On this 8th anniversary of my being in comedy, some reflection...
Lengthy missive in which shit is talked and names are named to follow.
Yep. It’s the second Tuesday of December, which I’ve always marked as the day I got into comedy. Not the day I started comedy, mind you… my first time doing something that resembled standup comedy was sometime in 1999, in high school, doing an act that was half- recapping that year’s Grammy Awards, half- shisted material from Kathy Griffin’s HBO special, “Hot Cup of Talk”. I remember it going well, although I’m sure I was precocious enough to make present-day-me want to gauge my eyes out, not to mention kill myself over days of metabolism gone by…
I continued it for the next 5 years or so throughout University, getting on stage once every 4 months with the same set, all the while practically handing out business cards listing my occupation as ‘comic’. If you just read that last sentence and said “that’s me right now!”, stop. You’re not a comic, you’re a hobbyist and why you picked standup comedy over haberdashery for a hobby is beyond me.
Anyway - point I’m trying to make is that the day I got into comedy was Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - the night of the Toronto finals of the inaugural Great Canadian Laugh-Off. Armed with MAYBE 15 minutes, a slew of university friends to whom seeing me perform was still a novelty and the raw nerve of youth, I entered this Toronto amateur comic gauntlet, and… I WON! Who knew that this belligerent twink with a faux-hawk (the prominent gay men’s hairstyle at the time) and the on-stage energy of 5 Dane Cook’s could pull it off?! Based on that, I was added to the Yuk Yuk’s junior roster and, so it goes, I got into comedy…
My first year was deceptively eventful. Because I was still so green and over-prepared before shows, never doing more than 10 minutes of material I wasn’t yet sick of, yeah… sure… most of my sets went pretty well (from what I’ve chosen to remember, anyway). I’m sure some people would disagree, but as far as I’m concerned I never basked in my tokenism and was insanely productive about getting new sets together. In the fall of 2006, within one week, I booked my first Video On Trial and got nominated for this venerable new-comic award called The Tim Sims Encouragement Fund which had an accompanying televised gala on The Comedy Network that I performed on. It was also the week that Beyonce released her “B-Day” album, which is arguably what these other memories merely orbit around… #RingTheAlarm
So, this was the momentum that I became accustomed to… Anyone who’s stuck around the Canadian Entertainment Industry for more than 3 years will laugh at this sentiment with the same cringe-chuckle they’d make as if they were watching a Special Olympics blooper reel, but I truly thought this was how it was gonna be from now on.
I’m of this weird, latch-key generation of comics that are sandwiched squarely between the TV guard and the Internet guard. Now, the Internet was well-established at this point - I’m not that fucking old. Myspace was in full swing, Dane Cook and Tila Tequila its Prom King & Queen… Perez Hilton’s influence was sweeping old media like the plague… and ‘viral videos’ DID exist, but were in short supply and about 1,000 times less accessible to self-produce as they are now. Being on TV was still rarified air, and having that point of reference still automatically put you in a higher caste. I’d venture to guess multi-thousand-dollar development deals were still being doled out at comedy festivals, too, although I’ve only ever heard tales of this so tall, they’re practically lore. These were the brass rings that you were to reach for in 2005, not knowing that they were all about to turn to dust.
Over the next couple of years, I focused on developing a live following and producing live shows hoping they’d translate to television success with, as it turns out, the same good sense that Japan had to side with Germany during WWII #hyperbole. Sure, that’s an extreme and self-important analogy… but that should only go to demonstrate the milleniall-ness that I’m on the cusp of that’s in direct opposition to my old TV-guard instincts. Huh? HUH???
Don’t get me wrong at all… I will never be more proud of anything than I am of the live show I created and produced, 6 + years strong, Bitch Salad. Every show has been perfect (some of them more than others), scores of female comedians have been cultivated and to this day, I’ve never encountered anything to its effect in my travels. But WOOF, after six years of honing this ephemeral product that was premium from the get-go, then having it met at pitch meetings with: “you’re not famous. Try producing it yourself with a kickstarter and we’ll see how many hits it gets, then maybe link it on our website”… well, queue Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time”.
What’s cosmically hilarious is that the other basket I split my supply of eggs in turned out to be poorly woven, as well (Fuck, I know. Well, YOU fucking try coming up with a better analogy.) As it turns out, I DID get the TV gig I so coveted, but I’m not talking about Video On Trial. I did 5 episodes of Video On Trial between September, 2006 to March, 2008. That spans the death rattle of JoJo to the emergence of Cobra Starship, if that means anything to you. After shooting that random March, 2008 episode (*which also, if anyone was keeping track of such things, is my all-time favorite episode I was ever in and it’s not just because I was super-thin, but mostly because of that), I heard nothing from anyone at the CHUM/City/CTV/GlobeMedia/BellMedia/whatever-they-are-tomorrow-god-bless-‘em machine until a fateful call the summer of 2009 when I was brought in last minute to shoot a full episode order of a show called Love Court.
I can’t begin to describe how surreal that experience was. Or how much fun. I also can’t describe how confounding it was that the show was met with pleasant indifference. I thought we were being OBSCENE and EXTREME on that show, and maintain that to this day - see: the instance of me inviting a male contestant to “sit, full weight, on my face” followed by a Hannibal Lecter slurp. We all thought, “people are going to LOVE this or HATE this”. But no… People - and more to the point, teenagers - gawked it up with the same zeal as if it was an indeterminate afternoon hour on the Food Network. I’m still gobsmacked at the 0.0 backlash we got from even remotely concerned parents… Point of my bringing up this: upon getting “Love Court”, appearing on ‘X’ amount of consecutive episodes of a TV show in Canada?!?!?! I’ve MADE it! I can relax! I’ve graduated to that upper caste of TV-brand-recognized comedians! Kaloo Kalay, CHAMPAGNE’S ON ME, BITCHES! Holy fuck, was that ever NOT the case.
I went on a Yuk Yuk’s tour with some other ‘jurors’ from Love Court. Our first stop was Barrie, Ontario, on a Thursday night. Crowd population: 2. Women. Who looked like they could have been extra’s in ‘Getting On’. Well, there was decidedly no fanfare there, and that moment presented a pretty distinct path: develop a live act the real way or be a hobbyist. You see, no comic gets to circumvent the saaaaame shit every other comic has to go through to get to a level where they are employable… it doesn’t matter how pretty you are, or how expert at your niche you are, or ESPECIALLY what point of reference you come from - you need to do the work and live or die by ya’ jokes, bitch.
My mindset was pre-Internet fame… my reality was post-Internet fame. TBH, my one, glaring regret so far is not realizing that sooner. And complain as I may about how ass-hurt I am not becoming Internet-famous when the window presented itself, my saving grace has been that since then, I have put the work in, and now I’m a better standup comic with an employable live act than I ever imagined I would be.
And, 8 years later… after every award to reward ‘newness’ is past… after many hypothetical tree’s have been cut down in the metaphorical woods to see if they make a sound… now that Bitch Salad has stagnated… now that I’ve been purged from MuchMusic in the name of “rebranding”… now that I am fighting at the dumpster for gigs to make ends meet… it’s just me and my hard-won ability. I like my odds.
Rosy’s mom was minorly injured in an accident, which caused us to be distracted and miss our stop
We finally figure this out and get off, then walk about 8 blocks uphill to the pub
At the pub, I get hit on by a very drunk middle-aged lesbian
Bellini interviews Andrew Johnston–who I love–and I totally didn’t know he was going to be there
Bellini and Scott sing a song they wrote 20 years ago, Scott keeps messing up and it is adorable
I have a heart arrhythmia and Rosy, being the awesome human being she is, goes out to buy me Gravel, and then I force her to continue enjoying the show
Scott walks passed me from the washroom, I introduce myself as the heart problem girl who called into his podcast, and we begin a long and awesome conversation that must be continued at his next gig–BTW, he tells me there will be more gigs in Toronto
The arrhythmia hurt like hell, but it was only a small portion of the evening. Otherwise, it was fucking awesome.
I don’t know why this made me cry, but, he is just fantastic. The ability to sing and have that pure talent is such an incredible gift and I think we sometimes take it for granted. I am so thankful for the things God has blessed me with in my life.
Montreal singer-songwriter Andrew Johnston has released his new single, “Take The Highway.” Capturing Johnston’s “creative energy” after completing a tour last May, the comforting, indie pop jam explores themes of taking chances and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. Stream and download the track below.