"I think no matter where you are, you should be honest about where you live and what they do. I mean, there's lots of things the Canadian government does that I don't care for. But I guess the difference is you can say something about it here and people don't act like you're trying to burn the flag. Which I don't even know if that's illegal here."
– Jebb Fink
Guy MacPherson: The obvious question for you: Every Canadian comic who can legally get over the border wants to get to the States. You came the other way. Interesting.
Jebb Fink: I came up to work and I fell in love with a Canadian who is now my second wife. And here I am fifteen years later.
GM: Were you a comic in the States before coming up?
JF: Yeah. I actually met her, she was running the Yuk Yuk's in Edmonton.
GM: Mixing business with pleasure.
JF: Yes. And it works very well, apparently.
GM: At the time were you thinking 'career suicide'?
JF: No. At the time I was working as a standup. It didn't matter. As long as you had an international airport I was the happiest guy in the world.
GM: I guess that's true. You can travel from anywhere.
JF: Yeah, and I wasn't thinking sitcom or anything. And I'm still not. I'm really not an actor. So my thought wasn't they're going to do an 'Everybody Loves Jebb'. And there's a lot of work up here for comedians with Yuk Yuk's. So here I am.
GM: I can see Vancouver, Toronto, big centres. But Calgary?
JF: She was in Edmonton. And when we got together we ended up moving to Calgary because she took a new position with Yuk Yuk's for western Canada. And to be honest, it's much easier to get out of Calgary to other places than it is out of Edmonton. And it's pretty central. Especially if you're working mostly in Canada.
GM: Are you working mostly in Canada?
JF: Oh yeah. Almost exclusively.
GM: Do you ever get a chance to go down there and perform?
JF: Oh yeah. Although what I've learned is that a lot of things that Canadians laugh about Americans, Americans are not quite as prepared to laugh about. I did a show for about 1100 people from a pool and spa company and I started going after George Bush and received numerous boos, forgetting that most pools and spas were sold in the south, and that's who elected him. They had no sense of humour about it. Oh, that's their boy.
GM: Some Americans living here bristle when they hear Canadians putting down Americans. Are you like that?
JF: No, I don't consider myself like the other Americans.
GM: Was that always the case?
JF: Yeah. It was always not ever a great fit. I think no matter where you are, you should be honest about where you live and what they do. I mean, there's lots of things the Canadian government does that I don't care for. But I guess the difference is you can say something about it here and people don't act like you're trying to burn the flag. Which I don't even know if that's illegal here.
GM: No, it isn't. We have to keep warm.
JF: Yeah, if it's cold, burn whatever you've got. Start with the flagpole, then move your way to the flag if you have to.
GM: Is it like, 'I can criticize my mom, but if you criticize her...'?
JF: Oh yeah. And the thing is I live here now so it's more acceptable for me to make fun. I don't know if an American comic could come to Canada and make as much fun of the Canadian government as I do.
GM: Well, they wouldn't know anything about it.
JF: No, and some of them didn't know there was a Canada until they got booked here. I was pretty ignorant about the country until I moved up here.
GM: Sure. And why wouldn't you be?
JF: In the U.S. you learn history, it just isn't exactly world history.
GM: But we're such a small country, population-wise.
JF: Yeah, but we know about Mexico. Maybe because I grew up in southern California, but Americans know all about Mexico; they just don't know about Canada. At least the area of the United States that I came from does.
GM: You were from LA?
JF: Yeah, I was born and raised down there. I spent some time – my senior year of high school – in Idaho. Then I lived in Alaska for a little bit. I was kind of everywhere.
GM: Alaska moving down to Calgary...
JF: It's warm. I came for the weather.
GM: What did your friends and family think when you decided to move?
JF: Most of my friends were other road comics. It just didn't matter where you lived. Like I say, as long as there's an international airport. You're just not home that often. I spent 46 weeks on the road one year. So it really doesn't matter where your mail goes when you're doing that. When I was staying all year was after I got a couple of different positions on TV shows. I was on Global's morning show there for a while. I was with A-channel for seven and a half years. So I was working in television there, which wasn't an opportunity that was probably going to pop up for me in the States. So overall it's been a great career move for me.
GM: Do you ever wonder where you might be if you stayed?
JF: (laughs) Oh, God. Jail. I probably would have been in jail by then. Let's just say the second wife calmed me down a lot. She was a very calming influence. Doing comedy in Chino isn't that fun.
GM: Where's Chino?
JF: Chino's a maximum prison in California.
GM: Do you ever miss it? Or do you get down there?
JF: I go down every once in a while. We go down for vacations. We go to Vegas. Hotspots. The only thing I miss is the hot weather. And I mean hot. I love it hot. If it's 35 degrees, I can stay at the pool all day. Actually, the last time we were in Vegas, my wife stayed at the pool with me for two straight days and ended up with heat stroke the second day. And I was fine. Just keep drinking beer and you'll stay hydrated.
GM: How does the development of comics differ?
JF: Honestly, in Canada, I think it works a little bit better. It's a little tighter network. Whereas in the US definitely everybody's out for themselves. And Yuk Yuk's is all the way across the country. And especially when I came up here, they had all the comics. So the guys were able to get work and stay working and develop their craft. Whereas in the United States you had to fight for every gig you got. When I came up here I couldn't believe it. I said, 'what do you mean? You'll just send me my worksheets?' 'There you go, you're working for the whole six months.' 'Well, how can that be?' And in the States, you were fighting for every gig.
GM: Does that bring about a better collective? Or is it as cutthroat up here among the comics?
JF: I don't know. I think it's the same. I think it's a little bit of a brotherhood in both countries. And you gravitate towards the guys that are similar; funny in the same way as you and the stuff you think is good. And now, of course, we're the old guys. I'm 47. We're like the ancient guys when we go do the clubs. They might as well give us a walker compared to some of the guys. But I would take the guys in my bracket any day.
GM: Just that wealth of experience and material.
JF: Oh yeah. And at a certain point of doing this, you have seen every possible thing that could happen. I mean, I did a show in Toronto one night and they had a girl that something medically had happened to her and she was in the back hallway. The last thing I heard before my introduction was the EMS guy going, "We've got a pulse; let's move her." And then I'm up. And it was funny because most of the audience knew something really bad was happening because as I walked on, the girl was on her way out and they were ventilating her. So you've seen everything that could go wrong or that could happen. I was in Edmonton a few months ago and a guy... I believe he had a heart attack in the audience. It was just, 'Okay, everybody calm down. They'll get him out of the room. Let's not freak out here.'
GM: And you're able to go on with the show.
JF: You gotta work around it because it just is what it is.
GM: You do galas, corporate work, TV, but you also do rowdy comedy clubs.
JF: Mostly the corporates. I don't do the clubs as much as I used to. But there is something really fun about a wild crowd.
GM: Money aside, now, is there something to be said for playing in a club?
JF: There's no comparison to doing really well on a Saturday first show hot crowd. There's nothing like it. There's just an energy in there. And part of the problem with corporates is that everybody knows everybody so sometimes you gotta warm them up and get them past that 'oh I don't want to laugh at that in front of the boss'. So it's just a completely different animal. It's pretty rare that you get a corporate gig that compares to a Saturday first show in a club.
GM: And you really develop your chops in a club, don't you?
JF: Oh yeah. That's where you get all of the guts. I went in last Thursday to see an old friend of mine and I still went up to do ten minutes. So you miss it. It's a shame the clubs don't pay more, but it's just the mathematics of it. They're trying to run a business.
GM: When you've been around and you're successful, your price goes up.
JF: It's funny, I remember years ago – it must have been 15 or 18 years ago – I was in Seattle. It was when I was first kind of getting going. And I was working with Marsha Warfield. We did nine shows. I got $350; she got $6500. (chuckles) When she found out how much I was making, she bought all of my meals. She goes, 'You can't even eat!'
GM: Well, you wouldn't eat as much as she would, anyway... Whatever happened to Marsha Warfield, I wonder.
JF: You know, I have no idea. I haven't heard anything about her for years. Those are the people I grew up with: Paula Poundstone, Marsha Warfield, the Amazing Jonathan, Paul Reiser, Sinbad was just coming out as a headliner when I started.
GM: It's good we haven't heard much of him.
JF: I think he made his money and quit. I think he still does Vegas and stuff.
GM: For the superstar comics, lots more opportunity down in the States. But do you think for the non-superstar comics there are more opportunities up here?
JF: I don't know. No, I think in both countries it's fairly even. There are some people that are a better match for one or the other country. Flat-out, their sense of humour works better. There are so many funny Canadians, it's hard to pick the guys that wouldn't do really well up against the same level of Americans.
GM: How does our scene compare?
JF: The real big difference is on the top end. I think from the middle acts down it's about the same. But they're just top heavy down there. There are just so many guys that are of a certain calibre. And there just isn't as many cities to work in for the Canadians. So many of them, as you say, just try to get down there. Just by virtue of there's so much more work by numbers. It's all a numbers game.
GM: Will the show at Yuks with John going to be political?
JF: Oh, I think there'll be a lot of political... It'll be very political. (snickers) I mean, I'm hugely opinionated about politics. One of the things that truly amazes me about Canada is that they're actually able to somehow ignore the sponsorship scandal.
GM: I plead guilty to that.
JF: It's just, 'Ah, it happens.'
GM: That's exactly my feelings.
JF: A hundred thousand bucks that Martha Stewart gets, she's in jail in the US. Up here they filtered $320 million to their buddies--
JF: --allegedly, and they're reelected. The one thing I learned watching the hearings, watching Paul Martin testify, was that I am as qualified to be minister of finance as anybody.
GM: But you gotta admit Chretien did a masterful job at the hearings.
JF: That was some serious dancing, huh? But you know what? Paul Martin just isn't able to pull it off, this thing.
GM: When you're being political, do you make an effort to be fair?
JF: I hit everybody. You know what? I'm a big Ralph Klein fan. But when he does something silly, you're going to hear about it. I've hosted his roast three times. And still it's the best when I hear him do something just before because I'll do it there. And he laughs with everybody else.
GM: And I guess it's the delivery, too.
JF: If it's done in just a vicious attack, your vicious attack is going to override the funny part. Although they may do something that's just as aggravating as it could possibly be, it's your job to figure out a way to get... You want to get some information in there, too. You don't want to just make it funny. You want to get a little information where people maybe start to think a bit. I mean, to me that's the best comedy. You hear something, you laugh, and you go, 'Hey, wait a minute. There was a fact in there.'
GM: But do you think people actually change their minds based on what the comic's said. They laugh and then they go out there and ignore what you said.
JF: Could be. All you can do is just keep doing what you do. And even if they just have a good time and laugh about it... I'd love to tell you, if one person's life was changed from a show, but I know that's a load of crap.