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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The inner artist

When your art takes center stage in your life, when that’s all your about, well then, there’s a lot riding on it isn’t there? Your self-worth becomes woven into how you performed that day, and that is a false sense of identity. And what’s wrong with that if it motivates you to get better? you may ask. I’ll admit, it does put the pressure on to get better but it’s a far cry from healthy pressure, if there is such a thing. What’s wrong with this attitude is that it prevents you from taking chances (your entire self-worth is at risk remember) and being creative requires a willingness to take chances, to make mistakes and “run with it.”
What comedian said this?

It wasn't any comedian, actually. Could have been, though, couldn't it? It was jazz clarinetist James Danderfer, who is also really funny on stage and off. But he was talking about playing music. He wrote this in his excellent weekly blog. Go back through the archives and there's lots more that pertains to comedians and artists in general.

So many comics I know take an individual performance way too personally. It eats them up until their next good show. Not being a performer, I could never understand this. I figure if your act usually does well, why sweat it if one crowd, for whatever reason, doesn't like it? The only time you should worry is if the duds outnumber the times you kill.

But therein lies the rub, as James so eloquently put it. You can't also just aim to please. Yeah, of course you want the audience to like you (or your act, more precisely), but you don't want to pander. Anyone can do that. To grow as an artist, you've got to take chances. And failing is inherent in taking chances.

James prefaced the above quote with this:

Even at the young age of 17, after being “serious” about music for only 3-4 years, I started to associate my personal image with my art. What does that mean? Simple:

I play great = I am great
I play bad = I am bad

Does that hit home with anyone?

A couple months ago I interviewed Danderfer for He's such a funny guy on stage I decided to ask him about it and was pleasantly surprised with his reply:
When you talk between tunes, you're like a stand-up comic. Did it take a while to get comfortable talking to an audience or were you always like that?
Yeah, it's definitely taken me time to get comfortable with that. Absolutely. After university when I started playing around town a bit and leading groups, I was really nervous about talking so I would just avoid it as much as possible. Then after working on cruise ships and being part of the show band and playing for so many entertainers, like night after night, I think that definitely rubbed off on me a bit. Because you're sitting there on stage just watching the audience while the featured performer has got his ass on the line and is trying to entertain or tell jokes or explain something about the song in an entertaining way, and you can see how they react. So that helped quite a bit. But then just forcing myself to do it. I just wanted to communicate more with the audience, especially if it was original music and there was some kind of story behind it, but was contemporary jazz so it wasn't maybe the easiest thing to tap your toe to, so I wanted to explain the story behind it so that people would get into it more. And the more I did it, the more feedback I got that it was really making a difference for people, especially imagery, explaining thoughts and feelings behind the composition. People really related to it.

Lots of musicians get up there and tell the back-story. But you're also reaching them through humour.
Well, that's the other thing. I really like comedians, I like watching stand-up, and I think over the last couple of years I've started to laugh at myself more on stage, as opposed to feeling embarrassed about mistakes, just embrace them. I really like listening to a good comedian. I think it's very similar to the process of playing music in terms of timing and giving them something. Not saying too much. There are similar elements.

Any teacher or prof who could use humour effectively, you tend to remember the lesson more, too.
Exactly. Good speakers or teachers, good articles or books, they stick with me if it's entertaining. So I try and do more of that. I still haven't actually written anything down, like written a joke or anything. It's just getting up there and trying to do it more. And the more I do it, the more comfortable I am and I think it comes across better the more comfortable I am. Because I'm not up there trying to tell jokes; I just want to relate to people and feel like we're all in this room together and it's an inclusive experience. Rather than just explaining a song, the details, more like an inclusive group.

It is, after all, show business.
Yeah! That's the other thing. Yeah, exactly. It's still a show. That's another thing, getting back to the university schooling, that is maybe a bit frowned upon – the element of show business... No, frowned upon is too strong a word; it's not emphasized so you forget that that's actually a big part of it.

Show business has certain connotations, but you're putting on a show and the introductions are just part of that show.
Right. And the show biz part can be genuine or it can be fake. And people usually know the difference. And that's why so far I haven't written material trying to get laughs. I just enjoy doing it now so I stick with what I enjoy doing. I enjoy talking a bit about the songs – I try not to do too much – and get people involved a little bit. And it's fun. So I just kinda stick with what feels good.

It gives a fuller experience for the audience.
Yeah, I think so. I think it does. I know I appreciate that when I go to a show. It doesn't have to be funny, either. I just appreciate when the performer really makes an effort to meet you halfway, or to give you something to hold on to. Yeah, I know I like it.

Who are your favourite comedians?
I really like Stephen Colbert. Jon Stewart, also. I like his work. Chris Rock. Bill Burr. Louis CK – he's just outrageous. Lewis Black. The pit-bull of comedy, what's his name? Bobby Slayton.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Podcast update

Three good ones to while away the hours. Listen here or download at iTunes:

Brett Martin, from November 9, 2008:

Byron Bertram, from November 16, 2008:

Pearce Visser, from October 11, 2009 (with guest hosts Shaun Stewart & Eric Fell):

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Oct. 25: Ardell Fitzpatrick & LeeAnn Keple

The last time Ardell Fitzpatrick and LeeAnn Keple visited What's So Funny?, we were in a tiny studio. That tells me it's been at least four years since we've seen them. Lots has happened in the ensuing years. Ardell took a break from comedy but is now back with a vengeance – and an oxygen tube. We'll talk about that as well as the ongoing Laff Riot Girls competition at Lafflines, which started on Oct. 14 and crowns a winner on Nov. 4. There's lots to catch up on. Join us. That's an order.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Louis CK review

My official review of Louis CK's show at the Vogue on Saturday is now on-line at the Straight. It'll be out in the paper on Thursday if you have something against reading on a computer screen.

Spoiler alert: It was really, really good. I don't think it was quite as strong as his appearance here last year, but that's really nitpicking. It was a mostly new show, too, as is his custom. Only two bits from last year made it to this year's 90-minute performance (that I remember, anyway). I have no idea where he is in the development stages with this one. There were some chunks that didn't really go anywhere. And you know what? I didn't matter one bit. He told a story about being in a high-speed chase in L.A. that had no pay-off but the joy was in the details along the way.

He really can take even a premise done to death and make something of it. So we get material about airport security and deplaning protocol that's fresh and new, proving once again that there's no such thing as a hack premise, just hack comics. I think it's key that he really does (seem to) care about this stuff. He doesn't choose material because he thinks it'll get a laugh (although I'm sure that's part of it); he talks about stuff he finds funny and has the confidence to know he can make it work for us.

He also will go to any length to hit all the hot-button words. Usually a comic that tries so hard to squeeze in all the dirty words in his arsenal is tiresome. Add toilet humour to the mix, and on paper he's a comic that wouldn't interest me. But he does, inexplicably. I hate to list some of his topics and words out of context, but I'm going to anyway. Trust me when I say he utters these in the least offensive way possible:
  • Mother rape (he's against it)
  • "nigger baby" (he's aghast that his ex-wife told him he yelled it out in his sleep)
  • "cunt hair" (used as a measurement to express an infinitesimal difference)
  • "shit the dick of Christ" (he doesn't know where that came from)
  • "shitting in people's mouths" (used as an example of what's okay, Biblically speaking)
  • "retard in a stroller" (NYC parents coddle their teenagers so they end up like this)
  • "some Dutch faggot in 1776" (not meant sexually)
  • "kid fucking" (again, he's against it but uses it to illustrate it's the reason why some children are killed or go missing)
  • "fuck her in the period hole" (surprisingly pro-woman)
His biggest targets are the selfish haves in the world who are constantly looking out for number one, and... himself. So he's able to walk that line. And he does so masterfully.

My favourite line of the night, possibly, was following his chunk on how good it feels to say "Jesus Christ!" What did they do B.C? Or even during the time of Christ? He ends with Jesus's friends watching him being crucified and not being able to saying anything other than, "... That is bananas... A real humdinger," before the brilliant "They were three days away from having the perfect thing to say!"

CK thinks it's ridiculous the way we overuse language to the point where everything is amazing, genius or hilarious. But those are three pretty good words to describe his work these days.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oct. 18: Danny Mendlow

We've got a really interesting show tonight. Got a young tyke on by the name of Danny Mendlow. Danny does stand-up comedy, but even more than that he's got his dirty fingerprints all over the internet. One of his videos was banned by YouTube, pussies that they are. But it's found a life of its own so you may have already seen it. If not, here it is for you:

Religion - watch more funny videos

Mendlow also has an animated series on the life of Jesus in the modern world (watch the first season at, has tons of slick videos on, and Or check out his own site,, where you can see all manner of offensive comedy, be it stand-up, sketch or music. Here's another for your viewing pleasure:

Should be a fun show. Check it out. Oh, and since it's our annual membership drive, you might want to consider calling in and donating to the station. In return, I've got some goodies to give away.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fine podcast

Remember back a couple of weeks ago when Academy Award (TM) winner David Fine was a guest on our program? And Ian Boothby guest hosted? Well, remember no more because that very episode is now available in the popular podcast format. Listen right here right now, or download it at iTunes.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Oct. 11: Pearce Visser

Happy Thanksgiving, good people. Hope you have a good turkey dinner. I'm still away, celebrating the harvest in New Brunswick, but the show will go on. I've lined up two guest hosts to take my place this evening: Shaun Stewart and Eric Fell, aka The Justice Pals. They will be serving up some justice with VTSL vet Pearce Visser. It'll be Pearce's first time on the program so hopefully they'll be gentle.

I'm back tomorrow so I'll be in the chair next Sunday night. Talk to you then.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Two new podcasts... and they really are new(ish)

We're really getting caught up to speed here with the podcasts. No, last week's isn't up yet, but the two before it are. They're good ones, too, with big-time(y) American guests. Check 'em out, either right here or go to iTunes. Either way is fine with me.

Tom Segura & Jon Reep, from Sept. 20, 2009:

Scott Aukerman, from Sept. 27, 2009:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Saint John, final day

Let's finish off this puppy, shall we? Saturday was my last day/night at the Canadian Comedy Awards. I do believe there was on afternoon show on the Sunday at the high school, but I skipped town.

Saturday started with a writer's symposium. Hey, I'm a writer, kind of, so why not attend? Plus, it was in my hotel. A no-brainer, really. Plus, I love these types of things. The panel was moderated by stand-up comic Cory Mack, while Dan Redican (Kids in the Hall, Puppets That Kill, the Frantics, Little Mosque on the Prairie, and The Jenny McCarthy Show), Tim Steeves (This Hour Has 22 Minutes, The Rick Mercer Report), George Westerholm (Al & George, The Rick Mercer Report) and Ron Sparks (Comedy Now) were on the panel.

Things I learned:
  • Redican said it's touchy writing for Little Mosque because the show is based on a religion. "Those are people that blow up buildings," he said.
  • Funny is in third place at the Mercer Report: 1. Canadian 2. Politics 3. Funny. (This didn't surprise me. Actually, I figured "funny" was a lot further down the list judging from the show.)
  • In writing for a show, or doing a spec script, one always has to keep in mind what the show isn't.
  • Rickland is the land inhabited by Mercer and his minions. So Britney Spears doesn't exist in Rickland. (See list above.)
  • 22 Minutes producers are cowards (my interpretation). They once got 700 letters of complaint after making fun of Elvis Stojko so from that point forward, there were to be no more figure skating jabs.
  • Inspiration is not a great friend to the writer. (I knew this already. Boy, did I know this.) A deadline is all the inspiration one needs. It's simple hard work and getting down and doing it.
  • If you're sending in a pitch, repeated hits are the key. Anyone can fluke out one good pack, or get friends to help punch it up. But if you send in a pack three weeks in a row, the producer might sit up and take notice.
  • You almost never get in the front door in show business; you've got to find the side door.
  • Writing TV shows is hack work. You're making widgets. You're not James Joyce creating your masterpiece.
It was a fun and informative hour. I'd love for these types of things to take place at the Vancouver festival.

At 4 pm, former Vancouverite Harry Doupe gave his annual Statelessness of the Industry address, a direct rip-off, he will admit, to Andy Kindler's annual skewering at Just For Laughs. Harry, though, just concentrates on Canadians. It was fun hearing shots taken at people I know. And it was especially fun because I wasn't included. (I interviewed Harry later that day for the radio show and he told me I had been targetted in years past.)

He started by mentioning the Funniest Person in New Brunswick contest he closed on Wednesday, and which I briefly mentioned here. I saw the last performer and wrote that if they're all of his quality, New Brunswick comedy is in good shape. Uh, apparently they're not all of that quality. As Doupe put it, "I weep for New Brunswick's comedy future." That gave you an idea of how the speech would go. Doupe didn't take any prisoners. And there were lots of barbs at Vancouver comics.

First off, though, he hit one of the biggest names in comedy, Russell Peters: "If Russell Peters had a dollar for every time he told somebody how much money he makes, he'd have exactly the amount of money he has now." Asking if anyone saw Peters host the Junos for the second year in a row, he said, "I laughed out loud about eight times. But then Nickelback finished their song." To which a chorus of comics would mumble, "Burn, burn, burn."

Doupe mentioned that comedy forums appeared to be dead. I'll vouch for that. And that's why I was spared this year. He couldn't get on me for all my wonderfully insightful Comedy Couch posts. Ditto Ian Boothby.

Another Guy got it, though. Comedian Guy Earle, who was taken to the human rights tribunal for insulting a couple of lesbians, got the Doupe treatment. Back when the brouhaha started, Earle had said that it would be good publicity. Harry said, "Guy Earle was able to spin about fifty pieces of international media into absolutely fucking zero."

Gerry Dee's cross-country theatre tours also came into Doupe's sights: "There's no sense playing a 2000-seat hall if you're gonna have 400 people there... And there's no sense going to a Gerry Dee show."

Then the rest of the speech was Doupe railing about hyperbolic press releases and personal websites. As happy as he is for Brent Butt's success, he can't stand the CTV hype machine. "CTV puts out press releases like Corner Gas cured cancer."

Next a trio of Vancouverites got ridiculed for their excessive self-praise. Dan Quinn's website apparently says Dan is "poised to be the spokesperson for his generation," to which Doupe adds, "based on the Yuk Yuk's in Calgary." Damonde Tschritter's site says the Globe & Mail hails him as "comedy's new superhero". Turns out the G&M said no such thing. I know that full well, because I was the one who wrote that Globe & Mail story on Damonde. A Prince George paper did the hailing, apparently. And Richard Lett's site calls him a "pioneer of stand-up". Doupe pointed out that Lett started four years after him.

Carla Collins' website says she was Yuk Yuk's Best New Stand-up. Doupe: "Anyone remember her being good or at Yuks?"

He showed a sultry pose from Sugar Sammy and correctly pointed out that in all the photos of Sam, he never looks like a comic. More like a male model.

When he asked the folks how the new Second City show was, and several people clapped, he said, "Now we know where the Second City people are sitting." ("Burn, burn, burn.")

Oh, there was more, particularly at the expense of Richard Lett and Dez Reed, but I couldn't jot it all down. You'll just have to make it to the next Canadian Comedy Awards to hear it next year.

After talking to Doupe for the radio, I walked back to the festival hotel and put in a call to Mark Breslin's room, asking if he wanted to do an interview. He was game and said he'd be right down. The gala was less than an hour away, but he knew I'd need an hour for the show. I told him I could work with any amount of time. But the guy was very accommodating. We spoke for a full hour and you can hear it in a few weeks.

After the interview, we walked up the hill to the Last Laugh Gala at the Imperial Theatre, which, I had heard, was sold out. Breslin had a ticket; I just had a media pass, which wasn't cutting it with the ticket taker. Breslin joked that they should let me in because I'm a reviewer. "Oh, what's your name?" I told her, and it turned out a ticket was left for me afterall. Had Breslin not spoken up, I might have just slunked back to the hotel. As it was, I got a box seat next to the stage. And a drink ticket. Score.

I arrived in the middle of Best Newcomer Nathan MacIntosh's set. It took a while for me to warm up to him, but liked his dadless in the Maritimes bit.

The lovely Jessica Holmes hosted and I was reminded again at how show biz works. For someone to gain a measure of success on television, they have to be pretty good (most of the time). So even if you're not a fan of their TV work, they just might be decent in person. And she was. I can totally see how she got to where she is. The girl's got talent and charisma.

Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson of the Royal Canadian Air Farce were another example of that phenomenon. They read the fake news and there was some solid material there. I liked their lampooning of the Conservative attack ads on Ignatieff: "Michael Ignatieff - he's been outside of Canada. He speaks French with a French accent. He's written books..." all read in an ominous voice. Then Ferguson (or was it Abbott? I honestly don't know which is which, but it was the taller one) did a pretty good Ignatieff impression: "I am a bilingual academic. Think of me as Pierre Trudeau only without the annoying charisma."

Mary Walsh then came out to present an award she would have presented the night before but her flight didn't arrive in time. She wore the tightest dress I've ever seen. I think it was painted on. Her job was to announce the winner of the Dave Broadfoot award. As she was listing the criteria (longevity, creativity, popularity, etc.), she joked about how it could be her. To her great surprise, when Abbott and Ferguson came out to read about the winner, it was, indeed, her. She fell down laughing as soon as she realized it.

Over the years I've heard of Tim Steeves, but having never been to Toronto I'd never seen his stand-up. But the Sussex, New Brunswick, native tore the house down with a solid set. Really good with an attitude to match. "Dad called me a dreamer. But you had a lot of time to think when you're waiting in the car outside the legion" and "Living with women is like living with weather. All the variables of nature brought indoors." Good enough lines on their own, but his delivery was perfect. He even ventured into Greyhound bus beheadings.

After an intermission, Holmes came out as Liza Minelli. Apparently she opened the night as Céline Dion.

A bilingual duo called Les Smouthes was next and they were everything you expect from a French comedy troupe.

Thankfully, the rest was solid. Deb DiGiovanni and Jeremy Hotz closed out the evening. Man, that Hotz persona always works. Especially as he gets older. His weariness at life and aging suits him even more. He started out by harping on Saint John: "Who put the fucking hills in? It's not quaint! It's annoying. You need a fucking rope lift to get up the street." And of course his crowd work is exceptional. Everything came together, and when he accidentally stumbled onto the mayor of Saint John, he went to town. "Get rid of the hills, asshole."

The after party was fun and we were entertained by the Ween of bar bands. Man, these guys – who certainly didn't look anything like rockers – played everything from Eminem to AC/DC to Beyoncé. They were good. On my way home, I dropped in to another bar to catch the last two minutes of an extremely loud indie band. It took me back twenty years. But hey, that's not comedy. And I've gone on long enough. As a great writer once said (he may have said it twice for all I know), I would have made it shorter but I didn't have time.

Sorry about that.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Oct. 4: David Fine

I've got more on the Canadian Comedy Awards, but bear with me. Today was a travel day. That one-hour drive from Saint John to Fredericton was gruelling so it'll have to wait until the morrow.

Meanwhile, I wanted to mention that even without me, the show must go on. And so What's So Funny? airs a brand new episode tonight in my absence. Canadian Comedy Award nominee Ian Boothby will take over the hosting duties. His guest will be Oscar winner David Fine. And yes, by Oscar, we're talking Academy Awards. I'm sure Fine will lord it over Boothby and his measly Canadian Comedy Award nomination. Fine won for his work creating Bob & Margaret. It should be a fun and fascinating hour of scintillating conversation. So tune in.

Next week, my travels will keep me away again, but I've lined up two people to replace me. Shaun Stewart and Eric Fell will grill improviser Pearce Visser. Then I'll be back the following week with interviews with Jon Dore and Harry Doupe. And the week after that we'll have Mark Breslin for a full hour.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Canadian Comedy Awards awards, day three

Well, here we are at day three of the Canadian Comedy Awards festival. Actually, I'm on day four, but I'll get to that tomorrow.

Day three was the awards part of the Awards festival. But I'll get to that in a second. Earlier in the day I ran into Mark Breslin in the mall. He was on his way to the Jewish Museum in Saint John and we were both amazed that there was one. He told me about the Vancouver club, which is going to cease being a Yuk Yuk's in May. The club itself will continue being a comedy club, but the Yuk Yuk's franchise will look for a new location in town. So we'll have two clubs again in a little while. It's never worked before, but I have high hopes. I told him that I realize that he, as a businessman, wouldn't like the competition but that I, as a comedy consumer, love it. To have two clubs going head to head, trying to win over customers with great acts and ambiance is nothing but positive for consumers. And why I think this new set-up might work is because the new guys will be positioned in the very club that Yuk Yuk's set up. The people are conditioned to go to that spot for comedy. And the new Yuk Yuk's has the name and marketing behind it.

If I see Mark again today, I hope to get an interview with him for the radio show. We've been trying for a couple of years to get together on the show, but he's never been in town on a Sunday night and I've never wanted it to be a phone interview.

I did, though, talk to television's Jon Dore for a half-hour and we'll run that interview probably on Oct. 25. That's the next open spot.

Now on to the awards. It was the 10th annual ceremony, if you can believe it. It seems like they just started a few years ago. Held at the swanky Imperial Theatre, the event was hosted by Sean Cullen, who turned out to be a really good host. He started out by sucking up to the Saint John audience: "It's a beautiful place. I love places that are all on a slant." (There's a big hill here up from the water, y'see.) And he compared it with Newfoundland's St. John's, starting by showering Saint John with compliments and ending with, "St. John's, of course, is a filthy shithole."

The show moved quickly, which is always important in an awards show. Twenty-three awards were handed out by 14 presenters. And here they are, with as much information as I was able to scribble down. For the fine details, I'm sure all the info is on the Comedy Awards website.

1. Best One-Person Show. Presenter: The woman who played Leslie the Low-Talker in the puffy shirt episode of Seinfeld. Winner: One Woman Show. Three guys accepted. I hadn't heard of a single of the nominees (a common theme throughout the evening, fyi).

2. Best Male Improviser. Presenter: Dan Redican of the Frantics. Winner: Kerry Griffin, beating out both Ian Boothby (who was not in attendance) and Taz Van Rassel (who was).

3. Best Female Improviser. Winner: Jan Caruana, beating out nobody I've ever heard of.

4. Best Improv Troupe. Winner: Impromptu Splendor, beating out Urban Improv.

5. Best Stand-Up Newcomer. Presenter: 3-time winner Nikki Payne. Winner: Nathan MacIntosh.

6. Best Radio Clip. Presenter: Some schleps from K100, a radio station in town. The male half, with a deep, booming voice, tried to get a laugh off the top and was met with silence. I love it when radio dudes get out in the real world and see that their humour doesn't translate. Winner: "Zen Hokey Pokey" by Joe Bird, beating out "Spelling Bee" by Canadian Content. Bird died earlier this year at the age of 41.

And that was it for any Vancouver representation.

7. Best Web Clip. Presenter: Tim Steeves and some guy in the balcony. Winner: Violator, by The Imponderables, who came out and goofed around. One guy grabbed the mic from another and did a take-off on Kanye West (it had to happen at some point). After they walked off the stage, Cullen entered saying they should be called The Incorrigibles instead.

8. Best Comedic Play/Revue. Presenter: Tony award winner Lisa Lambert, of The Drowsy Chaperone fame. Winner: "Barack to the Future" by Second City. Don't you love a punny title?

9. Best Direction - Film. Presenter: Pat Thornton, of The Owl and the Man. Winner: Martin Gero for "Young People Fucking".

10. Best Direction, TV Program or Series. Winner: Adam Brodie and Dave Derewlany for "The Jon Dore Television Show" (Jon Gets Haunted). Those two guys were young. But they weren't fucking.

Next Gordon Pinsent was brought to the stage where Cullen proceeded to quiz him on his imdb credits. It's amazing how little he remembered. Then again, his career goes back to the 1960s. Did you know he was in an episode of Cannon? Better yet, he was in Blacula. He said he took the part because of one line. He played the "white token" cop. The line: "Who the hell would want two black faggot draculas?"

11. Best Writing - Film. Presenter: The aforementioned Mr. Pinsent, who, as shown in his anecdote about choosing scripts based on the lines, knows a thing or two about writing. Winner: Martin Gero and Aaron Abrams for "Young People Fucking". You'll be relieved to note that Pinsent never uttered the last word when announcing the winner.

12. Best Writing, TV Program or Series. Winner: Ron Sparks for his Comedy Now special. Now, I didn't see all the nominees (or any of them, now that I think about it) but I'm not sure a stand-up special should be included with all the others. He was up against the writers from "Bravo! Fact Presents: The Second City Facebook of Revelations", "The Rick Mercer Report", and "This Hour Has 22 Minutes". I'm not a fan of two of those three, but when you think of writing, that's what you think of, not a stand-up comic who may or may not have done much of the writing for his special on small stages leading up to the special.

13. The Chairman's Award. Presenter: Tim Progrosh. Winner: I have no idea. Progrosh mumbled the name. Could it have been Lorne somebody? I don't even know what it is the guy did.

To cleanse the palette, we were treated to a sketch by Skippy's Rangers, featuring Paul O'Sullivan, Lisa Lambert and Harry Doupe about a guy with a thick brogue trying to order a beer.

14. Best Sketch Troupe. Presenter: Paul O'Sullivan. Winner: The Second City, beating out Halifax's Picnicface, the only other troupe I'd seen.

15. Best Performance by a Female - Film. Presenter: Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson of Air Farce fame. Winner: Samantha Bee for "Coopers Camera" (there was no apostrophe in the program; not sure if there is one in the actual film), beating out three young people fucking. Sam wasn't in attendance.

16. Best Performance by a Male - Film. Winner: Peter Oldring for "Young People Fucking". And yes, Abbott and Ferguson said it. Oldring beat out Samantha Bee's husband Jason Jones, and two other young people fucking.

Next Derek Edwards did about five minutes of stand-up. Turns out those signs he read on the BC highway are also the signs he read on the New Brunswick highway! I'm shattered.

17. Best Female Stand-Up. Presenter: Derek Edwards. Winner: Debra DiGiovanni, beating out Kristeen Von Hagen, who I saw earlier in the day sporting her Oak Bay High hoodie, and Allyson Smith, who still gets a mention because she lived in Vancouver for a while.

18. Best Male Stand-Up. Winner: Jeremy Hotz, beating out a solid lineup of Scott Faulconbridge, Glen Foster, David Pryde and Sugar Sammy. Hotz accepted in character, saying, "Thanks for this charred piece of glass. I don't think they're going to let me get back on the plane with it."

19. Canadian Comedy Person of the Year. Presenter: Sean Cullen. Winner: Seth Rogan, who accepted on video from Hawaii. He beat out the Air Farce (if you can believe it!), Brent Butt, Rick Mercer and Russell Peters.

20. Best Performance by a Female - TV. Presenters: Leah Pinsent (daughter of Gordon) and Peter Keleghan (aka Canada's Alec Baldwin). Keleghan was quite funny. He told us the difference between him and Baldwin: Baldwin is richer, a better actor, and puffier. Winner: Wendel Meldrum for "Less Than Kind", who gushed, saying how important the award was because maybe now the show will get picked up for a third season.

21. Best Performance by a Male - TV. Winner: Jon Dore for "The Jon Dore Television Show". Jon gave the funniest acceptance speech, which isn't all that surprising. As he walked up there, he looked back and said, "I'm supposed to be up here, right? I was listening to my iPod." Then when he got to his speech, he used his classic misdirection to great effect: "This was totally expected." Then he thanked a bunch of people, including many in the audience who had guested on the show or written for it. "And for those who haven't: Work harder." Earlier in the day, Jon told me (and it's on tape, so you'll hear it on the 25th) that if he won, he'd dedicate it to me. Or even give the trophy to me. He didn't. Bastard.

22. Best Performance by an Ensemble - TV. Winner: Less Than Kind, beating out, again, no show I've ever seen.

23. Best TV Taped Live Performance. Winner: Ron Sparks for his Comedy Now. Man, I've got to watch that special. It must be good. He beat out Deb DiGiovanni's Halifax Comedy Festival, Jeremy Hotz's Just For Laughs Gala, Hotz's What a Miserable Show This Is, and Laurie Elliott's Just For Laughs Gala. Sparks thanked Hotz for splitting his vote.

And that was it. I've got some opinions on the awards that I'll share in the next day or two.

After the show, I walked several blocks to the Phoenix Dinner Theatre for the sketch/improv showcase hosted by Redican, who is anything but frantic in his delivery. The show was packed. I finally got to see Picnicface do sketch live. I'd seen them on-line and have seen each perform stand-up. One skit involved a man on a ledge being talked down - literally - by a cad on the street who just wanted the guy's shirt. When he finally gave it, the dude proceeded to make fun of his chest hair: "Gilles Duceppe called. He wants his fleur de lis back."

The Sketchersons were next. I either didn't hear, or didn't understand, or didn't get, their first sketch about the Vargas Brothers, two weird divorce lawyers. They followed it with some lip synching to Let It Be, that was moderately funny with a moderately funny pay-off at the end. I won't give it away.

I didn't catch the name of the third troupe. Sounded like Chewus to me. [Editor's note: It was Shoeless. I was close.] I liked their take on an old-age home in the future, where the geezers were all techies who tweeted and texted and played X-box while the young orderly didn't do any of that stuff.

Second City followed. They had the best sketch of the night. Two moms at a playground. Everything starts out fine and mom-like and quickly descends. It was Louis CK-like in female sketch form.

The Imponderables closed the first half with aliens landing on earth, with a fun twist. Then a meeting of Douchebags Anonymous was silly fun.

The 11 o'clock stand-up show hosted by Dore was sold-out so even a VIP like me couldn't get in. Can you imagine? Don't they know who I am?! So back upstairs I went for the second half of the sketch/improv show. It would be the improv portion of the evening.

The 10-person Monkey Toast took to the stage first. They interviewed the mayor of Saint John (the real mayor), then performed scenes based on the talk. It didn't quite work for me.

PROJECTproject was next, who performed a series of scenes based on the one-word suggest, fork. Meh.

The National Theatre of the World did their Impromptu Splendor show, where they do a play in the style of a playwright. This night it would be Eve Ensler, who wrote The Vagina Monologues. Based on the suggestion of someone, tonight it would be The Nipple Monologues.

Next up, Vancouver's own Urban Improv, ladies and gentlemen! Four of the members made the trip: Diana Frances, Drew MacCreadie, Taz Van Rassal, and Chris Cassillan. They realized the evening was dragging and it was late so they were quick. So instead of doing numerous scenes and trying to impress, they impressed by doing one quick one. Coming out, they played on the improv form of asking for questions. The first couple were normal, then they kept going in that manic way impovisers do when they ask for suggestions. In all, they probably got ten suggestions, including "What colour am I thinking of?" (green, it was suggested), "What was Hitler's justification for the holocaust?" (a bad hair day), and "Okay, what's, like, a funny scene we could do for you?" (that's your job). Then they went to the scene where all the words were used in two sentences and just like that it was over. Redican made his first comment of the evening: "That was surprisingly satisfying." And it was.

Lastly was About An Hour, who had many of the same members as another troupe. They did a five-minute scene on About A (blank), filled in by someone in the crowd who unimaginatively yelled "Boy".

That's it. There's more to come tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Night two in Saint John

Turns out I was wrong in yesterday's post. Go figure. It happens sometimes.

Saint John has a thing about abbreviations, it seems. So one must never, under penalty of death, write St. John. It must always be fully Saint'ed. Don't know why; that's just the way it is. Deal with it.

I learned that from John Mazerolle's one-man show called Faster, Higher, Stronger, Foggier at the Oland Theatre in the New Brunswick Museum. The show featured John, a one-time city hall reporter in Saint John now living in Toronto, and his brother, who now resides in Halifax. Yes, a two-person one-man show.

The show was basically a history lesson of the city. It started with a rather painful karaoke version of Billy Joel's We Didn't Star the Fire, but made less painful by the quick photos accompanying the original lyrics. For those who didn't pay attention in their Canadian history class, there was a big fire here in 1877, otherwise known as (according to Mazerolle) "The great urban renewal of 1877."

Not gut-bustingly funny for an outsider, but humorous enough. For locals, though, look out. There were lots of inside jokes and jabs at every single member of city council. Apparently an Elton John concert figured prominently in the city's history, too. His show sold out "quicker than Norm MacFarlane sold out Saint John." Zing! Cue the groans!

But there were jokes I could get, too. Samuel de Champlain (or "Sam de Cham", as Mazerolle calls him) discovered Saint John Harbour "because the natives weren't looking hard enough."

Next, I took a cab to a club three miles away. It was called the Three Mile Club, if you can believe it. A little story about the cab ride first. They don't have meters in taxis here. Your fare is calculated based on zones. And they don't accept credit cards. The cabbie had to then take me to a bank machine nearby without any fare increase because we were in the same zone. Looks like I won that round.

Also this cab had four (count 'em) TV screens, each playing Smokie & The Bandit, starring Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason. There was an awesome sound system so much so that I kept looking around for cops. Those siren wales sounded so real. The driver had dozens of DVDs between his seat and the passenger seat. I'm hoping they were for the customer's benefit, even though one of the screens was right on the dashboard. I watched him carefully and he didn't seem to sneak any peaks, so I could ride in comfort.

I met television's Jon Dore outside the club. He must think I'm stalking him because I saw him less than a week ago in Vancouver outside Yuk Yuk's. Dore was hosting last night. He's a great choice. Talk about never not funny, it's this guy. His straight-faced delivery gets me every single time. He came out and immediately ingratiated himself to the crowd, as any good host will do. He said how happy he was to be there: "I love coming to Newfoundland." And that was a running gag throughout the night.

The bar was just off to the stage's right. With his cordless mic, Dore walked down the steps, over to the bar, and ordered two Jaggermeisters, which he then downed. Didn't seem to affect him. Nor did the numerous beers or the smoking up between comics. He said it did, but it always seemed to me he had his wits about him throughout the night. At one point, he did an impression of an invisible comic by walking up the stairs to the balcony and hiding behind the wall, followed by about five minutes of crowd work and visuals... You see, nobody could see him. It might lose something in the telling, but it was very funny. Dore is the master of the sincere set-up and killer punchline. He gets all serious, saying how good it is to laugh, using the old bromide that laughter is the best medicine. It's true, he says. "People that laugh a lot actually live longer than people with terminal cancer." Ah, yes, it's funny because it's true.

All the comics were Canadian Comedy Award nominees. First up was Kate Davis, who I'd never seen before. She has the dirty pervy mom schtick down pat. Lots of talk of her kids and her sex life, which is funny enough just because we don't expect it from moms, but I always find a bit unsettling, old stick-in-the-mud that I am. Best line: "We were so poor, last year somebody stole my identity and it ruined her life."

Shane Ogden was next and he's the answer to yesterday's question about who won the Funniest Person in New Brunswick competition. He's a Mr. Leahy lookalike. Like me, he finally succumbed to the evils of Facebook. He compared it to junior high, where we excitedly ask, "Did you get my note?!" and amass friends for no apparent reason.

Former Vancouverite, and What's So Funny? guest, Allyson Smith was next. She's changed a lot since moving from the 604 area code. Instead of Rikki Lake, she now looks like Sarah Palin. Or so she said. She still single (fellas). She likes shy guys, but her last boyfriend, she found out through friends, was dumb, not shy. "He listens because he doesn't understand you," is what they told her.

Just For Laughs fave Scott Faulconbridge talked of his three-year-old son: "He's for sale. If you act now, I'll throw in the grandparents." He's a cautionary tale to future parents. Even though it seems like a good idea at the time, do not, under any circumstances, teach your young child a knock-knock joke because you'll regret it almost immediately.

Victoria native (and Oak Bay high grad), and former What's So Funny? guest, Kristeen Von Hagen just flew in from Amsterdam that day, not having performed in a few weeks, which can be disastrous for some comics, did well with an assortment of fat jokes. She has become obsessed with the morbidly obese. Whenever she sees one in bed and shirtless on TV, she hears a voice inside her head saying, "Go for it. This is something you can totally do."

Montreal's David Pryde was next. He's one of the best joke writers in the business. I'd always seen him as a one-liner comic, but he did longer chunks last night. Still some great lines, though. His bit on Braille was good. It's the only language you can't understand wearing oven mitts. "You're a cold snap away from illiteracy."

Shelley Marshall was someone I'd never seen, or heard of, before. A zaftig cartoon character dressed in bright red. She was another horny bad mom who talked about her sex life a lot. A pap smear for her is "a discreet sexual encounter covered by health care."

Glen Foster, who, like Dore, was in Vancouver last week, has been a mainstay on Canadian television for 20 years now, which explains, he says, why nobody knows him. He had a really good chunk on how Canada has been relatively terrorist-free. "This is where they send their relatives for safety." Yes, people might consider some of his material racist, but I don't think it is. Uncomfortable, sure, but not racist. He described how if a terrorist bomb was going to go off in Canada, we'd be tipped off by noticing all the dollar stores closed. The way he acts it out is spot-on. Then when he realizes what's going down, he yells, "Taxi!" And he leaves it at that. We know what he's getting at. Do the Saint Johners, though? All the cab drivers here are white.

Closing the evening was Debra "I'm not gonna lie" DiGiovanni. I, too, am not gonna lie: I've not been a fan from what I've seen on TV and heard on radio, but she's way more compelling in person. Sure, most of the jokes are fat jokes and sad single jokes, but she sells them. I just feel a bit squeamish watching because I keep wondering if she really is that sad and lonely in real life. My gut reaction is to want to hug her, which isn't her intended response, I'm guessing. Oh, and I had the "I'm not gonna lie" count at eight, but I think I missed a few. That can get a bit annoying. Still, she killed and I'd gladly see her do an extended set somewhere else.

A really good night was had by all, even poor moustachioed Charlie, who was the butt of everyone's jokes.

Tonight the awards are handed out. Who will win? Find out tomorrow right here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Canadian Comedy Awards, night 1

Dateline St. John

Or is it Saint John? My sources tell me both are correct. Either way, it's not Newfoundland. Here's the way to remember: Each place has only one S. Since New Brunswick already has an S in it, the city is St. John without the S. There's no S in Newfoundland, so the city gets the S, i.e. St. John's.

Or else you could just have paid attention in Geography 11.

Anyway, here I am, four hours ahead of myself. The flights here were great. I'm not the best of fliers, but maybe I'm getting better. We (the family and I) were surprised by seeing comedian Harry Doupe in the St. John airport. He was there to pick up his nephew but kindly offered us a ride into town.

After getting settled in, I wandered out into the night. Actually, I was headed to the Hilton, the official hotel of the festival, when I heard someone doing standup. They were piping the audio from inside out onto the street. Gotta like that. It was my only clue there was a show there. Well, that and Harry told me about it on our ride.

Cougar's Lounge was the name of the dive. I arrived while the last of the four comics in the Funniest Person in New Brunswick contest was on. His name was Neal. Or Neil. Didn't catch his last name, but if he's any indication of the quality of comedy in this province, it's pretty good. His timing was excellent and he had some great lines. He talked about his 14-year-old daughter being diagnosed with being a bitch. But it was the set-up and the pause that sold the joke. Similarly when he talked of his cat's explosive diarrhea on Christmas Day and the huge mess it made in the house. "Oh, man, those were the worst four hours... of my wife's life." Ah, the pause that refreshes.

After his set, the three judges, who had a microphone at their table, each gave a comment on his performance. I love that idea. I wish we had that at competitions in Vancouver. I should also say that if we did, I'd never judge again, but still, I love the idea.

Following Neal/Neil were two guest spots. The first was by multiple Canadian Comedy Award winner Ron Sparks, whose voice reminded me of a combination of A.J. McKenzie and Sean Proudlove. And he had Sean's habit of holding the mic too far from his mouth so it was kind of hard to hear him. One of his lines I either heard from him or someone in Vancouver before. When you see so much comedy, it sometimes all bleeds together and you can't remember who said what. It was the bit about stealing a bunch of prescription forms from his doctor, then making scribbles on it, taking it to the pharmacist and seeing what he gets back.

The second guest spot went to my chauffeur, Doupe. I hadn't seen Harry perform since the late 1980s in Saskatoon. Prior to that, I saw him all the time in the early 1980s at Punchlines, where he was a fixture. I still remember his John McEnroe routine to this day. No McEnroe jokes this time around, but he was really good.

Then it was time for the announcement of the winner. And it was... not Neal/Neil. Not knowing I'd be at a show, I didn't have a pen or paper on me and my memory is atrocious. So I can't remember. But I'll find out and let you know. He's doing another show. Interestingly, the judges gave him pointers, suggesting he end his routine at a certain spot. I'm looking forward to seeing him tonight, I think it is.

That's it. Two shows tonight. I'll try to get to both of them. Thankfully at this festival, there are no overlapping shows.