Luke

Jeff | Uncategorized | Sunday, June 12th, 2016

About a month ago, I decided it was high time I wrote another blog entry. I was stumped as to what to write about though. Finally, after mulling it over for some time, I just decided take another trip on down to the Luke and Trav well. It’s a well I’ve visited several times over the course of my comedy career and, fortunately for me, it has yet to run dry.

Therefore, this will be the first of two blog entries I hope to write this summer. This one will focus on my cousin Luke or “Dukey” as often call him, especially when I’m drunk, while the next one will be all about the incomparable Big T-Rav. This thing is a little long so I don’t expect you to read it. Since Luke’s about as avid of a reader as I am a welder, I don’t expect him to skim through it either. If you do decide to give it a shot though, I hope you enjoy reading about old Dukey as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about him.

Luke

Luke and I have been close for as long as I can remember. I think we always got along because we were both funny kids who were a tad mischievous. Actually, scratch that, I was a tad mischievous. Luke was a demon seed. He was always stirring up shit and picking fights with his little sister Shirley. He made me laugh though, so I liked him. At family gatherings, the two of us would crack our relatives up by impersonating the characters we saw on television. When Family Matters was on we’d disappear from the living room only to reappear with our pants hiked up to our chests. “Did I do that?” We’d ask, repeating Steve Urkel’s annoying catch phrase at the time. Our favourite characters to mimic on television weren’t stars of any sitcom however. They were the stars of that “I smell burnt toast!” Canadian Heritage Minute about famed neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield. The ad features an epileptic woman having a seizure in an overly dramatic fashion and…well here, just watch…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSN…

Whenever that thing popped up on television, I would start flopping around on the floor as Luke hollered at me in his best French Canadian accent “I said d’ere’s no burnt toast!” Then we’d laugh like hell. I mean, we really thought we were hilarious. Our Nanny, who just happened to be epileptic, thought otherwise. “Stop it, you little assholes!” She’d yell. “You keep that up and you’ll regret it someday.” We paid no attention to her, obviously. I kept flopping, Luke kept hollering and we both kept laughing like hell. Then 20 years later I was walking to the Eaton Centre when I suffered a seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy. So apparently karma really does exist. Either that, or my vengeful, old Nanny wished a neurological disorder upon me.

My Aunt Cheryl worked really hard (some would say she worked her ass off:) ) trying to provide for Luke and Shirley. They bounced around from place to place as she did her damnedest to keep the wolf from the door. As a result, sometimes I wouldn’t see Luke for months on end. You can imagine how excited I was then in 1996 when Luke, Shirley and Aunt Cheryl moved into a house trailer on my mom and dad’s property. The three of us kids had a bunch of fun playing together. We especially enjoyed playing a game Luke and I invented called “King of the Bales.” The rules of the game were pretty simple – we’d run back and forth across these rows of 6 foot high round bales while trying to bodycheck each other off of them. Shirley never won as she was a few years younger and a whole lot lighter than us. I always kept this in mind and would gently nudge her off the bales while Luke would send her flying through the air in a deliberate attempt to permanently injure his little sister. Shirley’s a tough chick though so she never got hurt despite Luke’s best efforts.

Oh, did I mention Luke and Shirley fought a lot? Holy Christ, those two fought about everything. They even fought over what to name some mangy, most likely diseased cat Shirley lured up from the barn one day. Luke wanted to name it Fang while Shirley insisted on calling it Sweetpea. This led to them punching each other until Aunt Cheryl finally declared “Enough! The fucking cat’s name is Fang Sweetpea and that’s final!” After all that arguing, Fang Sweetpea didn’t last very long in the trailer as it was a feral barn cat and not a house pet. It was a wild animal that would bite and scratch you if you got anywhere near it. I hated the goddamn thing and was thrilled when Aunt Cheryl let it run back down to the barn about six weeks later. Upon its return, a cow promptly sat on it so my cousin Bob gave it a respectful burial in the manure pile out behind the barn alongside the remains of my budgie Cheepers. Rest gently, Fang Sweetpea, and rest well.

In the fall of 1997, everybody went their separate ways again. Luke, Shirley and Aunt Cheryl ended up in Acton while my mom and I moved to Milton. When I was in Milton, I attended a one room Baptist schoolhouse called Graceway Christian Academy. I had some good times at Graceway thanks to my buddy Greg Isaak and his family but decided to move back in with my dad in the summer of 2000. Although I missed living on the farm, the main reason I moved back was so I could attend Acton High School with Luke and Trav. I’d never gone to school with either of them and knew it would be a blast. And it was, eventually.

Acton High didn’t get off to a great start for me as the school’s principal was skeptical of the education I had received at Graceway. He cut my credits in half by not recognizing the religious courses I’d completed at Graceway and placed me in a bunch of dummy classes. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how I ended up in Lucas Payne’s English class. Oh it was truly awful as every weekday I had to report to a classroom full of mouth-breathers and Mr. Men books. Then Luke stormed down to the principal’s office on my behalf. The principal was out for the afternoon but the guidance counsellor Mrs. Tamblyn was in.

“Why the hell do you have my cousin in all these retard classes?” Luke asked, in his typical understated manner.

“First off, don’t use that language, Lucas, and secondly, isn’t he in your English class?” Tambyn countered.

“Ya, he is! And I’m a retard when it comes to English!” Luke said.

Luke had that conversation with Tamblyn on a Friday afternoon. The following Monday I was taken out of all my classes and put in University courses. Thanks, bud. I owe you one.

While it was far from his best subject, Luke wasn’t a “retard” when it came to English. He failed most of his classes in high school because he simply didn’t care to pass them. He’s also always had a bit of an issue with authority. In fact, the reason he was banished to the dummy English class in the first place is because he’d gone to war with his previous English teacher. Her name was Ms. Coulas and, unbeknownst to her, she remains Luke’s arch-nemesis. I always got along with Ms. Coulas but she talked to Luke like he was stupid, which pissed him off something fierce. So much so that instead of paying attention in her class, Luke (who is a surprisingly good artist) passed the time by drawing large, intricately detailed vaginas right on his desk, which is such a dick move but also so funny.

He probably was the funniest kid in Acton High School at the time. He always thought I was funnier than him and I always thought he was funnier than me. When it came to physical comedy however, there was no comparison. Luke’s one of the best physical comedians I’ve ever seen and I lived with a mime for a year for some reason. Luke’s gift of mimicry only got better over the years and he used to be able to impersonate John Van Damme to a T. Yes, that’s John Van Damme, not to be confused with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Jean-Claude Van Damme is a world renowned martial artist and movie star. John Van Damme is an old drunk from Acton who’s walked with a pronounced limp ever since the night he got shitfaced and fell off the roof of the Erin Hotel. We’d often see John hobbling across Acton with a 2-4 in his hands so whenever we were near a case of beer Luke would pick it up and start hobbling like John just to make me laugh.

Luke was also a talented improviser. I’d joined our school’s improv team at the beginning of Grade 11 and spent the entire school year trying to convince him to come aboard. He finally did the following year and was instantly better than me and everyone else. All of his scenes were hilarious! Now, sure, critics will point out that all of his scenes curiously revolved around him humping one of the female improvisers, but they were hilarious nonetheless. He was the best improviser the Acton Improv All Stars had. He was also the reason we were quickly eliminated from the Canadian Improv Games.

Allow me to explain the Canadian Improv Games to those of you who were actually popular in high school. At the Canadian Improv Games, teams of anemic, socially awkward teenagers battle it out in a single elimination improv tournament to determine the biggest theatre nerds in the country. Okay, that’s not exactly the mission statement they have displayed on their website, but you get the idea. Our improv team was stacked with legitimately funny people so we really thought we had a chance to win it all. Instead, we found ourselves locked in a fierce first round match up with a more experienced team that featured Alex Tindal, a really funny cat who I wound up going to Humber with.

Dukey was on fire that night, humping every poor female improviser in sight as he tried to secure us a spot in the second round. The scores were so close between the two teams though, everything hinged on our final scene. For our final scene we were told to improvise a talk show segment. Luckily for us, we had improvised talk shows in our improv club in the past. Our team leader Tom Wilson always played the role of the talk show host while the hilarious Geoff Webster, Luke and myself were always the guests. The four of us quickly stepped forward to take part in the scene. The referee for the game (a.k.a. weird old man who determined the scores) then asked the crowd to shout out some adjectives. They did and he went about assigning them. “Alright, I want your character to act jubilant.” He told Geoff. Then he told Tom to act silly, me to act paranoid and Luke to act pompous. We all nodded our heads and quickly huddled up as we had thirty seconds to strategize before the start of the scene. The rest of our team then joined us and offered suggestions. During the huddle, I could hear Luke muttering something but I chose to ignore him as did everyone else. Turns out we should have listened to him as Luke was muttering stuff like

“Guys, what the hell does pompous mean?”

“Ya, none of you answered me so I’m going to try this again. Guys, what the hell does pompous mean?”

“You fucking assholes! We have three seconds left! What the hell does pompous mean?!!!”

Having no idea how to act pompous, Luke stumbled his way through the scene as a simple straight man. He cost us valuable points in that final scene which cost us the game. To this day, Luke still blames me for the loss, saying that I shouldn’t have ignored him. I contend that if he would have paid attention in Coulas’ class instead of just doodling coochies the whole time he wouldn’t have needed my damn help to begin with. Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, the “pompous incident” was an incredibly embarrassing moment in Luke’s life that he’s never really gotten over, which is why I make sure to bring it up as often as possible.

Dukey never finished high school and now makes more money than most people with a degree. He jokes that he shovels rocks for a living and that’s pretty much all I know about his job. We’ve never discussed his work in detail as he knows I wouldn’t understand what the hell he was talking about. We text each other often and trade barbs on Facebook daily. We don’t meet up much but always have fun when we do. We still laugh about the night we went walking around Acton with our buddy Chris Norman a few years ago. During our stroll we stumbled upon a billboard for “Glen Sheepwash – Acton’s #1 Real Estate Agent!” We literally laughed until we cried. Only in Acton would the number one real estate agent in town have such a stupid last name. Then we started imagining Glen disciplining his unruly, teenage son.
“Goddamn it, Justin, you’re a Sheepwash! Start acting like one!”

We should see each other more often but it’s hard to socialize when I’m scared of strangers and Luke hates the human race. He loves his girlfriend though, as well as his house in the bustling metropolis that is Woodstock, Ontario. And that’s pretty much all you need to know about my cousin Luke. He’s an employee, he’s a taxpayer, he’s a home owner and he’s a good boyfriend. Now that might not seem like much to you folks but in our damn family it makes him Saint Paul. Lucas Payne is a man you can be proud of, and I most certainly am.

Jeff

My Boy Franco

Jeff | Uncategorized | Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

My boy Franco was in Guelph last week. James Franco that is, or Jimmy Franks, as I and the rest of his inner circle like to call him. Okay, so maybe I’m not actually in his inner circle and chances are they probably don’t call him that, but James Franco really is my boy. He has been ever since 2006, when I had the pleasure of meeting him.

2006, as many of you will recall, was the year I landed the role of a lifetime. That was the year I was cast as “Ricky’s Buddy” in the direct-to-DVD feature film Camille starring James Franco and Sienna Miller. James and Sienna were two of the hottest stars in Hollywood at the time, with James just coming off of Spiderman 2 and Sienna Layer Cake. When I read the script for Camille, I was surprised to see that even though I had a pretty small part, (Two stoners, “Ricky” and “Ricky’s Buddy” meet a couple in a diner who are on their way to Niagara Falls. Later, when the couple’s motorcycle breaks down, the stoners give them a lift into town.) all of my scenes were with James and Sienna. I really didn’t want to look foolish in front of them so I ran my two lines over and over again in the days leading up to the shoot. You’ll realize how funny this is later.

On my first day of shooting, I sat down in a chair in the hair and make up trailer only to find James Franco seated right next to me. Being in Canadian show business, I had never been starstruck before, “Oh my God, is that The Garden Claw pitchman Art Drysdale?! And me without my autograph book.” but when I realized it was James I lost the ability to speak. I’m not sure if he could tell I was nervous but he soon put me at ease by small talking with me. James talked about the classes he was taking (He really is in like 4 different university programs at once) and I managed to tell him that I was a stand up comedian. James asked if I had any shows coming up around Toronto and I told him that I did not.

“Well, let me know if you get something.” He said.

When the make up gals were done with me, (Believe it or not, I needed to spend more time in the make up chair than James Franco) I walked over to set where I was introduced to Tyler Hynes, who was playing the role of Ricky. Now most of you know I’m not the biggest fan of new people but if you can’t get along with Tyler Hynes then there’s something wrong with you. Tyler’s a great guy and we hit it off right away. Then Sienna Miller introduced herself. “It’s nice to meet you,” she said, in her thick British accent. Sienna was very sweet and, for lack of a better word, hot. Also on set that day were Lauren Ash, an amazing improviser and actress who I would go on to work with on the sketch show Hotbox, and David Carradine. I never talked to David as he mostly kept to himself. Tyler had one conversation with him though where David just kept talking about his love of cowboy hats. I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school when I say that he was a bit of an odd duck that David Carradine. I really didn’t have to do too much in the diner scenes so the first two days on set flew by as I got paid an incredible amount of money to periodically laugh like a stoner and hang out with celebrities.

About a week later, I found myself in the front of a hearse with James, Sienna and Tyler. I think the reason Tyler and I drove around in a hearse is because our characters worked for a funeral parlour. I could be wrong though. I’m pretty sure if you asked Tyler he wouldn’t be able to give you a definitive answer either. Anyway, in the scene, James and Sienna argued with Tyler and I. They implored us to keep on driving but the two of us desperately wanted to stop for food because we were really stoned, you see. Tee-hee. Tee-hee. Throughout the day, one of the film’s producers, Albert Ruddy, kept suggesting to Tyler that he throw in the line “Ya, ya, let’s stop for popcorn, peanuts, all that good stuff.” Now, I’ve never smoked weed but I’ve been around a bunch of people who have (Brian Cook: The College Years) and I’ve never once heard a pothead cry out for “popcorn, peanuts, all that good stuff.” Tyler threw in the line though and even made it sound believable because he’s that good. Without question, the best part about filming the movie was getting to watch three awesome actors up close. Not to be outdone, I then delivered my two lines of dialogue – the two most powerful lines in the history of cinema, no less.

“Definitely.”

and

“Definitely.”

Alas, only a few folks ever heard me utter those captivating words (Sorry, word) as the scene was cut out of the movie. Near the end of the day, James once again asked me if I had any shows coming up in the area.

“Ya, I’m doing a set at the Toronto Yuk Yuk’s this Friday.” I said, which wasn’t true.

“Great, leave me a message with all the information and I’ll try to make it out.” James replied.

Then he gave me his cell phone number.

Let me repeat that. James Franco gave Ricky’s Buddy, the “Definitely” Boy, some glorified extra, his cell phone number. When I got home that night, I left James a message with all the information and then called Yuk Yuk’s owner Mark Breslin and pleaded with him to add me to the lineup.

“Come on, Mark,” I begged, “I know the show’s already booked but there’s a 4% chance that James Franco will show up.”

Mark gave me a spot on the show, just one of many favours he’s done for me over the years.

That Friday night, I arrived at Yuk Yuk’s early and grew more and more disappointed with each passing minute. James Franco was nowhere to be found. Tyler had shown up, which was sweet of him to do so, but, I mean, whoop-dee-fucking-doo. [Author's note: Sorry, Tyler. I love you, brother, but I made myself laugh out loud when I wrote that.] Finally, right before showtime, James walked in with Sienna, the director, the director of photography and another one of the film’s producers. It was at that moment I realized that if I bombed I was going to have a hell of an awkward last day on set. Thankfully, I had a great set that night with my closer doing particularly well, which went as follows:

I have a conspiracy theory about women which concerns the vagina. My conspiracy theory is this – Vaginas don’t really exist. I’m over 20 years old and I’ve never seen one and until I do I’m just grouping them in with unicorns. I’m serious, how do I know the first time I take off a girl’s panties there’s not going to be a little leprechaun dancing around there saying “Oh-dee-dee-dee-dee thought you were going to see a vagina, didn’t you, asshole?” Now that might seem a little far fetched to you folks, but not to me, I’ve seen as many leprechauns as I have vaginas.

For some reason, this weird bit always killed. It was my best joke at the time and, for obvious reasons, I could not wait to never tell it again. More on this joke later.

My last day on set was a real scorcher. It was boiling that day and we once again had to film outside. We filmed the scene where Tyler and I pick up a stranded James and Sienna on the side of the road. Most of the shots that afternoon were of Tyler and I pulling up in the hearse. Again, just to show you how cool James and Sienna were, they stood out in the heat so Tyler could deliver his lines to them even though they were not on camera. They didn’t have to do that. They easily could have made two other people stand there, but they didn’t because they’re wonderful people – wonderful people who were filming one of the worst movies of all time.

I’m serious about that. I’ve only ever watched my scenes but my cousin Luke sat through the whole thing and apparently Sienna’s character dies halfway through and becomes a zombie. There’s also a blue horse in the movie for some reason and the last line of dialogue is “It’s rice!” Despite this, I still contend that if people would have heard me say the word definitely twice it would have been a critics’ darling.

Later in the day, I was talking to one of the women in the wardrobe department. I made some joke and she playfully smacked my arm and walked off laughing. James, convinced I was flirting with her, came up to me. “Out fishing for leprechauns, are you?” He asked. The dude burned me with one of my own jokes. It was awesome. Later, he pointed to me and told Sienna, “Tell him how great he was.” “You were fantastic, darling.” She said. I’m not ashamed to say that after four days on set with her I totally had a crush on Sienna Miller.

The wrap party for the movie was held at the Dominion on Queen in downtown Toronto. I guess I showed up a little late that night as I arrived to find everyone completely shitfaced. A karaoke machine had been set up and one by one the cast and crew stumbled up to the mic. Tyler suggested I do some stand up, which sounded like a goddamn awful idea to me so I politely declined. Besides, I couldn’t have followed James as he stole the show that night. Jude Law had famously cheated on Sienna with his nanny the year before so when James got up and started sarcastically singing “Hey, Jude” to Sienna she burst out laughing, as did everyone else. Several people went up to the famous pair throughout the night to get their picture taken with them. I wasn’t one of them. “I don’t want to ask people if I can take my picture with them. I want people to ask if they can take their picture with me,” I thought.

It’s been 9 years since that wrap party. Since then, Tyler Hynes has appeared on virtually every Canadian TV series, most recently as Vince Lagare on 19-2 while Lauren Ash now lives in Los Angeles and starred on the ABC sitcom Super Fun Night. Sienna Miller has performed in critically-acclaimed movies such as Foxcatcher and American Sniper and James Franco is now one of the biggest stars in the world. He has been nominated for an Oscar and even half-assed his way through hosting the Awards one year because he’s James Franco and he’s cool as shit and he’s allowed to do things like that.

And as for me, well, Clint Malarchuk has more followers than me on Twitter and two weeks ago I had to buy a coke at Pizza, Pizza just to shit in their bathroom. The guy working behind the counter didn’t ask if he could take his picture with me when I returned the key either. No, I’m not famous yet – far from it, I’m afraid. I’ll get there someday though and when I do I know exactly how I’m going to treat the Ricky’s Buddys of the world. I’m not going to instruct someone else to instruct them to not make eye contact with me. No, I’m not going to treat them rudely at all. Instead, I’m going to treat them with kindness, courtesy and respect. I’m going to treat them the same way Sienna Miller and my boy Franco treated me.

Jeff

Sis

Jeff | Uncategorized | Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Well, I guess we should start at the beginning. I grew up on a hundred acre dairy farm in Limehouse, Ontario. Despite growing up on a farm though, I never really spent a lot of time down in the barn. While my dad was milking cows, I was up in the house making birthday cards with unicorns on them with my mom. That’s a true story, I actually made my dad a birthday card with a damn unicorn on it. I suspect he told my cousins about the card, because they’ve been calling me gay ever since.

I joke about my cousins but the fact is we’re more like brothers than cousins. Luke, Trav and I have always been close and some of my fondest memories are of us playing with our wrestling buddies on a giant, old waterbed my dad converted in a wrestling ring. [Side note: I got my Hulk Hogan wrestling buddy the same Christmas I got a jackknife as a present from my dad. “Cool!” I shouted as I examined the knife. “I never said you could get him a fucking knife!” My mom shouted six seconds later after dragging my dad into the kitchen. “Oh he’ll be fine, Jule.” My dad replied. About thirty minutes later, my mom found me upstairs in my bedroom repeatedly stabbing Hulk Hogan in the chest. So long, jackknife.]

Despite being best friends with Luke and Trav, I didn’t get to see them a ton when I was growing up because there was always some sort of family drama going on. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters either, so I spent most of my time by myself, either throwing a tennis ball off the driving shed and trying to catch it or chopping down thistles or searching for four-leaf clovers and as I’m writing this I’m just now coming to the realization that I had an incredibly boring childhood. I really enjoyed being alone though, still do, (anyone who knows me will surely be shocked at that revelation) but I’d being lying if I said I didn’t often wish that I had a little brother or sister to play with and talk to. It also really upset me that I’d never get to be somebody’s uncle, even though I was always pretty sure that Luke’s kids would call me Uncle Jeff and that Trav’s kids would call me to act as a character witness.

Thankfully, that’s not an issue anymore. Now I’m going to be an actual uncle someday. Our next stop along memory lane revolves around the day I first got the news.

By 2001, thistle-chopping Jeff had morphed into High School Jeff, and let me tell you, this guy was a real piece of shit.

Okay, maybe I’m being too hard on myself, because in high school, I hadn’t yet discovered Accutane or comedy. I also had the fastest metabolism known to man and an afro that I was just sure would serve as my “Get Out of Virginity Free Card.” It didn’t. As a result, while most teenage boys were rounding second and heading for third, I was watching Wild On! on Star! because 40% of the episodes contained 3 seconds of nudity. [Side note: I eventually did get out of virginity - for free to you bastards. Sometimes you can see the smart-ass facebook comments before they even appear.] And boy was I ever pissed off about it. I’m serious, High School Jeff was nothing more than a 115 pound acne-riddled toilet brush of resentment. I honestly don’t know how I had any friends because all I ever did was burn the guys I hung out and give their girlfriends really cruel nicknames such as Chomper, The Dragon and Wilbur. Actually, once again as I’m writing this I’m coming to the realization that those nicknames were pretty funny. But absolutely uncalled for. But pretty funny.

As terrible as I was to my friends, I was twice as bad to my family. Luke and Trav got a reprieve but my mom, dad and stepdad Lenny did not. The worst instance coming when my mom told me that she was pregnant again after all these years and that I was finally going to have the brother or sister that I always wanted. “Great. Good for you.” I said, before sulking off into my room and most likely listening to Adam’s Song by Blink 182 for the six thousandth time.

High School Jeff – (to himself, pouty) “16 really did just hold such better days.”

A little bit later that night my stepdad decided to call his mom and let her know. I can vividly remember sitting at the kitchen table while my mom held my stepdad as he dialed. “Hi, Mom. I’ve got some news for you. Julie’s pregnant. We’re going to have a baby.” Lenny said. Apparently, his mom reacted differently than me, because pretty soon my mom and stepdad were laughing and hugging and crying their eyes out.

What happened then? Well in Whoville they say, High School Jeff’s small heart grew three sizes that day. As my mom and stepdad celebrated in the living room, I realized that my mom was going to get a chance to be the greatest mom in the world all over again and a big grin broke out on my face.

What I’m getting here is that Alison Marie Paige MacLeod has been making me smile since before she was even born. I was 18 years old when she came into this world, but let me tell you, she was well worth the wait. Here’s a note I gave her on her birthday this year.

Alison,

Hey kid, I hope you enjoy your presents, but I just wanted to say thank you for all the gifts you’ve given me over the years. The gifts I’m talking about are the memories you’ve provided me with. Of course there are too many to list but I thought I’d do my best to share with you some of my favourites.

I remember the day you were born. And I remember being scared to hold you out of fear that I might drop you. I didn’t, but while watching that awful Smurfs movie with you I kept wishing I would have.

I remember you kicking me in the back harder than any 7-year-old girl should’ve been able to. And I remember telling you that you wouldn’t be practicing your karate on me anymore.

I remember taking you to the park and watching you walk right up to another kid and start playing with them as I hid behind a tree in the hopes that their parent wouldn’t try to talk to me. And I remember thinking “Oh thank God, she’s not like me.”

I remember you giving me a certificate that said “Best Brother on Earth” in 2009. And I remember asking you “What the hell took you so long?”

I remember you schooling me by about 400,000 points on Dance Central 2 as I fumbled and stumbled and panted and prayed that the Xbox would malfunction. And, once again, I remember thinking “Oh thank God, she’s not like me.”

And despite all of these great memories that you’ve given me, Ali, I know that the greatest ones are yet to come.

I can’t wait to remember the day you came home with your learner’s permit. And how I immediately asked you to give me a ride into town so I could catch the bus.

I can’t wait to remember your wedding day. And how you had to pay me $10,000 to emcee the reception.

I can’t wait to remember watching you transform from the “Best Little Sister On Earth” into the “Best Actress on Earth” or “Best Stand-Up Comedian on Earth” or “Best Teacher on Earth” or “Best Great Canadian Bagel Cashier on Earth” or whatever your heart desires.

I’ve told you this a million times, Ali, but you really are a good kid. You’re kind and you’re funny, you’re smart and you’re generous and I truly regret not being able to see you as much as I should. No matter where I am though, kid, whether I’m across the country or standing right next to you getting my butt kicked at Dance Central 2, I want you to remember this – I love you.

Try not to hate me too much during your teenage years.

Jeff

The Tim Sims Encouragement Award

Jeff | Uncategorized | Friday, January 9th, 2009

After writing about my top ten bombs, I figured I should vindicate myself by writing about one of my achievements, just so you don’t get the impression that I shit the bed every night. The following is my story about winning the Tim Sims Encouragement Award in 2005. Included in this story are tales of strippers, thievery, accomplishment and even a Wayne Gretzky anecdote. I hope you enjoy it. First though, here’s a brief explanation of the origins of the Tim Sims Encouragement Award and how the winner is determined.

Tim Sims was a Toronto comedian who passed away in 1995. In 1997, The Tim Sims Encouragement Award was established in his honour. Every year, a young and upcoming comedian is awarded the Tim Sims Encouragement Award along with a cash prize which increases on a yearly basis (it was $3,500 in 2005) and their own short film produced by the Comedy Network. The whole process is headed up by Tim Sims widow, Lindsay Leese, who also presents the award to the winner.

Every September, 20 or so Toronto area comedians, who have been performing for roughly two years, are selected to perform a four minute set at the “Fresh Meat” showcase. A panel of judges then selects the five nominees for that year’s Tim Sims Encouragement Award. The five nominees then perform a 15 minute set at a second showcase, which is held about three weeks later. The nominees then hand in a submission package comprised of a letter of recommendation, a tape of some of their other comedic performances and any press that they may have received. The jury then meets about one week after the second showcase and determines a winner. The winner of that year’s Tim Sims Encouragement Award is then announced at the end of the Cream of Comedy, which is a Comedy Network special where all five nominees perform.

I started to perform comedy in 2003, and was a little disappointed when I was left off the Fresh Meat showcase in 2004. Being left off the showcase turned out to be a blessing in disguise though as improved greatly over the next year and was more than ready when the 2005 Fresh Meat Showcase rolled around. I had a dynamite set at the showcase and the following Sunday, Lindsay Leese phoned to inform me that I had been nominated for the 2005 Tim Sims Encouragement Award.

About a week after being nominated, I headed down to the CTV studios to film the intro video that would be played before my set at the Cream of Comedy television taping. The intro video was supposed be about how I generated my stand-up material. I had just written a bit about how awkward lap dances can be, so I suggested it for the intro video. (The inspiration for the joke came on my 21st birthday when an uninspired Russian stripper took a break from giving me a lap dance to change her ringtone. Swear to God.) When I showed up at the CTV studios I was shocked to see that they’d constructed a sleazy strip club VIP room complete with a smoke machine and an actual stripper. Teddy Wilson, the host of Fresh Meat, who had supposedly “cast” the stripper tried to convince me that this woman was a legitimate actress but the sizable bruise on her ass lead me to believe otherwise. I was incredibly nervous about the video as I had never acted on camera before. Luckily, the stripper and I had incredible chemistry together, in that we had no chemistry whatsoever. I was just as uncomfortable during the video shoot as I was the night of my 21st birthday, so I really didn’t have to stretch my acting muscles much. The video turned out great.

The Tim Sims also generated some press for me for the first time in my career. Now Magazine, The Toronto Star and The Toronto Sun all featured stories about the upcoming Cream of Comedy taping. Even my hometown newspaper, The Acton Tanner, ran a two paragraph article about me in which I credited all my comedic success to my high school “Improve” club teacher Mrs. Ross. Almost all of the press was favourable, with the exception of one sour journalist who warned “These comedians wont make you forget about Jim Carrey, or even Hockey Night In Canada’s Ron MacLean for that matter.” Now Jim Carrey I’m not, but I think I can come up with wittier barbs than “You can call him Cherry, you can call him Grapes, just don’t call him a fruit! Leafs-Sabres second period coming up.”

I even did my first television interview with some poptart from SUN TV who asked me,
“So what’s your best funny?”
“Ugh?” came my confused response.
“You know, a funny, like a joke.”
“Oh Um…Well a lot of my material’s personal you know.”
“Uh huh. So give us one of your best funnies!”
“Um Ugh…” I stumbled for a good ten seconds before a shitty self-deprecating joke popped into my head.
“Um, in high school I looked like an acne-riddled toilet brush.” I then faked laughed at my own terrible joke hoping that Poptart would do the same.
“Oh that’s sad. Well good luck in the contest.”

Truly, a television debut for the ages.

Also nominated for the Tim Sims Encouragement Award that year were Pat Thornton, Bob Kerr, Kathleen Phillips and Mack Lawrenz, all of whom are incredibly talented people. Yes, we were quite a powerhouse group despite the fact that none of us were as funny as Ron MacLean and that our Cream of Comedy special is currently rated a 3.1/10 on IMDB.com, a full .2 points lower than the Hulk Hogan movie “No Holds Barred.”

After another strong set at the second showcase I handed in my submission package, (which included a beautifully penned letter of recommendation from Linda Ellis) and stressed out for a month until the Cream of Comedy taping which took place on November 18th 2005.

On the day of the Cream of Comedy television taping, the nominees were put through a tedious rehearsal during which we had to perform our entire set word-for-word to an empty theatre, while the crew was setting up the stage. The five of us sped through our acts to an uncomfortable silence that was broken up only occasionally by sound of a lighting guy farting. Needless to say, I don’t think any of us were with filled with confidence following that rehearsal. Later, the nominees and crew went out for dinner at Gretzky’s. The food was good but I’ve had a tainted view about Gretzky’s ever since my buddy Matt Duncan revealed to me a tragic story from his childhood. Apparently, when Matt was a kid he was eating at Gretzky’s when he spotted the Great One himself chowing down on some grub at a nearby table. Matt’s mom then delicately approached #99 and asked him if he’d sign an autograph for her son.

“Not while I’m eating my fries.” Wayne Gretzky scolded.

The Great One then left about five minutes later, without signing anything.

After dinner, the five nominees snuck into the greenroom at The Second City and waited for the show to begin. Occasionally I would peak my head out to see a swarm of friends and family members showing up to the theatre. Everyone was there; my mom and stepdad were there. My roommate Dave was there. My cousin Luke was there. My cousin Trav was there, despite the fact that the meathead had almost gotten himself kicked out of the Fresh Meat showcase for constructing a beer-amid at the front of stage during the show. After host Jon Dore kicked off the Cream of Comedy and Pat Thornton had a great set, I was introduced as “a kid with a fake ID and real talent” (which made no sense as I was 21 at the time) and then hit the stage for my first-ever televised stand-up appearance. The set ended up going pretty well, it certainly wasn’t my best performance but it was far from my worst. (“Great job Jeremy!”) I then sat down backstage until all of the other acts had finished performing. Eventually, the five of us were signalled to come to the backstage area for the award announcement. I remember staring down at the floor and shaking with anticipation when Lindsay Leese announced “The Winner of the 2005 Tim Sims Encouragement Award is Jeff McEnery!” With that I ran onstage and went to shake Lindsay Leese’s hand as we’d been repeatedly told to do so during the afternoon rehearsal. Lindsay had other ideas however, and when she went in for an impromptu hug the two of us collided and I ended up head butting her and partially breaking the award in the process. My one moment to look cool and I blow it. Unfazed, I gave my acceptance speech and was then serenaded by Jon Dore to close out the 2005 Cream of Comedy special. (Which is, once again, rated a 3.1 on IMDB.com, alongside Police Academy 6: City Under Siege)

The fun didn’t stop there though as after the show I was congratulated by my friends, family and fellow nominees. I’ll always remember how complimentary Bob Kerr was to me, telling me that he thought I deserved the award, even though Bob arguably had a better set than me that night. (Thanks Bob that meant a lot.) Unbelievably, this sentimental moment was eclipsed only minutes later when my cousin Luke smacked me on the back and told me “Fuckin’ right bud. I went out to take a piss and when I came back you were on stage with that chick holding up the award and I was like, fuck he must’ve won the fuckin’ thing.” My cousin Elaine then asked me to sign her Cream of Comedy poster, so I placed my award on the side of the stage and scribbled down my autograph. When I turned back to retrieve my award however, it was nowhere to be found. I mean it just disappeared into thin air. So I spent the next half hour accepting kudos and pretending to know where my damn award was. Finally, after the crowd thinned out, I confessed to Lindsay Leese that I’d lost the award. “Oh Jeff” Lindsay sighed. Poor Lindsay Leese, it hadn’t even been an hour since she’d announced that I’d won, and in that time I’d already head butted her, broke the award and then lost it all together. Lindsay and I searched the entire Second City Theatre before finally giving up. “Well, let me know if you find it.” A somewhat perturbed Lindsay Leese stated. With that I hopped on the streetcar and headed home.

Once I was back at my apartment I phoned my Nanny and then listened to a message my cousin Trav had left me. In the message, Trav explained that he couldn’t stick around after the show because he had to give some girl he dated for about 8 minutes a ride home, but that he was happy for me and was very proud of me. I was so touched by this uncharacteristically “faggoty” message from my meathead cousin that I saved it on my phone for about two weeks and listened to it over and over again. As I sat down to watch SportsCentre, my slightly inebriated roommate barged through the door holding my award. “You found it!” I gullibly exclaimed. Dave burst out laughing of course, and then explained that when I’d placed my award on the stage he’d scooped it up and smuggled it out of the Second City under his coat. From there, Dave, along with my buddies Adam Kennedy and the Gretzky-snubbed Matt Duncan went out drinking with the award as if they were the ones who’d accomplished something. When I told Dave that I’d spent an hour looking for it and that I was pretty sure that Lindsay Leese was now pissed at me, the prick laughed even harder.

“I hate you, you son of a bitch.” I said, with a smile on my face.
“C’mon it’ll make for a good story. And I did the dishes today.” Dave reasoned.
“Fine. But you owe me a hot chocolate.”

The two of us then walked about 18 blocks along the chilly Lakeshore to the nearest Tim Hortons. That was my big after party. No bars, no drinking, not even an uninspired lap dance, I just walked to Tim Horton’s at 2 in the morning with my asshole prankster roommate.

It was the best day of my life.

Jeff

Top Ten Bombs (So Far)

Jeff | Uncategorized | Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Top Ten Bombs (So Far)

I love asking fellow comedians about their biggest bombs. To me there’s nothing more entertaining than a great bomb story, so with that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of my top ten bombs over my first four years as a stand-up comedian. With stops in B.C., Nova Scotia and all over southern Ontario, I’m proud to say I’ve shit the bed all across this great country. Without further ado, here’s my best of the worst.

#10 – The Yellow Griffin – Toronto, Ontario – Summer ‘04

After my first three jokes died, a bald guy with a goatee started to heckle me. I countered him with the line “Shut up Stone Cold Steve Autism” which earned me my only laugh of the night. Too bad I’d ripped the line off of my buddy Tyler Morrison. After another two of my jokes bombed I told Stone Cold “If you want me to get off the stage give me a hell ya.”
“Hell yah.” slurred baldie. With that I ended my 90 second set.

#9 – Fundraiser for the Rotary Club of Ajax – Yuk Yuk’s Ajax – April 2006

If I would have known the average age of an Ajax Rotary Club member was 87, I never would have agreed to this gig. The only laugh I got out of the sea of grey-hairs was when I told the crowd “The only reason you’re not laughing is because I remind everyone in this crowd of their unemployed grandson.” Things got so bad I even sang Stompin’ Tom Conner’s The Hockey Song in it’s entirety, which was by far the hackiest thing I’ve ever done on stage, until I did it again at another terrible stand-up show in Acton. The song has grown on me however and it’s now become one of my bombing staples. If you’re ever at one of my shows and I bust out “The Hockey Song” (a.k.a. pissing on Richard Pryor’s grave) realize that it’s too late for me and save yourself. This show was so bad I cancelled all of my Yuk Yuk’s gigs for the rest of the month and didn’t do another set for three weeks.

#8 – The Stelco Fishing Awards and Comedy Night – Hamilton, Ont. – April 2006

This was the most fun I’ve had at an absolute hell gig. I owe it all to the show’s emcee, whose atrociously hacky act had headliner Peter Anthony and I in stitches. I felt better and better about myself with every outdated impression this guy did. That night I discovered that the only cure for tanking in front of 400 drunken fishermen in a church basement is watching a middle-aged man put on a toilet paper turban and belt out a song parody of Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” entitled “He’s Buying a 7/11.”

#7 – Yuk Yuk’s Kitchener – June 2nd 2007

Don’t ask me why, but Yuk Yuk’s always sends me to this fuckin’ barn. I’ve played Yuk Yuk’s Kitchener far more than I have any other club (excluding the downtown Toronto club) and up until this night I had always done fairly well there. On this night though, my set went down the drain after getting into a verbal sparring match with a couple of trailer hitches in the front row. The feud reached its climax when one of the trailer hitches gave me a backhanded compliment.

Drunk Chick From Kitchener – “Hey! Hey! Your last joke was funny. I laughed at THAT one.”

Me – “Oh thank you dear that’s the validation I’ve been searching for. I’ve won award after award but I’ve never had some bitch in Kitchener drunk off of three Mike’s Hard Lemonades…

Drunk Chick From Kitchener – “I’m not drinking Mike’s Hard, I’m drinking white wine.”

Me – “You’re not classy enough to be drinking white wine. Hey Buddy (pointing to her husband) get’er a Laker (a popular Ontario beer) and go fuck her in your truck.”

#6 – The “Concert for Etobicoke” – Etobicoke, Ontario – Summer ‘04

Don’t ask me how but my uncle Todd convinced me to do some stand-up in between bands at a rock show he was billing as “The Concert for Etobicoke.” Seeing as how I only had about four jokes at the time, I recruited fellow Humber students Steph Tolev, Andrew Chapman, Bredan McKeigan and Tyler Morrison to perform at the show as well. When I arrived at the venue, I was surprised to see only about 25 elderly people in the audience. Eventually, I tracked down my uncle and inquired about the crowd. “Hey do you know anybody in the audience?” “Yah most of them go to my church.” It’s at that moment that I realized this wasn’t just a rock show, it was a Christian rock show. I decided to keep this knowledge to myself at the risk of pissing off the other performers. Steph didn’t want to be there anyways so she sped through her set and took off. Andrew Chapman and Brendan McKeigan fared pretty well, but my offensive jokes were greeted with stern silence. I angered the church elders so much when comedian Andrew Evans (who stopped by to do an ill-fated guest spot) did a fairly tame joke, a woman shouted “Clean it up!” They had know idea what was about to hit them.

The last comedian of the night was my buddy Tyler Morrison who was (and still is) one of the funniest / most offensive comics I’ve ever met. During a short intermission, I warned Morrison to take it easy on the conservative crowd. “I saw a chick in a wheelchair. I won’t do any of my wheelchair jokes.” Tyler assured me. I sat nervously in the crowd while Morrison took the stage and launched into his dynamite opening joke. “I got hit by a drunk driver last week, yah my dad drove home from the bar and punched me in the face.” Just then an old woman who was seated next to the girl in the wheelchair,  stormed up to the sound booth and tried to get Tyler’s mic cut off. Guess how the girl ended up in a wheelchair. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d disappoint my uncle.

#5 – The Office – Peterborough, Ontario – Summer 2005

About a year after pissing off the elders at his church, I coaxed my uncle into driving me and Dan Dunn (the emcee) to my first professional Yuk Yuk’s show. When we arrived at the venue, a run down bar in Peterborough, I saw at least five women wearing jean jackets and then watched as Dan Dunn tried unsuccessfully to use his comic status to get a free hotdog. Yes, after two years in the minors I’d finally made the big time. I only wish my debut in the bigs had gone better as I ate a shit sandwich for twelve minutes and then watched talented headliner Rob Ross destroy for over an hour.
On the drive back home, my uncle and Dan Dunn split a joint and talked about ZZ Top while I stared out the passenger’s side window and tried not to cry.

#4 – Opening for Wilmot – Yuk Yuk’s Toronto – December 2005

A week after winning the Tim Sims Encouragement Award, I got a chance to middle the Saturday shows at the Yuk Yuk’s Superclub in downtown Toronto, Headlining that weekend was Mike Wilmot, who many (including myself) consider to be the best in the business. I saw this as my chance to prove that I could hang with the best.

After dying the first show, I managed to convince myself that the crowd had simply been too old to relate to my material. As a much younger crowd filed in for the second show, my confidence grew back and I told Mike Wilmot “If I don’t kill this show, I’m quitting stand-up.”

“Time to apply to teacher’s college Jeffo.” I thought to myself after tanking for the second time that evening. Knowing Wilmot like I do now, I’m surprised he didn’t verbally tear my shit-talking rookie ass apart after the show. Instead Mike simply offered his condolences and I went home, drank a mickey of Alberta Premium and puked in my shower.*

*This bomb actually has a happy ending. The very next night I was up at Yuk Yuk’s again and killed. Afterwards, Wilmot and his friend the hilarious Lewis Black (who had also performed that night) both complimented me on my set. To this day it remains one of the highlights of my career and to this day fuckin’ Wilmot still rips on me for almost shitting my pants after meeting Lewis Black.

#3 – Big Leagues – Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia – August 5th 2007

As soon as I stepped inside the ironically named “Big Leagues” Sports Bar in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, I knew I was fucked. The interior of the bar hadn’t changed since the 1970’s (patrons included.) Twelve minutes and zero laughs later, (even The Hockey Song died) headliner Chuck Byrn came to my rescue and I spent the next hour wandering around, taking in the sights and smells of downtown Cole Harbour. When I returned to the bar, I was astonished to see Chuck still on stage. For the first time in a long time, I felt like a total amateur.

#2 – Can’t Remember The Name of the Bar So Let’s Go With “Satan’s Asshole” – Williams Lake, B.C. – November 21st 2007

The patrons of Big Leagues seemed cultured compared to the barflies in this hillbilly shithole. This was every comic’s worst nightmare, with tv’s blaring above me and a group of drunk loggers playing pool directly beside the stage, I lasted fifteen minutes and then closed my HBO special by saying “Thanks guys I’d like to stick around but if you’ll excuse me my belt has a date with my neck.”

#1 – Master of Ceremonies at my Cousin Bob’s Wedding – Caledon, Ontario – Fall 2005

Oh God was this a nightmare. I’d been dreading emceeing my cousin’s wedding since the day I’d foolishly agreed to do so. Thankfully the eccentric Japanese wedding photographers Bob and his wife Lindsay hired took forever setting up and I was told to cut my “little comedy skit” short due to time restraints. I only told one joke and even that proved to be too many as my zinger only elicited three slight chuckles out of a room of well over 200 people. All I had to do now was introduce the wedding party and conduct the speeches. Well I forgot the wife’s parent’s last name and the mic cut out on me 700 times during the speeches. I was so brutal not one family member complimented me afterwards. Instead one of the eccentric Japanese wedding photographers shook my hand and said “Great job Jeremy.”

The humiliation didn’t end there however. Immediately following the reception came the dance, where every member of the wedding party was forced to take part some complicated line dance. Having no coordination whatsoever, I angrily clusterfucked my way through four minutes of “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” At the end of the song, the smart-ass deejay pointed straight at me and announced “Looks like somebody needs to work on his dance steps eh!” which garnered a bigger laugh from my relatives than my one joke had just hours before. “Shut up and play ‘Butterfly Kisses’ asshole.” I mumbled as I stomped off to bed well before 10pm.

Jeff

Starting Out as a Stand-Up Comedian

Jeff | Uncategorized | Monday, April 16th, 2007

I always thought I’d make a pretty good stand-up comic. When I was a kid I loved watching the new episodes of Just for Laughs Festival that would air on the CBC every summer. The first stand-up special I can remember seeing was Mike McDonald’s on CBC. I couldn’t watch it the night it aired because it was on too late, but my parents taped it for me. Recently, I found that special amidst of pile of blank tapes at my mom’s house. My mom and dad neglected to label any of these damn tapes so I spent an afternoon watching them and in addition to the Mike McDonald special, I found Game 6 of the 1992 World Series and a dreadful Don Cherry roast from the early 90’s. The roast is painfully unfunny but I can remember my old man killing himself at some of Dennis Hull’s zingers. Anyway, I watched the Mike McDonald special again and it was still as funny as remember it being when I was a kid. I enjoy Mike McDonald’s personal style, it’s very similar to that of my comedic idol’s, Richard Pryor. Richard Pryor was another comic I’ve loved since I was a kid. While it might not have been the most popular Wilder-Pryor vehicle, both my mom and I love the movie Hear No Evil, See No Evil. In my last year of high school, I really started to study Pryor’s stand-up. I watched Live On the Sunset Strip and it made a huge impact on me and my comedy. If I were to ever teach stand-up my first act as teacher would be to make my student’s watch that movie. In the summer of 2003, just before I was to begin attending classes at Humber’s Comedy: Writing and Performance program, I began writing some stand-up. I mimicked both Pryor and McDonald in that I wrote about stuff that was close to my heart. I’m sure if I saw those writings now I’d think they were terrible but at least I already had a grasp of the style of comedy I wanted to perform.

My first set was on September 30th 2003 on Yuk Yuk’s Humber Night. I was nervous as hell and to make matters worse, my old drama teacher Mrs. Ross had organized a field trip, so over fifty students and teachers from my old high school showed up to watch me pop my stand-up cherry. I was introduced on to the stage by the legendary Stu Gallagher. Stu was a hilarious character. A Humber comedy student who was north of 40 and looked like the dude from Neon Rider, Stu’s honest-to-God closer was “What’s a ghost favourite drink?” “BOOOOOOZE!” I hopped on to the stage and nervously gripped the mic. My first act on stage was leaning forward with the mic and growling “HOW’S EVERYBODY DOING TONIGHTTTAAA???!!!” I sounded like the lead singer of shitty cover band trying to illicit a crowd response from the 7 bums that frequent Manny Road House in Acton. I then proceeded to perform two of the shittiest, hackiest minutes of stand-up comedy Humber Night has ever seen. (And anyone who has seen a Humber Night would realize that that’s no small feat.) I was bad, really bad. Due to the biased crowd I did get a good response though. As I was leaving the stage the guys from my old Improv team even threw some ladies underwear at me that they had purchased from the Acton Salvation Army earlier that day. After the show, I went to say goodbye to Mrs. Ross and when I boarded the bus all the field trippers gave me a standing ovation. That was a cool feeling. The standing ovation was undeserved, but it was still a cool feeling nonetheless.

It was obvious I wasn’t a natural when it came to stand-up. Luckily a 2nd year in the Humber Comedy Program took me under his wing. His name was Tyler Morrison and he was, and still is, my favourite stand-up to watch. Tyler’s a hick from Bracebridge, who is, without a doubt, the smartest guy to ever rock a Wendel Clark fu manchu and one of the best joke writers I’ve ever met. His material is as sharp as it is edgy and if one were ever to see Morrison perform in front of his crowd they’d be blown away. Tyler helped me out a lot with joke structure and word play and would throw me the occasional tag line as well. He truly is the best comic nobody’s ever heard of. I hope that will change soon.

Despite Tyler’s tutelage it wasn’t until December 5th 2003 that I finally had a “killer” set. Fast and Dirty are a musical/improvisational duo comprised of Gord Oxley and Rob Hawke. Gord was good friends with my drama teacher and invited me to do a set at their CD release party. Coincidentally enough, I had been in the audience the night their CD was recorded 8 months earlier as Mrs. Ross had arranged that field trip as well. My friends Creed, Mandy and my cousin Trav showed up to the Victory Café as I nervously studied the small crowd. I was really anxious about the thought of bombing in front of my friends. Much to my surprise however the diminutive audience was very receptive and my handful of
Acton jokes killed. It was a great feeling to realize that in less than a year I had gone from watching these guys perform to performing alongside them and doing quite well at that. Gord came up to me after the show and told me that I had done a great job and even paid be 20 bucks. That was the first time I had ever been paid to do comedy so it remains a special memory to this day.

After the Fast and Dirty show I milked that Acton set for all it was worth. Hell, I still am. I knew I was on to something when on my 10th set I killed at Spirits, which is arguably Toronto’s best open-mic. I decided to stay in Toronto for the summer of 2004, while most Humber students retreated back home. That turned out to be a very smart decision as I began hitting up more open-mics despite the fact that I had only 8 jokes at the time. One of my most memorable open-mic experiences happened at the Victory Pub. A British guy named Steve who referred to himself as “The Cheeky Chef” used to run this shithole. It was held every Thursday night in the basement a sports bar. The mic was situated right in front of this huge window that offered a view of the street and bypassing Torontonians. Since the audience consisted of the same twelve open-mic losers every week nobody ever got any laughs. One night a comic named Rob Balsden stuck his head out the window and struck up a conservation with one of the people on the street. By doing this, Rob actually cracked all of the open-micers up. Unfortunately, ever since that night, the open-micers got it in their heads that “If that Rob guy could do that and kill then I sure as hell can to.” So half way through their sets, after all of their shitty jokes had tanked, these guys would panic and start hollering out the window. Inevitably some curious person would look peak their head in the window to see what the hell was going on. At that point the open-micer would start riffing with them for about 40 seconds before the bystander would become disinterested and walk away. For reasons I can’t explain now, perhaps either dedication or stupidity, I went to do a set at the Victory Pub on my 20th birthday. Victory Pub was its usual horrible self but the night was made slightly more bearable because a few of my college buddies accompanied me that night. My friend Will even got up and did a set – and died – like everyone else. I had an okay set though, probably because my friends were nice enough to fake laugh for me on my birthday. As my set came to a close I decided that I should do a hilarious window bit as well. But instead of simply to talking to somebody, I should climb out the damn window and walk onto the street. That’d get a hell of a big laugh. Well I did and it didn’t. So now here I was on some street in Toronto having just crawled out of a window for a cheap laugh which never appeared. So I thought to myself “Fuck it.” “I’m not going back in there.” I couldn’t face those open-micers after making such an unfunny, grand exit. So instead I just walked around in circles outside the Victory Pub for the next half hour until the show ended, leaving my friends stuck at this terrible open-mic not knowing the whereabouts of the asshole that had dragged them there in the first place.

I got to be pretty good friends with Linda Ellis over my first year at Humber. Linda Ellis is a stand-up comic who works for Humber College. Linda is also in charge of booking the Humber nights at Yuk Yuk’s. Linda liked me and thought I showed some potential so she booked me for a lot of Humber nights that summer. I also started writing a lot more that summer, moving away from my Acton jokes and into more personal material such as my experiences in high school and poking fun at my family. My new material really clicked and I started tearing up Humber nights.

After one particularly good showing on a Humber night in late August of 2004, Linda informed me that Jack Norman wanted to meet me. Jack Norman ran the show “The Launching Pad”, which followed the Humber Night shows on Toonie Tuesday. All of the Yuk Yuk’s amateurs performed on “The Launching Pad” show. Yuk Yuk’s amateurs are comics that Yuk Yuk’s shows interest in but feel they need to develop more before adding them to their professional roster. A Yuk Yuk’s amateur was referred to as being on the “Fast Track.” Apparently Jack had shown up early that night (must have been an act of God) and liked what he saw.
“Great stuff kid. You’re a fuckin’ natural. Has Mark seen you yet?” (Referring to Yuk Yuk’s owner Mark Breslin)
“No.” I replied.
“Well he’s gonna fuckin’ see yah.”

So for the next two weeks Jack put me up on the Launching Pad and then got me a showcase for Mark the following week. I was pretty nervous the night of the showcase. I had heard stories of guys who had showcased 4 or 5 times for Breslin and still not been “Fast Tracked.” Fortunately, I pulled off a good set and the first words Mark said to me were “Loved it. How would you like to be put on our “Fast Track?” I went home feeling on top of the world that night. When I told all the boys back at the apartment (5 of us lived in a 2 bedroom apartment at the time) they were all happy for me as well, Alain Rochefort even poured me a congratulatory rye, the classy son of a bitch.

Had I known what I was in store for on the Launching Pad, I might not have been so ecstatic. As I mentioned before, The Launching Pad was supposed to be a show where the Yuk Yuk’s amateurs honed their craft before being brought up on to the professional roster. In actuality though, the Launching Pad shows were usually two steps below god-awful. Gong shows comprised of a lot of comedians, a few audience members and even fewer laughs. In my seven months on Launching Pad I can honestly say I had two good sets. To me the only thing that made the Launching Pad shows bearable was watching the nutcases. You see in addition to the “Fast Track” comics, the Launching Pad also offered spots to first-timers as well. Believe me when I tell you that I saw many an unfunny man led to the gallows. To make matters worse (or better, depending on your perspective) whenever somebody would be tanking the boys in the back would play a video on the two television monitors that hung from opposites sides of the stage. These videos featured everything from nuclear bomb test footage to a mobster getting riddled with bullets in one of those gangster movies from the 1930’s. So you’d have some open-micer excreting their terrible rape material while Jimmy Cagney was getting blown to bits behind them.

My favorite Launching Pad bomb was performed by this older man who had clearly never performed a stand-up set in his life, but had watched a lot of it on TV. Jack called this mid-life crisis to the stage, who was decked out in an all denim outfit and slicked-back silver hair and looked a lesbian Bill Maher. The man then grabbed the mic and began prowling the stage ala Chris Rock while delivering his hard-hitting material…about the weather. “Is anybody else pissed off about this motherfuckin’ rain?” he screamed. “Fuck snow up the ass eh?” and so on. Anyways, after four minutes of this guy’s edgy meteorology he stomped off the stage and right out the front door. Jack Norman then reclaimed the microphone and asked the question that was on everyone’s mind. “Okay guys what the fuck was that?”

Out of all the character’s that passed through during my time on the Launching Pad though, I have two favorites. “Machine Gun” Harry and the show’s host himself, Jack Norman. Machine Gunn Harry is an octogenarian stand-up comic who had made frequent appearances on City TV’s Speaker’s Corner alongside drunk dudes from Buffalo “Fuckin’ Toronto girls are sooooo hot!” and the homeless. Eighty-year old Harry would usually sit in the front row, fall asleep halfway through the show and awake just in time for his set. Jack would put Harry up for his own personal amusement and Harry would rock the house with timeless cut ups such as “My apartment is so small the mice are hunchbacked.” I’m pretty sure every time Harry told a joke he had to pay royalties to the estate of Henny Youngman. Also, I found it a little ironic that on a show designed for grooming young comics, the best act was an ¾ dead 80 year old man. Jack Norman was a shady looking character who was notorious for doing more or less the same act every week. For example Jack would start the show every week by saying “Thank you folks for that heartfelt smattering of applause, all right let’s kick this old lady in the ass and see how she walks across the street.” Bitter and sarcastic, Jack was always a straight-shooter with me. He’d give me hell when I had a bad set but would praise me when I did well, which as I mentioned before, didn’t happen too often. Sometimes Jack was brutally honest with me. One night I was bored watching the Launching Pad show so I went up to Jack and tried to make small-talk. “Hey Jack, how are ya, what’ve you been up to?” I asked. “Jesus kid you must be bored, what the hell do you care what I’ve been up to.” I went back to my seat. Jack was also infamous for either being or acting drunk at least 80% of the time he hosted. While some people didn’t care for Jack he always treated me well and I got a kick out of his antics.

Finally, one week after my 21st birthday I was bumped off the Launching Pad and added to the professional roster.

Jeff

Powered by WordPress