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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.

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