The Globe and Mail, January 5, 2007
Canada has produced its share of comedy superstars: Jim Carrey, Mike Myers and the casts of SCTV and Kids in the Hall, to name a few.
But in November, Vancouver comedian Damonde Tschritter did what no other Canadian has ever been able to do: The 36-year-old became the first standup from the Great White North to win the prestigious Seattle International Comedy Competition in its 27-year history.
This was no small feat. In fact, the first time Tschritter entered the three-week-long competition, in 1999, the event’s organizer, Ron Reid, told him that no Canuck would ever win it.
“He said it with a bit of sarcasm,” Tschritter remembers, “but I don’t know if he was joking or he was serious. It was a little of both.”
Tschritter’s style is that of a storyteller rather than a quick-hitter with one-liners. He eschews what he considers to be gimmicks, such as acting out routines or doing tried-and-true impressions, preferring to weave stories together from his life – about taking a Greyhound bus, wanting to be a firefighter and getting coerced into playing softball while stoned.
With only five minutes given to each performer in the first round, Tschritter ended up beating 31 comedians from throughout North America.
Although some Canadian comics shy away from any mention of their native country while working in the United States, Tschritter embraced his nationality during the competition.
“I decided I wanted to win it admitting I was from Canada,” he said. “I’d play the fish-out-of-water angle. I’m sure there are nights where the judges don’t pull for the Canadian, but what can you do?”
The 10-year standup veteran has done some big shows in his career, including the New Faces showcase at Just For Laughs in Montreal and his own Comedy Now! TV special. But Tschritter, an avid sports fan, says he loves the thrill of victory a competition provides.
Tschritter took home $5,000 (U.S.) “and a pretty good bundle of prestige,” he says, although he admits with a laugh, “It’s not like the phone’s been ringing off the hook.”
Perhaps the most beneficial byproduct of his first-place finish is being able to renew his U.S. work visa.
“You’ve always got to prove that you can do the job better than Americans and if you’re the champ, they can’t really deny that.”
Tschritter has done his share of touring stateside; already, he notices a difference in how he’s perceived.
“Down there, standup comics turn into TV stars, so [spectators] think this could be the next guy [to make it]. They give you that sort of respect. You’re living the American dream, whereas in Canada they just kind of look at you like you’re a garage band.”
If it’s true that you’re nobody until you’ve made it in the States, then Tschritter has taken one small step in that direction. But it’s a giant leap for Canadian standups.