"I remember in Toronto guys used to get mad at me all the time. We'd be at a party and somebody would say something funny and I'd say, 'That's really funny. You should write it down and put it in your act.' And they'd say, 'Yeah, yeah, I'll write it down later.' And I'd go, 'Later you're gonna forget. You should write it down now.' They go, 'Hey, man, I'm at a party, relax. Have fun.' I'd go, 'Okay, look, if I don't see that line in your act in three months, I'm gonna do it.' And they'd go, 'Fuck you!' And they'd write it down."
– Mike MacDonald
Guy MacPherson: How you doing?
Mike MacDonald: Actually, pretty good. I just beat Florida, the Panthers, 7-1. So, uh, you know, I feel pretty good. I had a hat trick with me.
GM: Really! Wow.
MM: It's my favourite game. I think hockey is absolutely the best game for video. It's the best conversion of all the sports games.
GM: Why is that?
MM: It's the fluidity of it and the pace. It's just the best conversion. It's so much fun to play. Especially now, the games they have now, the artificial intelligence is so good that it really gives you a game.
GM: So you're a big video fan.
MM: Yeah. I mean, it keeps me occupied when I'm on the road. I find when I'm on the road, I vegetate. I can't really write or anything. I worry about the show and just staying out of trouble. So playing videos is perfect.
GM: You still worry about the shows after all these years?
MM: Yeah. I hope I never stop. It's the same kind of attitude where I hope I never stop thinking when my wife wants to have sex, there's that little voice inside me going, "I'm going to get laid!" I hope all that stuff never goes away.
GM: So there's a little nervous tension?
MM: It's not so much nervous. I want to remember. The problem I have now is that I'm a much better writer than I used to be. So I sit at home and I write the stuff into the file on the computer. My biggest worry is remembering how I wrote it. Because if I can say it the way I wrote it, it's going to be great. The big deal is trying to remember exactly how I wrote it.
GM: So you're a much better writer now. I guess with experience, people get better at everything.
MM: Right. And plus, I'm just writing a lot more, be it scripts or stand-up material. I write everyday just to keep the chops up. My manager wanted me to do this one-man show, so lately I've been going back and collecting all the family material because we figured the best show to do for people, and the stuff that's connecting the best, I find, lately, is all the stuff based on the second special I did for CBC called, My House, My Rules. And I think it's weird, too, especially in the States, I think it's partly due to September 11th, that people really get off on the show. They come up to me afterwards and say, "Wow, you really made me go back in time and be that teenager again." Because of all these stories I do. It's things that happen to everybody. So they connect to it. And it's also a simpler time. It's something I'll also remember from one of those shows like, Dateline or 20/20 or whatever. But there was this woman in Brooklyn who was a teacher and she taught a really heavy-duty gang-banger class, like To Sir With Love type of thing. And upstairs in the attic in the school, she found all these old educational films from the fifties. So she thought that the class would get a real kick out of watching these and get a big laugh. It's like, "Tommy has to comb his hair carefully because he wants to be presentable as a gentleman to Susie. He brings the corsage..." And she thought the class would just die roaring with laughter, but they were all really quiet. They all got really sombre. And she realized that they were watching these films thinking how great it was to have lived back then where you only had to worry about your hair and a corsage as opposed to crack and getting killed by a drive-by shooting. So it sort of backfired. And it's always stuck with me, that one story.
GM: Although back then they did have the "get under the desk in case of nuclear attack" films.
MM: Yeah, but who the hell believed that? I mean, I'm sure if I would have been back there, I would have been, "What the hell? How is a desk going to protect me?" "Shut up, troublemaker!" "All right, fine."
GM: Since September 11th, you're not doing different things. You haven't had to cut back.
MM: Not really. But I've been pretty good over the last ten years about not doing... I think basically I've achieved, for the most part, I've always thought, ever since I saw Richard Pryor's first concert film, how great it would be to be on stage, and if you had been shot up with sodium pentathol before you walked on stage, that the act would remain the same. That's been the goal. And I think I'm pretty close – I think about 98 percent – to that now. So I haven't really had to change much. But there's certain stuff I've brought back. I'd forgotten how well the family stuff really connects. I was surprised. I switched it over in November and, boy, it's been amazing everywhere I go how much it connects with the audience.
GM: Everyone has one.
GM: And they're all dysfunctional.
MM: Yeah, exactly. And it was weird, because I remember one night in Montreal a couple weeks ago, I had this one crowd that didn't relate to the stuff. Just my luck, a whole group of functional families. "What? Your father never hit you? You're not gonna enjoy this." But it was funny because the crowd right after, I was telling them about the first crowd how they didn't get it, and they were just roaring. I get that a lot where people come up to me and say, "You're my brother, we had the same father," blah blah blah. And it's weird, too, when you think about it, the stuff that our generation grew up with, people get put in jail for now.
GM: What do you mean?
MM: I mean what our parents got away with. It's amazing. And sometimes when I'm at McDonald's or something, and I see parents going, "Okay, what would you like to eat?" And they spend, like, five, ten minutes back and forth arguing. Man, we never got asked! "You'll eat what I give you and that's it!" My father had a look and that was it. There was no question.
GM: Do you have kids?
MM: No, unfortunately. We found out my wife has this bizarre, rare thing where there's some kind of biological and chemical reaction inside her body that kills my sperm immediately. I do a joke on stage: "If I had known that earlier, I would have fucked her more often." And sometimes audiences will give you the weird attitude about that. And I go, "Listen, do you really think I would come on stage and do a joke like that without written permission?" My wife HAD to have okayed that joke. There's no way I would do that joke unless she thought it was funny.
GM: Some people think everything a comic says is true or literal, when it may just be based in truth.
MM: Yeah. Sometimes you really have to slap the audience across the face and go, "Look. Relax." There's a friend of mine in Toronto, Ron Vaudry, who had the best line for situations like that. He said, "Why don't you turn your halos down to dim and we'll all have a good time?" And it's weird sometimes, you have to explain stuff. Especially with a joke like that. I actually stopped one time and I told the audience, "Look, what exactly am I saying? I would have had sex with my wife more often! I'm not saying that I don't like having sex with her. I'm not saying that I don't love my wife. I'm just saying I would have had sex with her more often." Once you explain it, the audience is cool. But sometimes you have to challenge them. You have to tell them, "Look, I'm the driver. Everybody shut up and sit in the passenger seat and we'll all have a good time. While I'm driving, just relax."
GM: What did you think of Stand and Deliver?
MM: Which one was that?
GM: The book that Andrew Clark wrote.
MM: Oh, oh, that! (laughs) That was hysterical! We were laughing for all the wrong reasons.
GM: There was a chapter on you.
MM: My wife and I, we got a complementary copy from this talk show host. I went on his radio show and he brought it up and gave me the book afterwards. So I brought it home and my wife and I sat there and read through the chapter on me and it was, like, hysterical. We were dying. You know, the Jim Morrison analogy... Oh, it's too funny. I wish I was that hip. But knowing how exaggerated and slanted it was on me, what happened with the rest of the book, I sat there and I went, if it's that much off the mark on me, how much is the rest of the book off? So you start reading everything with a certain kind of cynicism and not believing anything.
GM: You were in a band, weren't you?
MM: Yeah, a drummer. I still play. I got the set of drums in a soundproof room in the house.
GM: What band were you in that toured Canada?
MM: It was called Maple Ridge. It was this weird band that was formed... The nucleus of the band started from the high school choir. And the whole bunch of us quit high school to go be in this band. We took, like, a year, a year and a half off. Then afterwards, I went back to high school and I don't know what happened to a lot of the people. But they went their separate ways. But it was certainly fun for a year and a half. We toured Canada. It was great. We had our choices of picking the school districts we went to, so we would always pick a major one, like Toronto. But then we'd go out in the boondocks, the sticks, in small towns where they'd never even seen a live band before. And it was amazing. They treated us like the Beatles. So we had a taste of that whole entertainment success thing. It was pretty neat. It was fun. The only thing I regret is not taking more pictures and not having the tapes of stuff. I've been trying to get the tapes for a long time from people who supposedly have the tapes. But it would be interesting to hear that stuff now. Three guys in the band wrote this whole rock opera based on Louis Riel. You can't get more Canadian than that! It's hysterical. The government said, "All right, give them money, let them go across Canada and take drugs and play music." (laughs)
GM: So you were doing originals.
MM: Yeah. It started off with cover stuff but then the three guys wrote the rock opera, and that's what got the funding from the government. I mean, as soon as the government found out we had a rock opera on Louis Riel, it was like, boom, there we go, we were funded by the government to go across Canada.
GM: Lesson learned for later.
MM: You know, the funniest part was we were really cocky back then, me and the other drummer. I remember one time we were staying in Burlington. There was a high school dance going on. We walked into the gym to see the band and we were going, "Ah, this band sucks. They're trying to be Led Zeppelin. It's bullshit." And it turned out to be Rush. (laughs) Little did we know. "Ah, these guys are never going to make it"!
GM: So the book got that part right. You were in a band. What parts were really wrong? Or was it just the general feel of it?
MM: It wasn't so much that it was wrong, it was the stuff that was left out. And I thought the analogies were funny. You know, I find most of the time you can tell a bad writer when they start the article off about how you walk into the room. "He walked into the room looking like Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now."
GM: So you're not buddies with Andrew Clarke.
MM: Well, it's weird. The first time I saw him after the book came out, he flinched like I was going to hit him or something. And I just said, "What's wrong? Don't worry about it. It's no big deal." People like you and me know about the book, but the average Joe Blow down the street, I mean nobody read that book. It sold zilch. Two or three copies and that was it. I mean, I thought certain parts were very interesting, but then I wondered. The weird part about it, what I heard, was that he was shacked up with Sandra Shamus at the time when he wrote that whole chapter on her. I thought it was kind of sleazy. She didn't know that he was writing the book. So here she is having these private moments with the guy as a boyfriend-girlfriend deal, and all of a sudden it's in the book. So she couldn't have been too happy about it. I think of all the chapters, that's the one that I looked at and felt that if anybody's going to be mad about the book, it's going to be her. She has the right to be mad because if you don't know a guy's writing something, and you're just living with the guy and experiencing life and all of a sudden, boom, it's in the book, it's like, "Hey! Wait a minute!"
GM: It did mention that when you started out, you wrote two 45-minute sets.
MM: Yeah, it was funny. I had no idea. No idea about the mechanics. So I gathered all the stuff... Half of it was stuff that I had done in high school and assemblies and variety shows and stuff. I did stuff that I thought was funny. So I went up there and did it and half of it was funny and half of it wasn't. So I threw out the half that wasn't, kept the half that was and just kept on going. And the cool thing about where I started in Ottawa, it was basically the same crowd every week, so it forced me to do new material. I mean, it got to a point one time where I had done certain material so many times that one night I went out and I dressed up as a nerd and I passed myself off as somebody else. I mean, I said I was somebody else, but everybody obviously knew it was me. But I was saying, "Mike's sick and he's at home with a 101 fever and so I came to do his act," and then I did the whole act, but I did it badly. Like, I fucked up every joke. And they thought it was hysterical because they all knew the jokes. And that's one of those shows where, God, I wish I would have had a camera that night. It's amazing when I first started out the balls that I had to try out all this new stuff and different things. Like, I had one where I came out and I had all this stuff on tape and this little tape recorder, and I set up a microphone on it. I pressed the tape and it said, "Hi, I'm Mike's tape recorder. Mike has laryngitis so I'll be doing the verbal parts and he'll be acting it out." It was basically a ventriloquist dummy kind of act but with a tape recorder.
GM: So you were doing all the physical stuff?
MM: Yeah. And it was funny because in one part I forget what the joke was, and he'd go, "C'mere!" And I'd have to bend over and you hear this "[loud unintelligible whispering] Now get out there and do it!" "All right, sorry."
GM: That sounds great. You should bring that back!
MM: I think also it was the climate of the times. You know, Yuk Yuks in Toronto, when I first got there, it was like a beatnik club. They hadn't got their liquor license yet and there was an eclectic group of comedians and it was all kinds of comedy. Like, I was in the minority with one or two other people that did monologues. I really think the downfall, or the beginning of the downfall, of Yuk Yuks in Toronto was when they got their liquor license. Because then it turned all strange and stuff, and then we had to deal with hecklers and all this crap. And the guys coming up after me were all monologists. None of them were sketch groups or anything. None of them were anything different. It was basically the Pryor school of comedy. It was basically either Pryor, Carlin or Robert Klein – they were the three main influences of most of the people coming up after me.
GM: Including you? Who were your main influences?
MM: Those three for me. Richard Pryor, I mean, yeah, the first concert film was the blueprint for me. And I was happy to find out when I read his book – it's called Pryor Convictions – I was happy to find out that I was correct in my assessment of it because he said that the first concert film was the one that he worked on the most. He was on the road for a year and a half, so he knew the material like the back of his hand. So when they put those cameras on, it was, like, at his peak. The second one was after the accident, after he got burned. And he only worked on the material for, like, two months. So it's a little bit shaky. And then the third one, it was just like he did it for the money – the drugs and women and shit. It was bullshit. The third one, it was shot in New Orleans and you could actually hear people heckling him. All these people heckling the fucking master. It was really disillusioning. Sometimes when I think about it, when people say, "What were your influences?" when I was growing up, it was, like, Red Skelton, Sid Caesar. Like, my mom would always wake me up when Red Skelton was on TV and let me watch him. But, you know, a lot of comedians, we tend to forget that the very, very first influence was usually the Warner Brothers cartoons. That's where we really started with the subversive kind of attitude with the comedy.
GM: They were the best.
MM: Yeah, with Bugs Bunny and with everything, it was like the anti-authority. It started from those cartoons. That's where the real thing started and then it blossomed from there. And you can see a lot more influence of people with cartoons nowadays, I think. There's a lot of eclectic acts out there that are directly influenced by cartoons.
GM: Do you still watch a lot of comedy?
MM: Um, I watch a certain amount but it's frustrating because it's like being a magician, you know what I mean? Like, if you know how to pull the rabbit out of your hat, it's not thrilling when you see another guy pull a rabbit out of the hat. But if he pulled a lion out of the hat, then you go, "Oh, okay! Well, that's a good switch!" You know, like, the other night I was watching the Martin Short thing.
GM: Jiminy Glick.
MM: Yeah, Jiminy Glick. And I'm laughing, I'm laughing, I'm laughing. But then I get frustrated knowing that it's that kind of show that I would love to write for. It would be so easy to write those questions and stuff. And the fact that it's him and his brother who are writing it all, I mean, it's very good and everything, but I've always been of that adage that the more good people you have... I mean, if I had the money, I would have five or six comedians in a room all the time. If I was making a movie, whether I was in it or directing it or whatever, I would always have the five comedians on the sidelines in case anything went wrong and it wasn't funny or something wasn't working. I'd go up to them and go, "Gimme something."
GM: But you'd want five good comedians, not five bad ones.
MM: The whole thing with Sid Caesar, at his peak he had Neil Simon, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen sitting there giving him stuff. I mean, that's the best. And there's all kinds of comedians out there. It's not necessarily that they're bad, it's just that I think most comedians are lazy. Most comedians, if you give them a blank page, they won't be able to fill it. But if you sit them in a room and you pay them and you say, "Okay, here's the situation: It's a bar, the guy walks in and sits down next to the girl. He says this. What does the woman say back?" "Boom boom boom boom boom. Funny funny funny funny." "Okay, great, thanks." If you're smart enough to pull it out of them, great. But I think most comedians are just lazy. That's the biggest problem. It's easy to coast on the same material and this and that. It's easy to just go back and forth. I mean, I remember in Toronto guys used to get mad at me all the time. We'd be at a party and somebody would say something funny and I'd say, "That's really funny. You should write it down and put it in your act." And they'd say, "Yeah, yeah, I'll write it down later." And I'd go, "Later you're gonna forget. You should write it down now." They go, "Hey, man, I'm at a party, relax. Have fun." I'd go, "Okay, look, if I don't see that line in your act in three months, I'm gonna do it." And they'd go, "Fuck you!" And they'd write it down. (laughs) It took that much to get them to do something that would help their act. I mean, Jesus.
GM: Another thing about less funny comedians, shall we say, who we see on TV, is that it might be that they get elevated too early. They haven't developed enough. Maybe TV needs so many new young comics that they get elevated on a good five, six minutes.
MM: And it's also the problem, too, is they're getting younger and younger. And it's like, when I think back to when I was – and this is one of the lines I used in My House, My Rules – you know, my father had me when he was 21. When I was 21, I didn't know shit. The last thing that somebody should've given me was a baby. So when you see a 21-year-old on the stage, you just go, "How much can this guy tell me about life? He hasn't even lived it yet." So there's a little bit of that. Also, the other side of it is the fact that each year at the Montreal Comedy Festival I get to meet some old guy that's one of my heroes, and icons and stuff, be it Jerry Lewis or Alan King or Lily Tomlin. I mean, I've been on the last 20 years so I've met just about everybody. I mean, the only guy I'm really sorry that I never met was Red Skelton. They never got around to booking him for the festival and he died before they could. But one year, George Burns was there and I was talking to George Burns and it was so surreal. In the back of my mind, "I'm talking to George Burns!" It's so weird. And he said something very profound. He said, "The problem," he said, "is that geniuses die broke. Mediocrity rises to the top." And he goes, "If you wanna be really successful in comedy, be mediocre." And you see that a lot. I mean, there's a lot of acts that you just, "Wow, I have no understanding of how they get so big." But part of it is that they're easy to get along with and they take direction no matter how bad it is. Imagine, back in the movie Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman was perceived as being a son of a bitch. He wasn't perceived as being the perfectionist that he should have been perceived as. And the movie came out great because he demanded that it be great. I mean, there's so many movies now that you sit there and you go, "I can't believe this was made!" You sit there and you laugh one or two times and you go, "My God!" For me, Pryor's the watermark, the acceptable level that you should try to excel at in stand-up. But as far as movies, I always think back to when I first saw Annie Hall, I walked outta there going, "I can't believe he put that many jokes in one fucking movie!" You know? I mean, I laughed 50 times. It's the same with some of the Mel Brooks stuff. You laughed so many times. And now, in an Adam Sandler film, you'll laugh three times. And you sit there and you go, "I can't believe this is popular. I can't believe this is making money." Three times? Nine bucks for three times?
MM: Yeah. Nine bucks American; 22 Canadian.
GM: Yeah, well there were probably crappy movies back then, too, and just the ones we remember were the good ones.
MM: Yeah. It's weird. In Hollywood, the whole thing is not to be as good as you can be; it's to get along and not have that many fights and just get things done and everything. And as soon as you put your foot down and try to make something good, you're branded as a trouble-maker. It's weird. I mean, I don't get it. You're just trying to make something better that eventually will put more money in somebody's pocket, and you're perceived as a trouble-maker. I don't understand it where the object is not to be good. See, that's why... I do a bit in my act about the reason why men love sports so much is it's black and white. Everything else is grey, but in sports you actually try to be the best you can. And especially in the Olympics, anything that's judged by a clock, when you're racing against the clock, that's the purest thing out there. The guy makes it. Either you beat the time, or you didn't. It's simple. As opposed to, like, the skating. It's all subjective, it's the judges. Because life is so grey, we appreciate it. "The guy won. The guy was the fastest guy on the planet. Fuck you."
GM: Have you ever worked with Brent Butt before?
MM: Oh, yeah. Brent Butt is the quintessential example of... He was like the last big guy to get black-balled out of Yuk Yuks. It just proved how stupid it is, the whole thing. I mean, because he's such a great comedian. Great comedians should not be black-balled out of anything, you know what I mean? Great comedians should be there. A guy like Brent Butt shouldn't have to worry about where his rent is coming from. Because he's that good. Plus, he's a nice guy. I mean, I've known him since he first moved to Toronto and had just been doing comedy for, like, a year. Let me tell you something: if everybody was like Brent Butt, this would be an easy business to be in. No problems at all.
GM: Why was he black-balled?
MM: I think it was a political situation. It was a thing where they wanted to get more money. It's always the same thing. It's the same thing that happened at the Comedy Store and this and that. They have a strike or something, or they have a meeting and this and that, and you're on one side and you're on the other, and then things get resolved and things are conceded, and they say, "Okay, we'll pay the comics." But there's a personal vendetta going, "Well, we don't want you. You, get out." You know what I mean? (laughs) So guys like Brent Butt are on the outside, which is totally ludicrous because he's such a great comedian. It's bullshit. The bullshit factor in entertainment, it seems like it must be the greatest, but you look at Enron and all that stuff and it's across the board in every job. There's a certain amount of bullshit that you gotta put up with, and the politics and all that crap. But in the perfect world, it would be great. I mean, it's such a pleasure to hang out with guys like Brent Butt because like I said before about the magician thing, we know all the tricks, so anybody that can make us laugh, it's, like, doubly appreciated because most of the stuff doesn't make us laugh in the first place. So he's one of those guys that if we're hanging around and he starts going off on something, we just sit back and enjoy it. I mean, there's no competition like who's going to be talking next.
GM: I've seen him dozens and dozens of times here in Vancouver. I've seen you four times, I think. And I would put you guys in the same category in that even if you're doing old material, it's still just as funny. Some comics, you go, "Yeah, all right, I heard it."
MM: I think with Brent, him and me are the same in that it's very hard to sleepwalk through our acts. We have to be there, in the moment. It's very hard to fake it. With other guys, you get that feeling like they're just walking through it tonight. They're tired, or whatever. Guys like Brent and myself, we actually care about whether the audience likes us and is gonna like the show. I mean, the bottom line is guys like Brent and me, we want people to walk out of the show going, "That's the best money I ever spent." That's the bottom line. And, I mean, if everybody was like that, comedy would be so much better. Every movie would be better if everybody had that attitude. But unfortunately, they don't.
GM: And you both give substantial shows, too.
MM: It's something that we love doing. I mean, for all the bullshit that we have... The weird thing about comedy is the hecklers and this and that and all the politics and all that crap, but when you got a good crowd, when you're on stage, it could be in the middle of Kamloops, or something, it doesn't matter. But if the crowd's good, that stage is Carnegie Hall. When it's good, it's the best. When it's bad, it's the worst. Definitely, when it's good, IT IS THE BEST! (laughs)
GM: You talk about not getting along with the Hollywood types. Is it better now for you?
MM: Not really. I mean, knowing what I know now, I would have started doing things a lot sooner by myself and just saving my money and going out there and making our own films and stuff. But guys like me were under the illusion that we thought it was going to be like sports. If you can hit a homerun, then, boy, you're gonna be on a team and you're going to be first string and you're gonna be starting the game and everything, but in comedy, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how good you are, nothing. It's all bullshit. It's politics, you know what I mean? It's just crap.
GM: You live down in LA. Why?
MM: For the weather.
GM: I understand that. As I look outside the window today, it's been snowing non-stop all day. In Vancouver! March 18! And there's snow everywhere.
MM: People are going to have to burst into flames in January before they go, "Maybe this global warming thing..." You know, I was just listening to a radio show last night. They were saying that 2001 was the hottest year in the history of science. You know? The first year they said was the hottest was 1998. The second hottest so far has been 2001. In the history of science! It's amazing. How that doesn't make people go, "Well, wait a minute. Something's..." You know what I mean? But you always have that crowd of, "Aw, you fuckin' liberals. Tree-huggin' sons of bitches. Shut up." But they just don't get it. Now we have these mild winters and mild winters and all of a sudden Vancouver's getting snow in March, and you're going, "What the fuck?" You know, that's all the pollution and stuff and the ozone and all that crap, they're going to have something to do with it. It's insane. But you have two choices: you laugh or you cry. So we make jokes, we try to get the message out, and that's about it.
GM: You say you're down there for the weather, but didn't you also say you hate the sun and you hate the beach?
MM: Well, it's weird. I don't go out. At all. I live a vampire life. I just like the fact that I can walk around with a short sleeve shirt on all the time. It's not too cold; it's not too hot. You know Kevin Meany?
MM: He used to do the bit, "I just want to live in a mall. Like, 68 degrees all the time." That's basically me. I have no desire to go outside and do stuff. I just want it nice all the time. Because basically, I could be sitting in front of the computer just about anywhere on the planet and I'd be happy just writing. But it is nice that it's the nice weather and everything. But if Hollywood was in Alaska, we'd all be up there with dog sleds. "We'll take my sled." "No, we'll take my sled." And it's funny because people always ask, "Well, why did you move?" Well, when I was growing up, it was always Hollywood. It wasn't LA, it was like, you wanna go to Hollywood. You want to be in show business, you go to Hollywood. So you come to Hollywood, you find out how fucked up it is, and you make enough money to get out. (laughs) Simple as that. You know, people like Harrison Ford and Meryl Streep, they certainly don't live here. They live in normal places and the scripts are e-mailed to them and they say yes or no and then they come out to work. But they don't have to live here.
GM: You say you're doing more stuff on your own.
MM: Yeah, well, we're trying. Right now, we're actually in, I think it's Day 62 of a 90-day wait that this guy said he could get us two million bucks to make a film. So hopefully the guy's not shitting us because if he is, I mean, he's like the best bullshitter I've ever met. Because we checked him out: he does have a big company, he's an investment broker, he has all these clients and he says he wants to do this, and blah blah blah.
GM: Do you have a production company?
MM: I have two partners that I've been writing with. Two black comedians that I've been writing with. And over the past two years, we've written four scripts that are aimed at the black audience. Obviously, if something is really good, that the black audience loves, the white audience follows: "What the fuck's going on? Why are they laughing? Okay, let's check it out." And it's sort of apropos, being Canadian, being down here, being on the outside, blah blah blah. I can relate to the situation a little bit. And with the woman thing, too, and the black thing, okay, fine, this makes sense. And with the Pryor thing, too, it's stuff that's always made me laugh. And the stuff that we've done, God, I really hope that we get to make the second film that want to do because it deals with racism in what I think is the funniest way ever. And it really deals with it. It's one of those gut punches that'll take your breath away.
GM: You want to make it yourself or you just want to sell the script?
MM: You know, it was funny. The first script we wrote, we said, okay, we're just going to fucking write this and sell it and get the money and make something else. But halfway through the script we went, "This is too good. Somebody's going to fuck it up. Now we gotta make it ourselves." So we put it in a drawer and we start writing another one. "This one, we're just going to write and we're going to sell it, and that's it. We don't care what they do with it. Fuck it. Just get the money so we can make the first one." And halfway though, we realized this is too good; they're going to fuck it up – put it in the drawer. (laughs)
GM: And now you got four of them.
MM: Yeah. So we just said, okay, we have to find somebody that wants to be in show business, that has a lot of money, that doesn't want to, like, fuck it up. We don't want somebody sitting there going, "You know what I think is funny?" "No! You don't think anything is funny! We're the ones who know what's funny!" You know what I mean? "You can go to the dinners and the awards shows and you can do all that shit, but you can't tell us what's funny."
GM: Who's doing the grunt work to get the money?
MM: Well, it's weird. The guy that we're waiting for now, it was just a guy that I happened to meet. He was an MC of a corporation gig that I did. And it was like one of those $1500 a plate kinda deals, and I told him about us trying to make movies. And he says, "Oh, I've invested in these dramas in Canada but they're really unsatisfying and they don't make any money. What I really want to do is make comedies." And I was like, "Well, we have scripts!" And the guy loved it and said he could get the money so we're just waiting. Literally. We're like Day 62.
GM: And would you hire a director? Or would you direct it yourself? Would you act in it?
MM: I think my partner wants to direct it, which is a job I wouldn't wish on anyone. See, what I want to be is the producer/writer. The director has to deal with the talent, and people coming up to him, like wardrobe people, asking, "What shirt should he wear? The red one or the blue one?" The director has to fucking deal with all that shit. I just want to sit on the set watching a monitor and they do a take and to look up at my partner and go, "Yup, that's great. Let's move on." I don't want to fucking talk to the talent! (laughs) "He's in his trailer doing cocaine." I don't want to fucking know about that! I want nothing to do with that! I know how crazy talent are. I don't want to go anywhere near the talent.
GM: Do you want a part in it?
MM: Ah, actually, it's weird. It's like, we have cameo parts, but none of us really want to get out there because my partners are stand-ups, too. So we sort of get our "look at me! look at me!" when we do our act. That's plenty. If it was the right part... I mean, I have scripts that I've written by myself and there's one script that I know I would have to play because it involves a character that is so bizarre, like a gremlin, and it would have to be played a certain way that I would probably want to do that. But for the most part, I get a bigger kick out of my words coming out of somebody else's mouth than me doing them. People always say, "It's bullshit, you're being humble," and all this crap, but no. It's reality. It's a fact. Like, certain people, like Marilyn Monroe, like, the camera just ate her up. There was something about her. You can't put your finger on it. You can't explain it, but when she was in front of the camera, the camera ate her up. And there's people like that out there. But I'm not one of them. In my specials on TV, we had to have the best make-up, the best hair, I had to wear Gucci clothes, whatever, the best fucking Italian clothes to look even adequate. But some people, you get a guy like Jim Carey, boom, he looks at the camera, the eyes go, and he's gone. It's just one of those things. You have to accept it. It's the same feeling I had when I was in grade four and the Beatles came out and all the chicks were going crazy for the Beatles. And I looked in the mirror and I realized I didn't look like any one of them. And I said, "Well, this is going to be a hard time." (laughs) "It's not going to be fun for a while. How long are these guys going to last?" "Fifty years." "All right, fine."
GM: There's always being a character actor.
MM: Yeah. You know, the smaller parts and things like that. It's also, for comedy, it's not bad, but I certainly don't have any desire to do serious drama or anything. I'm not an actor actor.
GM: How about writing serious drama?
MM: Um, that I have a couple of scripts. I mean, drama I don't mind writing at all. Good drama is good drama. The weird part about it is nowadays, with movies even going back to Casino and Goodfellas, there's more laughs in those movies than regular comedies. So it's a lot easier to put laughs in a drama than doing one of these stupid comedies. What we really want to prove with the comedy scripts is that we can raise the bar again because we really feel collectively – my partners feel the same way – is that the bar has been lowered so, so low. It's really bad now. Basically, with most comedy scripts, what you're seeing up there is the third drafts when you should be seeing the 21st drafts. And it's just a matter of people being lazy. The example that I always use is Eddie Murphy and "Harlem Nights". Now you here you have Eddie Murphy, established star, big time, with all the money that he wants, anything that he wants the studio says, "Eddie, it's yours." So he gets two of his icons: Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor. And then he gets Della Reese thrown in just for good measure. You gonna tell me if you gave me an unlimited budget, and two of my heroes, and a great character woman actress, that I couldn't come up with something better than "Harlem Nights"? For the money that you spent on the fucking doughnuts that you had at the Craft Services everyday on the set, I would have four comics standing there, and they would fix everything.
GM: But they are four comics, or three comics. Couldn't they see it? Or were they too close?
MM: It's just the kind of thing that they don't... It's the last dollar that they never spend is on the writing. It's so weird. I mean, Eddie's the worst for this. And Jim Carrey follows very closely, secondly. They read a script and they think, "Okay, when I get on the set, I'll fix this." Hey, the greatest improv players ever are not able to fix something completely like that. It comes down to the writing. You have to be prepared. I mean, the first film that we're planning to shoot if this guy has the money, we wrote this, like, non-stop for five days a week, six hours a day, eight months.
MM: Yup. The three of us in a room. We banged it out, and I mean banged it. I mean, I was the task-master. Like, my partners would go, "Well, you know, let's come back to that scene later." "No, we're gonna fuckin' finish it right now!" And they'd start saying, "Well, maybe the guy doesn't have to say something funny when he walks into the room." "No, no, no, you're just saying that because you don't..." And we'd argue and we'd argue and we'd fight, but thirty minutes later, my partner would come up with something and I'd go, "Ah, there it is! There's the piece of gold we're looking for! See? Thirty minutes later we got it. You were bitching about this, you were arguing, but now we got it. Now it's fixed. Now we don't have to look at this ever again until we shoot it." And that's the way it is.
GM: Who are your partners?
MM: Wiley Roberts. And the first film was Ty Phipps. Wiley Roberts – Ty is a little bit younger than us – but Wiley Roberts is the black equivalent of me. He came out of San Fransisco. He was passed over by people like Mark Curry and D.L. Hughley and stuff like that. But I'm telling you, you put them on stage, all three of them, pound for pound, my money goes on Wiley. He's got the stuff that's got some thought to it, some content, not bullshit. The other guys, it's the George Burns thing – mediocrity rises to the top. The guys that were easy to get along with, that didn't... It's weird. It's like, in comedy as soon as you say, "Well, let's make this funnier," they look at you like you just fucking raped them or something. Fuck! What is fucking wrong with you people? We just want to make it better. It's so bizarro. I just don't get it. It's also the same kind of thing. It just comes down to what kind of person you are. Like, I have never seen, like, Brent Butt throw in the towel on a show. If it's not working in the beginning, or if it's a tough crowd, he fucking stands out there till he gets them. He never walks off going, "Ah, fuck you."
GM: He's a real pro.
MM: Yeah. And that's the kind of attitude that hopefully would cross over to his writing. It's just a matter of discipline. I know that if we get this movie made and we start getting serious money, and we can pay comics to be in a room, we're going to have comics in rooms all the time. And we're going to have three or four groups, and I'm going to be sitting there like the story editor, just walking into the room every day going, "All right, pages 30 to 40. Let's go." Boom. You know? "Make this shit better." It's as simple as that.
GM: Well this is exciting. I hope it gets made.
MM: Yeah, I hope so. It's something to look forward to. If we make this film the way we really want to, and if it doesn't happen, it doesn't make it, well then, it's not our fault. It's really everybody else's fault. "Well, we showed you the gold and you didn't want it. All right, fine." (laughs) At least we got a chance to show you. But I'm betting that somebody's going to notice. I mean, all the people that have read the script notice right away that basically there's like a joke on every page. That's gotta be different than reading other scripts. It's a weird business. I'm constantly amazed when something like "The Sopranos" comes on. I go, "How the hell did this get under the wire? How did this get by the suits? This is good." It's amazing how anything good gets made. People are idiots. The downside of it is, if you're dealing with music, like jazz, or whatever, there's nobody telling musicians how to do it, unless they were that good. Nobody told Charlie Parker how to fucking play his sax. And it's the same in, like, ballet, dance, any other artform except comedy. All of a sudden with comedy, everybody goes, "I got a sense of humour. I got a good sense of humour."
GM: Mike, my buddy was here this weekend. He's an elementary school teacher and he wanted me to ask you if you were a class clown in school because he wants to know if these kids that he's disciplining should shut up. Should he be stifling them?
MM: Um, what he should be doing is not stifling them, he should be giving them the opportunity to come out with it so that they don't have to do it... You know, basically in high school it's the class clowns... You know people are always asking, "Why are Canadians funnier than Americans? There are so many Canadian comedians." Because we're bored. It comes out of boredom. I mean, we're sitting in class and it's boring, so we try to make it interesting by making jokes. So we laugh, so therefore we're not bored. And if these kids had an outlet where they're allowed to be funny, then they won't be sitting there fucking up your lesson plan later. So instead of stifling, really the word should be to redirect them to some area or some time where they can explore just how funny they are.
GM: Were you the class clown?
MM: I was actually part of a... My best friend in high school was John Kricfalusi, who invented Ren and Stimpy. He now has a cartoon called The Ripping Friends, and I do the voice of Rip. And it's on Fox. And it's really bizarre. It's about these four superheroes that don't have any real powers except the fact that they just work out all the time. We used to just sit there and make jokes and stuff, but we would never get kicked out of class because we'd always keep a low profile. But we would get other people to do shit, so the other people would do it and they would get kicked out. But the bottom line was that the joke worked. (laughs) You know what I mean? "I'm not going to do the joke, because I know the guy's going to kick me out." I mean, it was hysterical. I remember in German class, we used to razz the German teacher so much. He'd come in with a little film or something and we'd go, "Iz zis how you won za war?" "Shut up!" He had this lisp and was always mad at us. But eventually we would get him to show the film backwards. He'd show the film and do the lesson, then at the end of the class, he'd show the film backwards. And we'd be howling. It was great. And it was funny because he was one of those teachers that I met later on in life. I saw him again, like, five years ago. And he still remembered how many laughs we used to have in his class. And actually liked it, you know? So it was cool. And he's actually proud of the fact that I was actually pursuing my comedy and stuff as a career. The funniest thing in high school was, I remember one time I mentioned it in a newspaper article and they printed it and the person who taught me lived right across from where my parents lived. And she came right over and went, "Oh, I'm so proud that Mike said the only thing that he uses from high school is his typing. I was his typing teacher. Just tell him I'm so proud." (laughs) And it's true, though. You know what I mean? I mean, thank God I took typing because now I can bang out 75 words a minute. It comes in real handy when I'm sitting there in front of the computer.
GM: You're not using your German so much?
MM: Not really. Not using the German. Not using any of the math. And all the fucking integers and shit like that. All the bullshit.
GM: Good luck with the movie. You only have 28 more days to wait.
MM: Yeah. The waiting part is very hard. I find myself trying to be distracted as much as possible because I don't want to think about the waiting. Or just life. Life is going to be so good if we get to make this thing. And it's ironic, too. Once we make this thing, and if it's a success, all these phone calls will start. The people that wouldn't give us the time of day. But the irony is by that time we won't need their money because we'll have our own money. Our philosophy is always dump the money back into the next movie.
GM: Well, then you can do like your joke about winning the lottery. Call up your boss: "Fuck you."
MM: Exactly. (laughs)