"I can do anything. If I wanted to, there's a billion things I could end up doing. I didn't get a degree but I don't care about that. I can train and get whatever I want to do. If I wanted to become a doctor, I could become a doctor."
– Shaun Majumder
Guy MacPherson: How are you?
Shaun Majumder: I'm good, man.
GM: You're in L.A.?
SM: In L.A., yeah. It's overcast, cool. It's a perfect day, actually.
GM: Just like here. I spoke with you just after you moved down there in 2001, I think it was.
SM: Oh really? And what was it we were doing?
GM: It was another phone interview. I did a story on you when you were playing Lafflines, I think.
SM: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course I remember. That's a great interview and that was a great article. I showed my girl when we started dating. I sent it to her friends and family so they could know who I was.
GM: So are you enjoying it down there?
SM: Things are good. I'm sitting on my stairs of my backyard of the house that I bought a year-and-a-half ago. So I've just been so dedicated to being a home-owner lately. It's been so fun and changes everything. It totally grounds me; makes me feel not so stressed out about 'why am I not auditioning for that' or blah blah blah blah blah. It's good. It's really nice.
GM: But you gotta audition to keep up the payments, I guess.
SM: It's been good. I've been lucky. This has been the best three, four years of my career, I think, income-wise. So because that money was there, I could relax. When you really are chasing that rent cheque and you audition for something, then the pressure's on. If you don't book it then you don't know what you're going to do. And if you book it, it could be, like, $40,000 when you're $7.82 in the hole. Something like that might come along. I remember I had that experience when I was auditioning for a couple different shows. I was up for one and if I didn't get it I would have been screwed. Then the very next day I got Cedric the Entertainer, which turned everything around. So those days, I hope, are finished. As long as I'm smart with the money I'm making now, and save. I understand the ups and downs of the working actor. It's crazy, man. You gotta be insane – I know people have said it before, but you have to be insane to choose a career... if you're not 100 percent dedicated to it and you don't have an understanding of the big picture, then you're going to have a fucking tough life. It is tough, there's no doubt about it.
GM: You never had a fallback position? Or was standup your fallback?
SM: No. I can do anything. If I wanted to, there's a billion things I could end up doing. I didn't get a degree but I don't care about that. I can train and get whatever I want to do. If I wanted to become a doctor, I could become a doctor. If I wanted to travel the world and shoot pictures and sell my photography, I could do that. There's a billion things that I could do. That's the other thing. That also takes the pressure off. Just being content, you know?
GM: Right. What are you working on right now?
SM: Well, I have a Robson Arms coming out on June 23rd, which I finished.
GM: So you were up here.
SM: I was up in Vancouver. Had a great time on that show. I play a chiropractor who's the romantic interest of Gabrielle Miller. Very exciting. And I also have a show called Less Than Kind. I'm not sure if you've heard about it yet. I don't know what they're doing promotion-wise up there. But I think it's going to be on City-TV. It's due out in September. Mark McKinney's the supervising producer. I forget the writers' names. Do a search and find out, but they're really good and it's their first project. It's City-TV but I don't know if City-TV is still City-TV because the market changes up there. Regardless, it's called Less Than Kind and it's with Maury Chaykin and it revolves around a Jewish dysfunctional family. I play Tito. That was totally fun.
GM: You play a Jew?
SM: I don't. I play an ambiguously ethnic guy. Can you imagine that?
GM: I can't imagine that!
SM: My name's Tito. A guy named Tito. I think his family comes from some Eastern European-type connection and they have a food import-export business. And they get the best, like, pastrami. You know what I mean? They get the best cheese. You want cheese? Don't go to any kind of supermarket or IGA. Come to me because I know Armenian people and I'll hook you up.
GM: Out of the back of your car?
SM: Out of the back of a van. Exactly. They have a little independent driving school that the son kind of runs to make some money, but I can't drive for shit. But in exchange for my license, I hook up Maury Chaykin with the stuff, you know what I'm saying? But I'm a horrible driver.
GM: And where was that filmed?
SM: That was filmed in Winnipeg. And it's set in Winnipeg.
SM: Yeah. The middle of winter.
GM: Aren't you lucky?
SM: Yeah, dreamy. Definitely dreamy. But it was awesome. It was so fun. So those two things are actually coming out. And then I have Irwin Barker's show, which I'm really excited about. And Calgary this weekend coming up. And St. John's Comedy Festival, Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. And then in August I'm going to China.
GM: What are you doing in China?
SM: CBC has asked me to go and do some coverage of the Olympics as myself and as Raj Binder, I think. We're going to do a combination of things. It's going to be awesome.
GM: Are you a big sports fan?
SM: I'm a huge sports fan. And I'm a huge Olympics fan. So I really hope that we do really well there.
GM: But what are the odds, really?
SM: I don't know, man. I don't know what kind of money they're putting into the program over the last four years.
GM: Is it fair to say that most of your work is in Canada but most of your money comes from the States?
SM: It's scattered, you know? Because the last few years with 22 Minutes has been a really nice payment. And then I booked this Unhitched TV show, which just got cancelled. That was a really nice payment.
GM: How long was that on?
SM: That was on for six episodes.
GM: And you were on 24.
SM: I was on 24, which was no money at all.
SM: Oh, yeah, nothing. I'll be honest, for that I got like a guest-starring day player role, which was like five grand, or something, for two episodes of 24, one of the biggest shows ever. It's weird how that works. You never know.
GM: But good exposure.
SM: Good exposure. And fun. I got to blow up Los Angeles, which at times I've wanted to do more than other times. It was fun, man. It was totally fun. So it's a combination of both. I do a lot of work in Canada. I do a lot of standup in Canada, as well. But it's becoming more of a mix. I'm hoping to have more of a lopsided work in the U.S. than in Canada. But I'll always have the option to go back and do 22 Minutes, which I love doing.
GM: Are you still on that?
SM: Yeah, that comes and goes. They've been really good. And this past year I joined the cast where it was myself, Geri Hall was a new kind of cast member, and then Mark Critch and Gavin and Cathy. So it was almost like a five-person sketch troupe, which I really liked, actually.
GM: You have the best of both worlds, going between the two countries.
SM: Yeah, it's great.
GM: Do you like living in L.A.?
SM: I do. I do.
GM: I guess it's pretty similar to Newfoundland.
SM: It's almost exactly the same. But the girls in Newfoundland are more sane. A little more grounded and normal. The girls here are kinda crazy. It's nothing like Newfoundland at all. The furthest thing possible, in fact. I mean, L.A. is all about image. Everything is about facade, how much money you make. Not every human but there is a thing here. It's such the atmosphere of image and who do people think you are and ego. It couldn't be more opposite in Newfoundland. Here it's about self-centredness and narcissism and there it's about selflessness and what can I do to help you out. You want my kidney? I'll give it to you.
GM: You're hanging out with some celebs. I read you were at Carrie Fisher's house.
SM: Oh yeah! You read that. That was awesome. She wasn't there but the Farrelly brothers were there in a bathtub.
GM: You've done a lot of work in bathtubs.
SM: Here's the thing. I'm doing Unhitched with Craig Bierko. We'd wrapped the show and I was over at his house. His girlfriend was having a party for his birthday and I was invited. Anyway, somehow in a hallway at the end of the party conversation was struck about taking baths. And I said to Craig, "Oh, that's funny because we used to do this thing when I was in Halifax. After we'd shoot 22 Minutes, I'd always say to people, 'Now what are we going to do? Are we going to go downtown? How about this, you guys? How about we go back to my place? I just have to take a quick bath and then you guys can just watch TV or whatever.' This is like at 10 o'clock at night. 'I just need to go home, take a quick bath. You guys can wait and then we'll head downtown and we'll rip it up tonight.'" And people were always perturbed. "Why would he need to take a bath?" But then in the conversation I said, "Oh yeah, I love bathing. I had a TV show where I had to interview celebrities in a bathtub. I came up with this idea." And Craig looked and me and he was like, "Shut up. You know about my show, right?" And I'm like, "What show?" And I really had no idea what he was talking about.
GM: I don't, either. What was he talking about?
SM: Turns out he has on the internet, on, I think, funnyordie.com, a show called Bathing With Bierko. The premise is two men in a tub. Interviewing a celebrity and not mentioning the bath. Just being real dry and real straight. And he did not believe me that I'd already done the exact same idea.
GM: So you beat him to it.
SM: In a way. But he got the press for it. Regardless of who got the idea out there, because mine was out in Canada, the fact is we were on the same TV show here in the United States, in Los Angeles, and we came up with the exact same idea. He did not believe me. He thought I was pulling his leg because everything I was saying to him about Bathing with Comics, which originally was an idea I came up with when I was working on The Ladies Man , and I pitched it to Will Ferrell. Because I just envisioned him and I sitting in a bathtub talking about his career. Anyway, when I told Craig about it, he wouldn't believe me because it was identical. He thought I'd seen it somehow, because it hadn't even aired yet, and it turns out no, we were sitting on the same TV show with the same idea. Boom. And then I sent him a DVD of some of the clips that we did. And he still thought that, from the time I was at his house to the time I sent him those, I had gone and made four clips to send him just to pull his chain. Do a search for Bathing With Bierko.
GM: I will. And you're on it?
SM: No, I didn't get in the tub that day. I couldn't fit because it was the Farrelly Brothers and then Craig and it was a small tub.
"Throughout my whole childhood I was even-keeled all the way through, in terms of having kind of a positive outlook on life. I never went through a bitter, jaded phase. Never went sour. Never was that even, for some reason, with my dysfunctional family."
– Shaun Majumder
GM: Were you always this outgoing, fun-loving guy growing up or did you come out of your shell at some point?
SM: You know, I think I've been pretty much even par the whole time. I changed; I put filters on my output, I think, in high school because I started to realize how annoying I must have been to people. But I think throughout my whole childhood I was even-keeled all the way through, in terms of having kind of a positive outlook on life. I never went through a bitter, jaded phase. Never went sour. Never was that even, for some reason, with my dysfunctional family. I think it had to do with growing up in Newfoundland. My early years were in Newfoundland and I was surrounded by lots of extended family who had lots of love to give and I had all the freedom in the world. I just loved playing and being free. I didn't have a lot of expectations at an early age. I wasn't like, "Oh, I need this" or "I gotta have this". I think it's been pretty much the same my whole life, for the most part, in terms of my core.
GM: Do you have brothers and sisters?
SM: I do. I have one sister. She lives in Windsor, Ontario, with a beautiful daughter named Lily Claire and a husband named Chris. She teaches. She was actually on Hatching, Matching and Dispatching.
GM: Was she an actress or just in the background?
SM: She auditioned like everybody else and she got it. They auditioned a lot of people and she was funny. She was good. I was critical but I think she was really, really funny. I watched it again the other day, actually, which is why I mentioned it. But I just love how in your life you can have crazy things happen like that, like me and my sister on the same TV show for a minute, or me and my fiancée were on UnHitched. She was on an episode. One of the funniest episodes in the whole series. I just love when stuff like that happens.
GM: When are you getting married?
SM: No date set yet. It was kind of hinging on the pickup of the show or not in terms of planning something, locking down some budget. We wanna do something fun, you know? If it had got picked up, we would have set a date, but right now we're kind of like, okay, well let's see what happens. There's no super rush. We just want to do it right. I'd rather do it right.
GM: Is she working on a show?
SM: No. Everything has slowed down here because of this potential actors strike. It's been the weirdest six months in this industry with the writers strike and now with the potential actors strike. So it makes you focus on other things. I've been lucky because I've been able to do standup. She doesn't do standup so it's difficult if you're just waiting for auditions. But at the same time, we've been writing together and we have a lot of creative ideas. My head's just been exploding with ideas for stuff, whether it be shorts or feature films. It's a good time to write or to go to the gym.
GM: You standups are lucky in that you have that fallback.
SM: Yeah, it's great. It's a different skill. It keeps you sharp.
GM: Are you part of the L.A. standup comedy scene?
SM: Not really, but I do standup randomly every now and then. I did a spot at the Improv last night and I'll have spots here and there, but honestly I've been so busy working, which has been great, but I haven't had time to really get into the clubs and do lots of standup. But now with Just For Laughs coming up, both in Toronto and Montreal, and also Irwin Barker's show, and a bunch of stuff I have coming up, I'm looking forward to getting in rooms and doing more standup.
GM: Are you a comic who turned to acting or an actor who does comedy?
SM: You know, I think the love that I had when I started, I always wanted to act, and that was it. You know, when I first started. But as I got older and I started doing different things, like improvisation and standup, I realized that they're totally different skill sets. But still my passion lies with... I just love to act. I breathe it. I love it so much. Standup is something I feel is such a challenge and hard skill to really keep working at and to get better at. That'll never go away. They're becoming more equal, but they're very different. If I had a chance to go on tour and do standup for two months or work on a film for two months, I would take the film in a heartbeat. Even if it's an independent. Even if it's not paying well. It doesn't matter. That is kind of what I get the most enjoyment out of.
GM: You seem to really enjoy yourself on stage doing standup. Just having a good time. Are there times when you just don't feel like doing it but you fake it anyway? Are you good at that?
SM: I can't fake it, no. I have a horrible time faking it. But you kinda have to to some degree. Let's say you go up on stage. If it's a long, long, long, long set, then I promise you I'll get them eventually unless they're a hateful crowd. I'll find something to get them on my side. I have to. But I've had some horrible sets where I just bombed so bad. Recently I was getting ready to do my Comedy Central special, which aired a few months back. I was working out the first five to seven minutes of my act and was trying it out in different clubs in town and I was sucking. Because I couldn't go off-book. I needed to stick with what I was trying to do because it was very material specific; word for word. Because it was a Comedy Central special. And if those words weren't connecting with the audience, you can't use your personality as much. And you only have seven minutes. You've got to stick to the syntax. When you do a Letterman set, if you do a Leno set, it's four-and-a-half minutes of word for word material. Even I found when I did my Comedy Central special, you meticulously choose words over other words just because it's a TV taping and you have to have everything approved. So anyway, when I was bombing, though, I had to just bite my tongue and plow through it knowing that it's only seven minutes and then just take note of it afterwards and go, "That really sucked" and then jump off a building.
GM: But keep your confidence, though.
SM: That's what I mean by somewhat faking it. But at the same time, if you acknowledge the fact – "Wow, I'm sucking!" – people like that, too. They respond to it. They're like, "That's cool. You're not trying to pull a fast one on me. We know you're sucking because I almost just fell asleep in my fries, but yet I see that you're humble enough to acknowledge that" and then you can have fun with it. It's a tension-breaker. But when you have seven minutes and you're trying to figure out material to do, you don't have time for that.
GM: Just in your personal life, if you're feeling crumby one day or a little sick, you're up there and seemingly having so much fun. So in that aspect you're faking it, right?
SM: I think the biggest challenge for me was in Calgary when I was doing the Yuk Yuk's there one June. My mom passed away May 17th but I had already booked this gig. This was in 2003. And I remember being there and being in my room and trying to really figure out what kind of head space can I get myself in before I go on stage. Because I can't fake that I'm not affected by this loss. And yet life goes on; I can't stop living. That was the biggest challenge. That was a very big challenge for me because I had to bring it. These people paid like thirty bucks to come see me. A) I can't cancel. B) I gotta bring it. That's when the professionalism kicks in. That's when the job part, the corporate aspect, the business part... You're selling a product. People pay. You have to deliver regardless of your personal life; regardless of how you're feeling that day. That totally is true no matter what. If you're getting paid money to do something, there's a deal you've made. But if you're not getting paid, that's different. If you're doing spots or just banging around town trying out new material, then you have a license to do whatever you want. I think. The audience can hate you or not; it doesn't matter. It's up to you. What do you want to get out of it? But yeah, I definitely have had some bad sets on stage where I don't feel good. You have to somehow rise above it.
GM: There's you, Russell Peters, Sugar Sammy. Are Indo-Canadians funnier than Indo-Americans?
SM: I don't know. I haven't seen a lot of the Americans.
GM: I know. Where are they?
SM: They're out there, though. There was a dude on Last Comic Standing the other night. And he was kinda funny. He was good.
GM: Not high profile, though, like you guys are.
SM: Yeah. But it's interesting. I wonder what people here know me more for. Like if they know me from the world of Cedric, if they know me more from the world of sketch world, or now with UnHitched they know that I do standup? Whereas Russell sells out giant theatres, giant stadiums for his standup. I'm nowhere near where Russell is in terms of standup, in terms of his profile. I'm a different kind of comic. I'm not as tapped into my Indian culture on stage. I talk about it a little bit. I think people have always associated me with Russell, which is very interesting. I remember when we first started, he was five years ahead of me. People would come up to me and go, "Man, you were so funny. I just love everything you do. Especially that Toronto Maple Sikh joke." I go, "That's Russell." But then he'd have girls come up to him going, "Why didn't you call me back?" And it was me. (laughs)
GM: How long have you known Irwin? Was it just from 22 Minutes?
SM: I knew him before that. I knew Irwin when I first started doing standup. One of my first feature weeks that I did was in Sudbury, Ontario, and Irwin was there. This was like in '97, I think. I'm just guessing. It was back in that time. And Irwin and I went into a Reitman's in the mall in Sudbury. Him being so dry, this is how I really got to know how funny he was: We were in Reitman's in this fancy mall on a Saturday afternoon, and he just pulls this sweet little, swanky little dress off the rack and he holds it up to himself and with that dry sensibility, he was like, "Shaun, what do you think of this? You think it'll be good?" And I jumped on board. I was like, "I don't know about the colour." And the girl in the corner looks up and she has no idea what to make of it because obviously we're not looking for a laugh. She jumps on board and we run with it. And we tried on dresses and we went full tilt with it. It was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen or been a part of. So that was my introduction to Irwin, in terms of sensibility. And every time we get together our brains just kind of mesh and we have a good laugh.
GM: In this insecure and cutthroat profession of standup comedy, it seems like everybody loves the guy.
SM: Yeah. Well, there's no reason to dislike him. "He banged my wife." You don't hear that about Irwin Barker very much. "He tried to sell me a shitty DVD player and then he went to Thailand." You don't hear that about Irwin Barker.
GM: And I've always been amazed at his ability to appeal to everyone, whether it's college kids or an older crowd. I've never seen him really bomb.
SM: I've seen some crowds not get him a couple times, but he still garners laughs. But oh my God, it's very rare. Because he does. He's universally funny. He's a universal truth. That's a testament to, you know, he's just funny. There's no other way to look at it. He's just funny and when he brings the funny, it just vibrates in everybody's molecules no matter how old you are. It's really cool to see.