"Once in a while on these talk shows they'd bring out a comic, and he'd do about five minutes, all dressed fancy, and he'd get these big laughs from observations. And I thought that's what comedy was. You try your stuff and then immediately they put you on TV, and you do five minutes and make maybe a half a million or so, and then you just recede to the background until you crank out another five. A few years later you retire to Maui somewhere."
– Derek Edwards
Guy MacPherson: There you are. I just saw you on Monday.
Derek Edwards: Oh, were you out in North Van?
GM: Yeah, I was.
DE: Ah, that's peachy. Geez, that must have been a long show for the folks in the audience.
GM: That first half hour, or whatever it was, was ridiculous, but that's TV.
DE: Yeah, it seems to go part and parcel with TV, just all this – how do you say it? – bullshit prior to the thing getting going. So that wears on the patience of the crowd.
GM: But the crowd was into it, though.
DE: They were great! I mean, I'm getting on must be two, two-and-a-half hours after that, but still there was a whole bunch of energy out there.
GM: Well, you guys were so good.
DE: Hey, thank you. There were a lot of good souls on that show.
GM: I've seen you two other times in Vancouver.
DE: Well, I hope you had some fun.
GM: No, I hated it, actually.
DE: (laughs) Well, you know, that's the thing. You can have too much comedy.
GM: Now you're coming back. You may as well buy a house out here.
DE: That's what everybody's doing, eh? You keep hearing that – people moving out of Toronto to move to Shangrila.
GM: You were here Monday, now you're coming back to Port Moody and then to Lafflines.
DE: Actually, I just got my flight information and it looks like I'm coming in on Wednesday, April 9. I've got to do a taping of a show on Thursday morning, so that's why I'm coming in Wednesday night.
GM: What show?
DE: It's called Urban Rush.
GM: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
DE: You've heard of it?
GM: Yeah. I don't get it, but I've heard of it.
DE: You don't get that channel or you just don't understand the concept of it?
DE: Yeah, some girl – Vicki Gabereau, who I've heard of, but I don't watch that much TV so I don't know really what she's about.
GM: She's national. She's not on Urban Rush.
GM: No, Urban Rush is a local talk show and Vicki Gabereau has a national CTV show out of here. She used to be on CBC radio and now she's on TV. She gets a lot of big names on her show.
DE: Oh, that's it, then. So it's not the same girl then. I'm not doing her show. Okay. I wondered.
Somehow or other over time I've heard her name. I've never actually watched her show.
GM: Don't bother.
GM: Well, just show up and be funny wherever you have to go. That's all you have to do.
GM: You don't have a website. Every comedian has a website now.
DE: That seems to be the route to take, eh? I never made that leap into the computer world, you know? But I feel it's incumbent upon me now to have something there lest somebody needs information. I'm so out of step I'm actually being rude! But it wasn't my intention.
GM: And keep it up to date. That would be another good thing. Because a lot of comics have a website that's a year old, or something.
DE: Yeah, I've never actually put anything on the internet myself. Somebody else did that. I didn't even know they'd done it. Somebody said, "Hey, you've got kind of a website, but it's really crappy." (laughs) Okay, but it's not me to blame, you know?
GM: But the bio that I do have on you says that you've been doing it for ten years. Or is this old?
DE: It's old in the sense that I've been doing it ten years without having to have another job, you know what I mean? I've been doing it solely for the decade. But before that there was always something else that had to chip in to pay the rent.
GM: And what was that?
DE: Various other jobs, eh? Working in a railway yard, working this big – it's kind of like a forklift, but it spins around. They call it a speed swing. You work the controls. It was like a dream job, you know? You're moving huge stuff around onto a truck. It reeks of responsibility: six bucks an hour.
GM: Oh, man!
GM: A dream job. Why did you ever leave?
DE: Six bucks an hour. That was the thing of it. That
was the ceiling. You had to settle.
GM: If only they could pay you more, you'd never leave.
DE: A little more coin and I'd never have to do this silliness.
GM: How many years were you doing comedy while working another job?
DE: Another 8 years for sure.
GM: How old are you, may I ask?
GM: So you were about... I can't do the math.
DE: Twenty-eight, 29, 30.
GM: That's kind of late to get started, isn't it?
DE: Yeah. It turns out. I thought you'd have to have at least some life experience. I was on, like, my eighth or tenth job. I thought I could bring something to the table doing that. But now there are 18-year-olds with great big huge chips on their shoulders.
GM: That's kind of like the hip-hop mentality: "I got the answers; you listen to me." Hey, you're 18 years old. What do you know about anything?
DE: That's the trouble, you know? But funny's funny. I suppose it doesn't really matter. If the guy's putting on a good show, you try to dismiss the age thing. But yeah, I guess I started a bit late. But I was reticent to leave town. I was comfortable back home.
GM: In Timmons?
GM: Was it a good life there?
DE: Let's say uncomplicated.
GM: Right. So how did you get involved in comedy then? Was it a lifelong dream?
DE: Trying it once was something I definitely had to do. I just wanted to try it once. But it was
intriguing, so 8 or 9 months later I tried it again. And this time it went pretty well. I had very limited perspective, but it went quite better than the first abysmal, horror thing that I went through.
GM: You probably did 5 minutes?
DE: Yeah, that was it. Somewhere 5 to 7 minutes.
GM: How long did it take you to come up with those 5 minutes? You're saying it wasn't a solid 5, is what I'm hearing.
DE: (laughs) Oh, you're hearing very well. The phone's working. No, it wasn't very solid. A lot of it was about background of life at home. Some kind of a comparison thing is a half-assed base of comedy. "This is life in Toronto; this is what I was used to. And look at the difference." But there was a whole table from my hometown, my first time there. It seemed so out of place. "What are you doing in Yorkville?!" They were in this hard-to-find neighbourhood in Toronto. How'd they get there?
GM: Did you know them?
DE: No, I didn't know them. But they were hammered and they wanted to help me. They totally butchered me. I couldn't remember where I was going; they kept hollering. Here's how you recognize Timmons folks right here.
GM: So you went back 8 months later for your second set. That sounds funny. Was it completely new material, or did you keep some of it?
DE: No, it was all new. It was all different. I even had a prop thing. I had a guitar. One Johnny Cash song I was trying to do. And I taped my set list to the little part of the guitar that's like a waistline. It was thing between me and the crowd. I felt safer. A bulletproof vest thing.
GM: You say this is something that you just had to try once. Was it because you were a fan? You were going to comedy clubs? How did you even know you wanted to try it once?
DE: I guess it was these talk shows. Once in a while on these talk shows they'd bring out a comic, and he'd do about five minutes, all dressed fancy, and he'd get these big laughs from observations. And I thought that's what comedy was. You try your stuff and then immediately they put you on TV, and you do five minutes and make maybe a half a million or so, and then you just recede to the background until you crank out another five. A few years later you retire to Maui somewhere. What pushed me toward comedy was this complete void of ignorance that was bouncing
through my head about how it really worked.
GM: What a rude slap in the face. Were there comedy clubs in Timmons?
GM: Are there now?
DE: Well, they bring 'em in. Once in a while they'll bring in a show up there. There's not a permanent comedy club, but they have a room there. I think two different rooms where they'll try comedy every season, about every three months.
GM: Do you perform there now? You must be the God.
DE: The God (laughs). I think you're over-stating things. I occasionally get recognized. I went up most recently and did a fund-raiser at my old high school. They have a theatre there now. A theatre in the round, and people sit above you.
GM: It's called the Derek Edwards Theatre.
DE: No, it's not. (laughs) If they're gonna name something there, oddly enough they go with this Shania girl. I guess she's doing all right. She doesn't call. But rumour is that she's doing okay.
GM: She's living in another country now.
DE: Yeah. Well, I guess what it is is she enjoys some anonymity over there, and that's what it's come down to. Me, I got it here, so I don't have to move. (laughs)
GM: You've performed in Paris. Do you have to change your act much when you perform in other countries.
DE: Yeah, sure. There's a lot of adaptation going on. I guess the scary thing is can sit at the back of the room and watch, say, in Ireland I worked, you can watch a guy do a series of jokes on topics, you have no idea what he's talking about. It's their version of the NDP party and he's doing impressions of the leaders. I'm sitting there learning the counter-culture before I have a clue what the real culture is. So you really feel out of step with what this crowd is going to ingest and accept as funny. So yeah, there's a lot of switching gears on the go.
GM: You mentioned when you first started you were doing comparisons. So can you do the comparisons, or do you even acknowledge where you're from?
DE: There's no point giving a specific town. If you say you're from Canada, they have these
generalizations about moose, and snow, that they immediately make, and problems with your French. "I understand you can't keep your French in line over there." So that's what they always associate with. Or being neighbours to the States. But we have no particular immediate vision of identity over there, either. Much like home.
GM: So you just need to adapt your material; you don't need completely new material.
DE: It's best to have something to write out of the local papers if you can. Take in a bit of whatever city or town you're in and try and work that in. You have to write some new stuff, too. But I don't go over there a lot. I'd like to see the Edinburgh festival. Have you been over there?
GM: No. But that would be great.
DE: It would be intriguing, if you could stomach five weeks of comedy.
GM: I don't know if I could stomach five weeks of British comedy.
DE: There's Americans in there, New Zealand, Australia, all over.
GM: Any plans to perform over there?
DE: No, I haven't locked anything down yet. But I don't really want to spend that kind of chunk of time away. I still got two kids, you know.
GM: How old are they?
DE: I got a nine-year-old and a 12-year-old. Boys. After about two weeks, I'm really missing them. I miss them anyway, but somewhere around two weeks it gets kind of bad.
GM: So how much touring do you do?
DE: Well, based out of Toronto, the biggest tour I have coming up – and I haven't done like a month-long tour in some time – is the Just For Laughs thing, that's going to be coming through October/November. St. John's to Victoria. I think they're going to go in an east-west motion. So that'll be as long as I'm ever away from home. Even so, somewhere in the middle of it I get to stay at home one of the nights. I've got a very short string around me. I can only go so far for
GM: Do you play in the States much?
DE: No, I don't. I used to go down there.
GM: Is it because of the kids? Or because we're enemies now?
DE: (laughs) That doesn't help, eh? In a sense, if you go over there and you don't have the Green Card with you, there are certain legal things there – you have to sort of sneak over. So I got tired of carrying my golf clubs over the border. "Why are you going to Minnesota to play golf?" "I hear it's beautiful." They're suspicious, these border guards. They make you feel like you're such a weasel just for going over, making not that much money, just a few bucks, and then going home. But you've got to lie to them. And I've never been particularly good at that.
GM: So someone can't invite you down to perform?
DE: If you're making no money, like a showcase or amateur night, then I think you're free and clear to go. When I worked in Vegas it was a lot easier. Because you're going to Vegas: "Oh, well, we're gonna empty this guy's pockets. Off you go." But if it's anywhere else, they wonder why you're going. So these intense moments at the border...
GM: What about doing comedy after 9/11 and during the war? Are people just as eager to laugh or are they more on edge? I know you don't do a lot of political material, but has comedy
DE: I think there's two totally divergent paths people have taken. News-oriented comics that can get ahold of a topic like the war, find the funny stuff in there, and pull it out and display it for people and get big laughs out of the ridiculous hypocrisies are going on there. Some people can do it with such finesse they don't depress the crowd in any way. The war is out there; it's food for thought. The other route I'm more comfortable with is to provide some sort of escapism. This is just dumb, inconsequential garbage I've phrased into something hopefully you'll find amusing.
That's the route I like. But the guys that can do it... Like once in a while, I'll see this Jon Stewart
show? And they can take the most otherwise depressing topics and make them hilarious. That's the other side of the coin. I admire it, but it's not something I prefer to do.
GM: You're one of the top acts in the country. How upwardly mobile are you?
DE: Well, there's the question, eh? (laughs) I really don't know. I mean, I'm in a pretty good position, you know? Up near the top of the group, rubbing shoulders with people I really enjoy their company and respect. So it's not a bad job. I guess I've got to crank something – what do people do? Screenplays?
DE: I suppose that's the route to take now.
GM: You're not working on one yet?
DE: Oh, yeah. I'm puttering away on some stuff. I hate to jinx anything. I'm touching wood as we speak.
GM: So that would be upwardly mobile as a writer.
DE: Yeah. I suppose, yeah. If you get some kind of track record as writing this and that... Like, I know it was sketchy and ill-conceived, but I was doing the hockey material there on Monday. But that was too out of the gate. I should have tried it elsewhere and I could have got it more polished and get it to work more smoothly. It's a good challenge to have to write that stuff. So if that stuff works pretty much untried, you know, you can take any topic and see how you could make that funny for a film or some kind of a show, is to go out and see what the public would think of this. To phrase it, maybe you could find a way to really try it out. Like the Zucker brothers. Remember them? They did these Police Squad Leslie Nielson things. They did all that stuff on Broadway first, eh? Down in New York. They tried it live in front of crowds. They got the best lines out of the show and they made a movie out of it. It was so funny. So it's a real good testing ground out there on the comedy stage.
GM: So when you're not touring, as you don't like to do, you're at home writing?
DE: That's what I'd like people to believe, yes. (laughs)
GM: Well, we know you're not watching Vicki Gabereau.
DE: That's right. I'm not wasting my life! Yeah, I'm applying myself to some writing stuff.
GM: I had the misfortune of seeing Head of State last night.
DE: Now, is this a new sitcom?
GM: No, this is a new movie by Chris Rock.
DE: Oh, yeah?
GM: Oh my God, it was awful. Chris Rock is a standup that I've admired and liked. I think now that he's going to be the new Jay Leno: "Hey, remember when Chris Rock was funny?"
DE: (laughs) There's a very insightful remark. He had some really great standup. He was untouchable. Nobody could follow this man... It's too bad. They bring in these big movie offers and you feel obliged to take them and somebody else writes the lines for them.
GM: Well, this one he wrote and directed.
DE: Is that right? And you're saying there were very few redeeming qualities?
GM: I'd say zero redeeming qualities.
DE: I'm sorry to hear that.
GM: The advice I'm giving you, Derek, is to keep it true to yourself.
DE: Is that right, eh?
GM: You talk about things playing differently overseas. What about different parts of Canada? Are the audiences different in Vancouver than they are in Glace Bay, or wherever?
DE: Yeah, you'd have to say. For sure. There'd be a cosmopolitan influence in any large, large city like Vancouver, so it is a little different. So sometimes you can get away with references that might not always be picked up in a smaller town where they could really care less about show biz and that kind of thing. The talk in the table is about the union, or how they got screwed for hours, or how much the government is taking off their cheque. You can always hack on the government, I think. You can always jump on Toronto. I guess it's picking your targets. But the Vancouver
audiences are great. I was at a place there after the show on Monday called Jupiter. You know this place?
GM: It's about two blocks from my place. I go all the time.
DE: Well, they bring in a nice crowd. It went on late, but the still hung in there. They listened, you know? They weren't bubbling with enthusiasm – it must have been getting onto the three-hour mark on their show – but they were still so polite.
GM: Did you go up?
DE: Yup. It was on a dare. Darryl Lenox was like, "Go on, man. The gauntlet's down." "I'm not going on if you're not going on." "Okay, I'm on." "Damn!" So I went on with the qualification that I didn't have to follow him, and did some time there and the crowd was really good.
GM: So what you're saying is it's not so much a regional difference, it's more like city versus
DE: Yeah, that's true. But sometimes in Alberta there's such an anti-Ontario, anti-Ottawa sentiment. Man, there's a lot of people with chips on their shoulders there. There's a real negative energy if you tap into the wrong topic. So sometimes it can be tough. It can be tough not stepping on their toes. You're walking around with these huge clown shoes. There's no way you can get around some topic where you're not in some way slighting these guys even if it's the last thing you've intended. So yeah, they can be touchy. The east coast is great.
GM: Is it?
DE: They're hilarious most of those guys anyway.
GM: And they sound hilarious.
GM: You almost sound like you have an east coast accent. I don't know what your accent sounds like, but there is an accent.
DE: I get that sometimes. My wife is from the Maritimes, so I think maybe I'm accidentally scooping a lilt. It's a subconscious thing, anyway. I'm not perpetuating a fraud saying I'm from the Rock.
GM: What comics do you admire or were your role models?
DE: When I was starting out there were a lot of guys that were big-time famous – like George Carlin or Bill Cosby – that were putting out comedy albums that were just so funny. Even Cheech & Chong or McLean & McLean. These guys used to crack me up. This is so weird, but I used to love Benny Hill. He used to just get me. Benny Hill would just kill me. And then Monty Python. The two opposite ends of thinking procedures. I'd just be crippled up with this England humour. But
those are the bigger names. For influences, I'm sure Glenn Foster has had an influence on me. Guys like Ron Vaudry when I was starting out. In addition to these big superstar guys, our Canadian guys were just so damn funny. Norm Macdonald for sure. And the guy out west, Craig Campbell, had a huge influence. He left an immense footprint out there in the west. A lot of guys
come out to Ontario first time and they go, "Man, he's just like Craig! It's wild!" And in Vancouver, you've got some really good guys. And ever since Butt moved out there – and I'm his most sincere fan. And diametrically opposed, there's a guy, Irwin Barker, who just, man, he just gets me. I start giggling as soon as I see him. And Jamie Hutchinson – another great guy. And guys I know I will offend by not mentioning. There's a really legitimate, terrific, creative comedy scene out there on the west coast.
GM: And once you move out here, it'll just seal the deal.
DE: Kind words.
GM: How would you describe your comedy for someone who hasn't seen you before? I read things like 'folksy' or 'down home'. Do you think these apply?
DE: Oh, I suppose. I suppose I'm a rube. What are you gonna do? It's there, man, I can't fight it. I guess folksy's as good as anything. I'll try and be more hip. That'll be my by-line: He's trying to be more hip.
GM: What are you going to do? Have a big hoop earring?
DE: Yeah, that's my way. Something pierced.
GM: Are you still on the Red Green show?
DE: No, that's a by-the-way thing. For a while I got cast as this guy, but I guess acting wasn't my best thing.
GM: Was that your first time acting?
DE: Well, more or less. I did what they call a Comics, where I tried acting once. But you get to
write what the character says. This wasn't like that. And it wasn't based on me, really. Apparently some of these actors really have to stretch and do guys that aren't like them at all.
GM: Get outta here!
DE: Yeah! It's very taxing. And kind of ridiculous in a sense. But I haven't done that in a while. A year or so.
GM: Your bio says, "He's CURRENTLY appearing in episodes...". Maybe they're running now.
DE: Hell, yeah, they run ad nauseum. They never stop.
GM: How many did you do?
DE: Two. (laughs) I didn't write the bio, buddy. People write that stuff and it ends up on the internet and that's what people get for information on the internet – dribble. They don't talk to you personally.
GM: Okay, so nothing about the Red Green show. I used to really like Smith & Smith.
DE: (pause) You're, uh, of course, uh, pulling my leg.
GM: No, you know what, I did!
DE: Really, huh?
GM: As hokey and as poorly made as it was, for some reason Steve Smith made me laugh, just like Benny Hill made you laugh. I don't watch Red Green; I don't find it funny. But that old Smith & Smith show out of Hamilton...
DE: That's right. Hamilton. CHCH.
GM: So I liked Steve Smith for some reason.
DE: (pause) Mm-hmm. You know, it was just one of those things, he was starting out. He was probably producing and writing and directing and doing the cameras, too.
GM: Yes, exactly.
DE: And still managed to crank out... Well, there was more than the one show. He must have done a few. You watched it for how long?
GM: I don't know. I think it was well past it's original airing date. Something about him just made me laugh. Their stupid songs, which I didn't like... I didn't like everything on the show.
DE: I can't remember that much about it. But (sings) "Don't let it get you down." They used to sing that song. If you watched the show long enough, it would get you down, though, if I recall. He's a very funny dude, though.
GM: Well, that's what I got from it.
DE: He's got natural timing. He's a very sharp guy. And he's heard every joke in the world. He's a
generous spirit. And maybe that comes off. He's just kind of this lovable guy. With a beard.
GM: I'm not sure if he had a beard then or not.
DE: I can't recall. I was always taping The Trouble With Tracy when that was on.
GM: I don't even know that one.
DE: (laughs) Okay. There's a lot of reasons for that. But I'm sorry, that Red Green thing is not up-to-date. I wrote a couple of things for him that he used for his show, so that was oddly satisfying. I had never written anything that I actually got paid for.
GM: What was your character on the show?
DE: Possum Lodge Funeral Director. (laughs) It was a dream come true.
GM: I bet. Well, thanks for calling and speaking. I will definitely see you at Lafflines.
DE: Yeah, I look forward to meeting you. Let me buy you a brew.
GM: Ho-ho! I have this on tape, you know.
DE: (laughs) That's all right. I think they give me a slush fund tab so I don't feel the sting that bad.