A middle-aged white woman with short curly blonde hair is holding a microphone and looking dismayed. She is wearing a blue and white striped shirt with a silver necklace and silver dangling earrings. She has on red lipstick.
Comedian and author Deborah Kimmett. (Photograph by Cass K Rudolph)

Topics: June 2024, Spirituality | Culture

Deborah Kimmett’s new memoir navigates her rocky spiritual journey with humour

In "Window Shopping for God," the Second City comedian shares her decades-long search for meaning


With her trademark sass, stand-up comic Deborah Kimmett sets up her book’s central tension in the first chapter, “Losing my Religion.” A young Kimmett is drunk and in bed, refusing to get up for mass, when her mother opens her bedroom door to snap, “You can’t stop being Catholic. You were born Catholic. You will die Catholic.”

“There it was: the curse,” Kimmett writes in Window Shopping for God: A Comedian’s Search for Meaning. “The curse I would try to outrun for the next 30 years, because you don’t quit that religion. Catholicism is like the Hotel California — you can check out, but you can never leave.”

Like Forrest Gump, Kimmett travels through decades in her book, encountering virtually every major phenomenon and health crisis of the late 20th century: the end of Christendom, sexual liberation, misogyny as women enter the non-traditional workforce, gig work, mental illness, divorce, cancer, AIDS, diet culture and alcoholism. Through it all, she fitfully grasps at Toronto’s spiritual trends from the 1960s onward, from self-help books to transcendental meditation, gratitude journalling and therapy. So much therapy.

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To the reader, Kimmett’s spiritual journey seems less like a light afternoon of window shopping and more like piloting a pirate ship through stormy seas, with waves of social issues crashing over her boat and krakens of trendy spirituality slithering their tentacles around her hull. Kimmett is armed with a razor-sharp cutlass of wit but little else. Like the rest of us, she’s just trying to financially and emotionally survive and still find meaning in life. Through her keen observation skills and humour, she lays out what a bizarre era this truly is — and how difficult it is to find a spiritual practice that can contain it all.

From her years with the comedy troupe Second City and CBC Radio’s The Debaters, she is quick and quippy. Many paragraphs end with a joke. But there’s enough depth to balance the hee-haws. Between the laughs, Kimmett reveals how closely she listens to and watches other people — her family, therapists and strangers — attuned to any wisdom they might share. When a street preacher had the word “repent” tattooed on the back of his head, she took that message to heart and tried to make amends for a childhood wrong.

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I was troubled as the book neared the end with Kimmett still flitting around and no resolution in sight. Although she does land on valuing self-acceptance and human connection, they don’t fully replace the collective, familial Catholicism she left behind. She is navigating her spiritual quest alone, without a nest of fellow seekers to share the journey.

Kimmett’s most compelling spiritual descriptions are about flow: what it feels like to step onto the stage as a comic. “When it worked you were a goddess,” she writes. “Making people laugh is an elixir like no other.” Now that’s an ecstatic moment I envy.


This story first appeared in Broadviews June 2024 issue with the title “The Sassy Seeker.”

Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.

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