It all started in 1988 with an obsession: Canadian comic Carolyn Taylor, now known as one of the stars and co-creators of “Baroness Von Sketch Show,” was a “closeted 15-year-old” watching Olympic figure skating in her aunt’s living room. She recalls Katarina Witt performing a free skate to “Carmen” in an iconic red costume. At the very end, Witt performatively lay down on the ice — and Taylor just wanted to lie next to her.
“It was one of those foundational moments,” Taylor tells Variety. “But then I went on with my life, and didn’t pursue skating or Olympics in any capacity.”
Fast forward to 2016. Taylor was driving in the car with her girlfriend when Whitney Houston’s 1992 song “I Have Nothing” came on the radio. “It was as if I had heard it for the first time,” she recalls. She had a vision of “a professional pairs, gold medalist skating routine,” Taylor says. “And I was the one who was going to choreograph it.”
A version of that dream comes true when the aptly named “I Have Nothing” makes its debut Sept. 23 on Bell Media’s streaming service, Crave. The six-episode docuseries follows the comedian as she learns to skate, recruits gold-medalist skaters, choreographs and attempts to clear song rights to put on the performance that until now has lived in her head. She does so with the help of her friend Mae Martin, and key skating professionals, including Sandra Bezic, David Pelletier, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Kurt Browning, Paul Martini, Barbara Underhill and Kristi Yamaguchi.
The series was officially born from one of Taylor’s stand-up routines, in which she would act out the choreography and play the song on stage. At some point, she began telling the audience that one day, she would do it for real.
“Why did I have to say that?” she says with a laugh. “Why could I not have been satisfied with a really funny stage show? Instead, I said I was going to do it, and the audience would cheer. As someone who responds well to applause and support, I started going, ‘Hmmm.’”
When the pandemic hit, Taylor forged ahead. She teamed with Zack Russell, who co-executive produces and co-directs the series alongside her. They partnered with Catalyst and Blue Ant Studios, in association with Bell Media, and the series was greenlit. But after that, it was nothing but hurdles and roadblocks.
Aside from the difficulty of getting professional figure skaters to agree to perform, Taylor had to dust off and clean out her own mouse dung-filled skates, learn the realities of choreographing an actual dance, and most importantly, clear the rights to Houston’s 1992 song from “The Bodyguard” soundtrack. (Clearly, from the title and the song being included in the show, she secured them.)
“I Have Nothing” culminates in Taylor’s performance in front a live audience in Edmonton, with figure skating royalty, die-hard fans and Taylor’s teen idols (perhaps even Witt?) in attendance. In other words, this is a real journey, despite what Taylor’s closest friends and those working with her may have initially believed.
“People are like, is this a mockumentary? No, it’s real. This could never be a scripted thing,” Taylor says. “Brian Orser taught me how to skate in the series. We are playing the comedy, but ultimately, I’m actually doing this. It really is an unfolding revelation for most people, which makes it fun. We are in the moment, discovering it as we go, which gives it a lot of meta qualities. It’s not make-believe.”
Taylor’s earnest attempts to do the impossible mine plenty of laughs from the show’s first episode, but she hopes even those who aren’t into professional figure skating can relate to the show’s themes of realizing a childhood dream, aspiring to meet an idol and imposter syndrome.
“I put on skates, and I feel like I’m a giant,” Taylor says. “I feel in every way — queer, and size, and experience, and age — like an imposter. Facing that, and going through it publicly, is an interesting experience. Because so often in our lives when we have that feeling we hide it, we fake it until we make it.
“But it’s different when you’ve got camera crews following you around. It’s a special form of humiliation. Apparently, I’m into that.”
All six episodes of “I Have Nothing” drop on Crave Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. ET.