"I'm the kid that when we were in class and went on a field trip, I was the guy giving my own tour at the back of the room."
– Ian Bagg
Ian Bagg: I don't have the best service here, sorry.
Guy MacPherson: Where's here? Where are you?
IB: I'm at home in Long Beach.
GM: How you doing, sir?
IB: Good, buddy. You?
GM: Not bad. I see you're coming home. That's what your Facebook post says: you're "coming home."
IB: I'm coming home! Get my bedroom ready!
GM: How long have you been in Long Beach?
IB: I've been in Long Beach for eight years.
GM: And before that?
IB: West Hollywood. And before that New York.
GM: And total time in the States?
IB: Since '96. So twenty years this year.
GM: So you've been all over the place. Does any place feel like home?
IB: I feel like I'm home here. I also feel like Canada's my home. Terrace is where I grew up. I feel like Vancouver is where I became a man. And then off to the States. Because my life has changed so much since I've been in Long Beach – you know, married and starting all that, and I've really become the most financial success and career-wise since I've been in Long Beach.
GM: That's like becoming a man, too.
IB: Yeah. Absolutely. When you become financially secure, your life changes so much.
GM: Was that all due to Last Comic Standing?
IB: No, I would say that was probably been about ten years I've been feeling that. Last Comic Standing just made it another level.
GM: That's always helpful.
IB: Yeah. The reason I did the show was to put my face in front of people that had never heard of me before. And it worked out. It wasn't to win the show; it was to meet those people that wouldn't see me on late night or on cable TV.
GM: I guess the further you moved along, you must have felt more like you might win this thing.
IB: Uh, you know what? I don't know, it's not a bad attitude but I just knew I wasn't going to win it. (laughs)
GM: So you could be a little looser?
IB: Yeah, the only time I was tight was the first round because all I could think was, 'What if I can't even get through one round of this stupid show?'
GM: (laughs) Would that be embarrassing to you?
IB: It absolutely would have been the most embarrassing thing. (laughs) All I could think was, 'What does my career become if I can't even get through the first round?' And afterwards I had friends that didn't get through the first round that have very good careers and I was like, 'Well, it's not really that big of a deal if you don't get through.' But I got through so I could think that.
GM: I watched the whole thing. I loved that season. Not only you on it, but I thought Norm [Macdonald] was a fantastic judge and I thought [Anthony] Jeselnik was a fun host.
IB: Yeah, both Norm and Jeselnik were interesting. I know Jeselnik hated it. They wouldn't do anything that he wanted to do. He'd come in with writing and apparently they just shut it all down and he just hated being there. And it's funny because I was kind of embarrassed to be there, too, so I would just touch his face. You know, when he tells people not to touch him, I'd just do the opposite of whatever he said just to let him know that I didn't want to be there, either. (laughs)
GM: Where exactly did you finish?
IB: Top five. They did a top five at the end and they only picked the winner.
GM: It was great having Norm, who knows of you, as a judge and being kind of in your corner.
IB: It was great to have Norm there. To be honest with you, I'd never met Norm before. And the fact that he said he knew me made the whole thing worth it because I didn't know that he knew me from Adam. So when he said he knew me and he knew what I did, I won right there, you know? He said we hung out and smoked cigars, I'm like, 'I've never met this man in my life!' And he was such an influence on me as a standup. I remember the first time I saw him on Letterman was the first time I'd ever heard of him. His imagination and just the way he talked was so different. I'd been influenced as a kid by Jonathan Winters, Sam Kinison, and I'll still say it to this day: Bill Cosby definitely influenced me because he could paint a picture that I could see, with his words. And that's how he influenced me. Not so much as I loved everything he did. There was just that one album where I could just see everything as a kid.
GM: So not stylistically but just getting you going to wherever you were going.
IB: Yeah. And then Kinison was just like nothing's safe, go ahead. And Jonathan Winters was like let your imagination just go wherever it goes.
GM: With Norm, I can't see any obvious influences that he had, because he's such a unique voice. And I kind of feel that with you.
IB: He was great. The funny part was people were like, 'He's out of his mind. That guy's crazy. He doesn't know what he's talking about.' They were wearing earpieces and he'd start off the day really hard on people and they would make him not say what he felt about their comedy by the end of the night because he couldn't find people he liked. He made a lot of people cry. There was a lot of discontent backstage with things that Norm had said to them.
GM: Did he say anything negative towards you?
IB: You know what? He didn't. He didn't. Not one thing. I was the most disappointed because he said something that probably could have changed my career forever and they didn't air it. He said, 'Canada hasn't had a comedy star in a long time and you're going to be the new one.' And those words would have definitely changed my career.
GM: So how has the show changed your career? You said it moved you up a level, but what does that mean?
IB: Ticket sales. It helps me with ticket sales. I don't really have to search for bookings as much. The bookings are there. And now the bonus system... it's more money. It's just more money. It does get me in the door. I've been in a lot of meetings. We've pitched a lot of shows. I would say my level of production company that I'm meeting with now is higher.
GM: Have any shows come out of it?
IB: Right now I'm in the midst of working on one with a company but it's not done yet and who knows how far it'll go, so will we get a show? Who knows? I also filmed a new special with Paul Miller. He's done all the big people. So we filmed a new hour special with him. I had done my first comedy special half-hour with him and then he saw me again on the show and contacted my agent.
GM: Will that be a Netflix thing?
IB: It won't be a Netflix thing. I know Netflix has kind of changed their direction. They're going with bigger stars and bigger venues rather than smaller stars and smaller venues. They would like to see stadiums. They gave Chris Rock $40 million a couple weeks ago. They want to go that way. I would like to go Hulu, to be honest with you. I would like to have a little bit of that internet presence more than TV so we'll see how that goes. Maybe Seeso. I think it might be Amazon or Apple TV. We'll see what happens. But at the same time, I don't have any say in the selling of it. I kinda gave that away. Even though I'll have a little bit of ownership, I do not have a say in selling, so where they decide to sell it... They may sell it to someplace weird because of the money. I don't know.
GM: You just do what's on stage.
IB: I just do what's on stage and my hope is to always find people that haven't found me.
GM: How long did you spend in Vancouver doing standup before you moved away?
IB: Vancouver I was from '92 to about '96. Yup. I started with Craig Campbell, Bonnie McFarlane, Pete Johansson, Peter Kelamis. We all started then. It was at Punchlines in Gastown and Yuk Yuk's at BC Place.
GM: So you were here about four years and then moved to New York? Or was it Toronto first?
IB: No, it was New York. It's funny, on my third amateur night, a man named Pat Bullard was in town and he pulled me aside and he said, 'I need you to promise me you'll move to America as soon as you can.' I didn't even think about moving to America. And I said to him, 'Why?' And he said, 'You can't stay here. There's nothing going on. You've got to get out of here.' And I was like, 'Toronto?' And he goes, 'Show business is in America.' And I was like, 'Okay.' So Craig Campbell and a couple other guys were in Montreal at Just For Laughs and I went along with them and was able to get on stage somehow. Just young enough and stupid enough and naive enough that I was able to get on stage without knowing that I should get on stage and shouldn't be able to get on stage. And Lucien Hold who was one of the owners of the Comic Strip in New York seen me and he said, 'If you're ever in New York, I'll put you on stage.' So I took that as I should go to New York. I took my $800 that January, did a gig in Montreal and turned that $800 into $1200 Canadian and changed it into American and turned it into $600, got on a train, went to New York, lived in a youth hostel for $17 a day, called up Lucien and he put me on stage and paid me $25 under the table every night. The funny part is I got my ass handed to me every night. I would just go on stage and just bomb for about two weeks, and then all of a sudden it just started to click in. I was there for six months. At the end of that six months, the reason I left was he happened to sneak me in front of people that were booking Conan O'Brien so they seen me and they said, 'We want to put you on the show' and I said, 'I'm not legal.' And they said, 'We'll help you get work papers.' And I was sent back to Canada because I had to be in Canada for them to get work papers.
GM: Pat's brother didn't take his advice, did he? Mike always stayed in Canada.
IB: I always remember that and I don't know what it was and why Michael fought it so hard. But he would never go to America. I remember he came down to New York a couple times when I lived in New York and we hung out but he was never planning on moving down.
GM: Well he worked at the phone company, didn't he, for years?
IB: I think that's what it was. I think. I think he had such a great gig at the phone company that he didn't want to lose that.
GM: I remember years ago seeing Mike's standup special and it was crowd work like you do.
IB: Yeah, me and Mike were good friends because of the crowd work. He was more influenced by Rickles, though. That was the difference. But he was a crowd work guy, too. And so was Pat. Pat was a really funny crowd work guy. And he was more like me than Mike.
GM: I remember Pat from his American talk show.
IB: Right. It was weird that two brothers were aiming at talk shows.
GM: And they both got one!
IB: I think Pat worked on Tim Allen's new show. I think he's a writer on that, to be honest with you.
GM: Did you always do crowd work, even early in your career?
IB: Yeah, from the first time I went on stage. I had written my jokes on my hand and I was so nervous they sweat off so I had to talk to the crowd.
GM: And then you realized, 'Hey, I got something here.'
IB: I don't know if I thought, 'Oh, I've got something here' or 'I guess this is the way you do it.' It felt natural, you know? The difference was I was very deadpan at the time. Steven Wright was huge and I thought, 'Oh, that's how you do it. You don't really give any emotion.' It took me a while to be myself as a crowd work guy. Now I would say for the last ten years I've been me. I'm just me in concentrate on stage.
GM: A little cocky, a little silly.
IB: Not so much cocky. Just stupid. Just silly and stupid. I'm the kid that when we were in class and went on a field trip, I was the guy giving my own tour at the back of the room.
GM: You say Mike was influenced by Rickles. Was there somebody you looked up to who did a lot of crowd work?
GM: But he was more just improv, wasn't he?
IB: He was improv but he'd also take things from the crowd and from the conversation. It was just a conversation.
GM: Where did you see him?
IB: My parents had some stuff on him. My parents had a couple albums and some TV stuff.
GM: I only remember seeing him on The Tonight Show.
IB: I think I seen him on The Tonight Show as well. And also I would see documentaries on him. Probably about eight years ago – I think he's been dead for about six – so probably two years before he died I got to go to a question and answer with him and sit in the crowd and just listen to him answer all these questions. I'd never known how sad he was. I was like, 'Whoa!' He talked about being checked into the mental hospital and things like that.
GM: Tears of a clown.
IB: It's funny because I don't feel that I'm that person. I feel like I'm a happy person.
GM: When did you get married?
IB: Five years ago.
IB: No kids. Two dogs.
GM: The $12,000 dog.
IB: Yeah! Roxie flew off our balcony and cost me a lot of money. Sadly, we lost her this year. She was seventeen. I remember at the end she was starting to get sick and everybody thought she was going to be dead and she wasn't dead. I whispered into her ear when she cost me so much money, I said, 'You can never die.' And then I had to whisper into her ear again and say, 'You know, it's okay if you die. I was just kidding.'
GM: You've met three presidents. On Facebook you post a lot about Trump. He was in show business. Did you ever come across him?
IB: Trump? I'm trying to think... No. No, I didn't. No. I'm pretty sure I didn't meet him. I remember one night being on Fifth Avenue and there was kind of a crossing with him but I don't think there was any sort of interaction. Some people would say that's a meeting but I would say no because I can remember somehow being in the situation but not having that conversation, whereas the presidents, there's been some sort of conversation.
GM: You said a couple years ago that you don't talk politics on stage but has that changed because Trump is so ridiculous?
IB: I don't really talk politics on stage but you do know how I feel. You can tell how I feel with how I talk on stage, where I'm coming from. But I can't lie. The one thing I say is that I'm an immigrant so I don't care which way you vote, I've got some place to go for four years. And then I say, 'And then I'll come back and buy your house for half the price.'
GM: Are you being kinda coy because you know you have Trump supporters as fans?
IB: No, because my show's not about you're not allowed to believe in things. And if they feel that I'm not allowed to believe in things, then they're not allowed to dictate what I believe in and I'm not allowed to dictate what they believe in. We're there for fun. And they can be a Trump supporter and still have fun at my show. If they have to storm out because they can't believe in it, that's cool, but I say a lot of other things that should offend them as a right wing Republican. And if the fact that I make fun of Trump is the one that pushes it over, I'm like, well, that's interesting because I talk about the church a little bit and that should have you fired up way earlier than me saying Trump's a dick. I have two Facebooks. I have my personal Facebook and I have my comedian page. On my comedian page, I don't say anything political. On my personal page, I do but it's more about trying to weed people off of my personal page that have no business being on my personal page. I'll just put it out there just to see... It's really like phishing.
GM: Bobby Slayton also puts stuff out there about Trump. And as you can imagine, a lot of his fans would think he's very conservative but he's not.
IB: Right. It's funny with Amy Schumer's thing the other day when 200 people apparently left her show, I'm like, you know if you really think about it, if you got ten thousand people at a show and 200 leave, that's not that big of a deal. Because if you wean it down, there's probably about five people leave everybody's show at a 200-person show. There's always somebody. It doesn't matter how clean you are, it doesn't matter how soft you are, there's somebody that's going to think you're too clean and too soft and be offended and leave. Or it's going to be somebody who thinks you're too dirty and too harsh and leave. There's always going to be somebody that doesn't believe in you.
GM: It's funny that she is so filthy that Republicans would come to her show anyway even if she didn't say anything about Trump.
IB: Absolutely! That's what doesn't make sense. He's supposed to be the law and order church candidate but they're there.
GM: You're here about once a year, right?
IB: Yeah but it's been two, two-and-a-half years since I've been there but I try to come up once a year, try to sneak up and see my family. The big thing is if you come to my show, it's all about fun. Nothing serious. It's like hanging at a family barbecue or a family dinner. If you wanna eat, you gotta have enough nuts to sit down, that's all there is to it but nobody's going to hurt you, nobody's going to think less of you for just having fun.
GM: I like how you're in charge up there, that people sit up and listen. You talk to everybody, so that might encourage some yahoos to yell out, but you're in charge; you can handle anything. I get that impression.
IB: Yeah, I think so. I enjoy a good conversation. I like talking with people; I don't like talking at people. That's the way it is. I know when I go to something I love being included and I hope people enjoy being included, too. And I can tell when people are nervous. I don't want to make people that are just insecure feel bad about themselves. That's not what I'm about. I'm about people having fun.
GM: You're a pro. You can sense if somebody is uncomfortable.
IB: Yeah, I'll pull out right away if somebody's uncomfortable. If they're a dick, I'll go harder. But I want them to have fun.
GM: You were in a cast. What happened?
IB: I was mountain biking and coming down a hill and wiped out. I broke a little bit of a tib and the fib. I was lucky enough it didn't displace so I didn't have to have surgery. It healed up nicely but I was in a cast for four weeks and a walking boot for three. So everything's just really stiff and I only just started walking last week so I have to go to PT every day to get the ligaments and everything going again.
GM: Were you still performing when you weren't walking?
IB: Didn't miss one show, my friend. Didn't miss one show.
GM: What would you do?
IB: I would go on with crutches at first. I did the whole show with my knee up on the stool, elevated on the stool the whole time. And then as I got to the walking cast I was able to just walk on. But I was on a plane one day in first class with Cal Ripken, Jr. and I just looked over, and I was wearing this cast, and I said to him, 'I wanna let you know I haven't missed a day of work.'
GM: He would appreciate that, of anyone.
IB: He was very nice. He goes, 'Yeah, you gotta do that. You gotta keep moving. You gotta keep going.'
GM: The Iron Man. Alright, Ian. Great talking with you.
IB: Always a pleasure talking to you. And I always love to see you post stuff. You'll make it out to a show, I hope.
GM: For sure.
IB: Make sure you say hi.
IB: Have a great day, bye. Thank you so much.