become a ritual. “It’s a way for me to remember and affirm who I am and to recognize that my appearance has nothing to do with my personality. I often do it when I’m feeling sad. So, if I can do it to support a cause and give a deeper sense to the gesture, why not?”

She was delighted to agree to join the Audacieuses. “I could not be more excited. I can’t believe I was chosen to stand among those wonderful women. I can’t wait to see us all with our shaved heads, leaning on one another. I think it will be a powerful moment that will touch us in the very heart of our humanity.”

A Hairless Prom

Garihanna Jean-Louis did not always associate shaving her head with personal well-being. Quite the contrary, in fact. At the age of 15, while she lived in Montreal away from her parents still in Haiti, she went through a severe episode of depression and alopecia. “I woke up one morning and my pillow was covered with hair.” She began by hiding bald spots with various hairstyles, but eventually, styling just was not enough.

Worried about the situation, her mother came for a visit. “She’s the one who shaved my head that first time. It was such a shock. She kept my shorn hair in a box. I was in the last year of high school at Collège Régina-Assumpta, only a few weeks away from prom. Suddenly, I showed up to school hairless. I had to explain to my friends that I was suffering from depression. In the Black community, mental health is a taboo subject. So is cancer.”

She went to prom with a beautiful evening dress...and a bald head. “I had to be sure of myself, but I didn’t have that strength yet. It was tough; I have no picture of me at the prom.” When she thinks of the cancer-stricken teenager she met recently, who had to suffer through disparaging looks and comments after losing her long, brown hair, Garihanna feels so much compassion. “I have this lump in my throat because she is me.”

For the longest time, Garihanna Jean-Louis attached great importance to physical appearance. “Our parents instilled in us the idea of loving who we are, but they also insisted on a well-groomed and proud appearance. Why? Because as a Black woman, I will always be judged twice as hard.”

This never stopped her from expressing her individuality, including by shaving her head repeatedly. Soon enough, her mother and sister did the same. “You realize that hair is superficial. If you don’t nurture your inner self to keep it beautiful, your external appearance is worthless; nothing more than an empty shell. It’s so flattering to hear people say that you’re glowing. And I know that light I project has nothing to do with my physical appearance.”

Breaking Taboos with Help and Support

Over the past year, cancer hit not one but three times in the stand-up comedian’s circle. An aunt, an uncle. Her grandfather who died from it. “It was a shock because it was kept secret. Isn’t that crazy? People in the community don’t talk about cancer. It’s even truer in the case of childhood cancer. There’s this belief that it’s a mystical thing or the work of someone who means you harm.”

With this public shave, Garihanna Jean-Louis hopes to raise awareness about childhood cancer within the Black community. “I want people to understand that they don’t have to face this hardship alone, that there’s a team available to help them emotionally, spiritually, and financially. There’s support until the very end, which, we hope, will be happy one, of course.”

Joining the Audacieuses is like a personal mission for her. “It’s a gift from life after a turbulent and atypical path. I have to share. My sister and I have always worked to educate and raise awareness via entertainment. It’s our leitmotiv. Illness has no colour, race, or age. If we can all get through it together, it will do us all some good and lessen the burden.”

After the shave, she is planning on dyeing her hair a funky colour. Platinum blond? Pink? She has not made her final decision yet. Garihanna is already thinking of repeating the experience next year, on the date of the Audacieuses’ collective shave but with her own colourful touch. “If I have to shave my head for the cause for the rest of my life, I’ll do it. Happily.”