Stand-ups get smart when they roll into town
The Globe and Mail, January 6, 2006
In the comedy business, Vancouverites are known as a finicky audience, less willing than other Canadians to humour any old joke a comic throws our way. Is it the West Coast attitude? Politically correct sensibilities? The weather? No one really knows, but stand-up comics soon learn what works here and what doesn’t.
“You’d think Vancouver wouldn’t be that tough of a city because of all the rain,” says Ottawa-born comedian Jennifer Grant, who moved here 2½ years ago. “Everybody’s smoking pot and on antidepressants because of the weather, so you’d think they’d be a great crowd and ready to laugh.”
Vancouverites do appreciate comedy. In fact, open-mike nights are popping up all over the city to complement the area’s two dedicated comedy clubs, Yuk Yuk’s and Lafflines. It’s just that the crowds here are more sophisticated than elsewhere, notes Grant, who recently finished third out of 90 entrants in the Boston Comedy Competition. “The audiences [here] seem to appreciate originality and something a little bit more alternative,” she says. “They give you licence to be more creative.”
Chuck Byrn, a Toronto comic who got his start in Vancouver, finds that he doesn’t change his act so much when he comes home; rather, it’s the timing that is altered. And in comedy, timing is everything.
“You can tell the exact same joke, but sometimes you have to change how you’re telling it,” he says. “Vancouver’s a city that stresses how laid-back it is. But if you tell a joke that is politically incorrect in Vancouver, they’re much more likely to go, ‘That’s funny, but it’s not appropriate.’”
Byrn loves to throw out slightly arcane references, like the bit he does about watching Cool Hand Luke with a bowl of 50 hard-boiled eggs at his side. He figures usually 3 per cent of a given audience gets the reference (in the movie, Paul Newman eats 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour), but the joke did much better than that last weekend, when he headlined at Yuk Yuk’s on Burrard.
“The people in Vancouver get all of the references,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about them getting it; you have to worry about whether or not they’re going to think it’s funny. In other parts of the country, you worry about whether or not they’re going to get it.”
John Beuhler, a local comic who spent 18 months in Montreal, agrees. “I think [Vancouverites] are a lot hipper than a lot of other places in the country,” he says. “They’re too cool for a lot of stuff, but they do get more as well.”
Beuhler had to make a conscious effort to slow down when he moved back to town. Audiences here prefer an entertainer who goes with the flow and really connects to them, he says. “I found that I was going a mile a minute when I came back from Montreal and I really didn’t fit in.”
Not every stand-up needs to be mellow, sensitive or suffering from seasonal affective disorder to relate to the comedy patrons here. It’s just that local crowds appreciate diversity in their humour professionals, and are less keen on cookie-cutter comics with interchangeable jokes.
Here are five rooms that are bound to elicit a giggle or two:
Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club. One of the best clubs in the country, on par with the chain’s Superclub in Toronto. Touring headliners play Wednesday through Saturday; Tuesday is amateur night. To avoid a drunken heckle-fest, take a pass on the Friday late show. Century Plaza Hotel & Spa, 1015 Burrard St., 604-696-9857.
The Urban Well (Kits location). The city’s hippest room offers stand-up on Tuesdays. You never know when you’ll catch a surprise appearance by Robin Williams or Brent Butt, the host here for six years before finding fame on Corner Gas. If you prefer improv, check out the Monday show. 1516 Yew St., 604-737-7770.
Balthazar’s House of Comedy. See top local talent and the occasional visiting pro on Monday nights in the West End. Run by failed NPA candidate (and potty mouth) Patrick Maliha. 1215 Bidwell St., 604-689-8822.
El Cocal. The Laugh Gallery on Wednesdays features the city’s best alternative acts – rough and unpolished, but often hilarious. 1037 Commercial Dr. Info at www.elcocalcomedy.com.
Lafflines Comedy Club. Sometimes you have to leave the city limits to see great Canadian comics who don’t play the Yuk’s circuit. #26-4th St. New Westminster, 604-525-2262.