Bullard still at the mic
Comedy Showdown: Former TV host hoping to wind up in radio
The Province, February 21, 2008
In the U.S., late-night talk-show hosts are a dime a dozen. The three major networks have six among them. But in Canada, there’s only been one of note. And he’s been gone since 2004.
Open Mike with Mike Bullard hit the air back in 1997 on CTV in front of a miniscule crowd of about 100 at the back of a Toronto restaurant. His round face shadowed by a day’s growth of whiskers, and quick put-downs of anyone in his sights, were an instant hit with Canadians.
The show moved to bigger digs, attracted bigger guests, and he was sitting pretty. By 2003 Bullard had done 1,100 shows and his contract was up. Foolishly, he left, signing up with the rival Global network. Six weeks later, buh-bye.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to try some place else and see what happens,’” he says now. “I could have gone back [to CTV]. Do I wish I had? Many times. But I don’t look back. I try to look forward.”
In this age where it seems anything that ever hit the airwaves is available on DVD, it’s surprising there’s no highlight package from Open Mike. Bullard gets asked that all the time but has no answer. It seems that maybe only a public clamouring for one might get it done. There’s certainly no shortage of memorable moments, like the time he asked Julian Lennon who his favourite Beatle was, or when the late Mitch Hedberg made one of his first TV appearances, or when the sitting prime minister paid a visit.
Bullard’s all-time favourite show was when Ricky Martin arrived at the height of his fame. The host was told that under no circumstances was he to ask him any questions about his sexual preference. Bullard being Bullard decided to have a little on-air fun. As he tells it, “We do the interview and it’s going really well and we’re almost at the end. And I go, ‘Listen, Ricky, I don’t want to pry but I gotta tell you I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t ask you this question.’ And you could just see the colour go right out of his face. I said, ‘But if I don’t ask you this question I really won’t be able to look in the mirror tomorrow morning.’ And he stutters and stammers and goes, ‘W-w-what is it?’ And I go, ‘Are you Spanish or Puerto Rican?’”
After his cancellation, Bullard started doing corporate gigs with his standup act before landing a gig as a morning guy on XM radio. The station ran out of money, as he puts it, but Bullard thinks he’s found his calling.
“That’s where I want to wind up,” he says, whether it’s satellite or terrestrial radio. “There’s none of this, ‘Hey, let’s write this, let’s go over it 25 times and put it on the show tomorrow.’ It’s right there and now.”
Bullard has always been about the here and now. Abandoning any prepared material early in his standup career, he started concentrating on crowd work. He’s one of the few comics working today who can go a whole hour just spritzing with folks. You can see him in action at Yuk Yuk’s tonight through Saturday hosting the Comedy Showdown competition.
His impressive memory doesn’t forget a name or relevant piece of information throughout the night. It’s not anything he works on; it just comes naturally.
“I don’t know what it is,” he says. “I guess I’ve never lost a brain cell through drugs or booze because I never drank or anything. On the down side, I’m up all night with sparks going off in my head. That makes me wish I had had a drink once in a while.”