GIGGLE CITY: Marty Hanenberg knows when to duck

Nightclubs are ruthless, cut-throat, live-or-die comedian training grounds, but sometimes a worthy comic can come from a more gentle, nurturing place – live theatre.

So let’s say “break a leg” to Marty Hanenberg, an Ottawa-born actor who came to Calgary 20 years ago to learn the fine art of improvisational comedy at the legendary Loose Moose Theatre Company. He soon founded his own improv troupe, Comic Relief, and has since gone to be an accomplished actor on top of his stand-up career. As such, he can “roll with the punches,” as they say in comedy circles. Or maybe that don’t say that specifically, but you get the gist. Star of film, stage, comedy club and TV screen, Hanenberg performs this weekend – Thursday through Saturday – at the Comedy Factory in the Gateway Entertainment Centre.

Q: If you could be any Canadian celebrity, who would it be and why?

A: Bill Cosby, just because of his longevity and honesty as a person, and I just think he’s very funny. Did you say Canadian? I could change that.

Q: What’s your best heckler story?

A: I have very many. I was up in Slave Lake one time, and I had an ashtray thrown at me by a lady. Obviously I’d offended her, but it had gone beyond jokes by then. She was quite persistent. It was a real back and forth, me against the drunken lady, trying to find a button to push. Apparently I pushed one. I don’t remember what I said exactly. A friend of her’s came up to me later said it had something to do with what I said about her reproductive organs. Well, she can’t have babies. I didn’t know that. All I thought was, great, I got a reaction here, I’m going in for the kill. Then she picks up one of these heavy glass ashtrays. I said, no, no, don’t throw stuff. And she just wings it. I dodged the thing and she clocks the guy sitting in the front row, bounces it off his head. That abruptly ended the show.

Q: Do you have to be a pessimist about the future of humanity to be a good comedian?

A: I think pessimism may help sometimes, but I like the way we’re going. I don’t think it has anything to do with comedy working or not working. Comedy adapts to the environment it’s in.

Q: What’s your favourite joke you don’t use anymore because it’s dated?

A: I remember when the Berlin Wall came down, a fairly topical event. I just remember that the Italians, in a mistaken show of support, sent 20,000 drywallers and bricklayers to help put it back up.

Q: What’s the difference between kids today and when you were a kid?

A: Information, knowing what’s going on beyond your neighbourhood. They’re smarter. I think we had to work at it a little more when I was kid, read lots of books. Today there’s just so much information available instantly and the media is bombarding you constantly. My kids are way more aware of what’s going on than I was.

Q: What do you do when a fan wants to tell you a joke?

A: You can either give them the microphone or not. I have before, once. It’s nothing you would think of doing. It did work at the time, but it was a gamble. You don’t want to give up your one source of power.

Q: What if they say, “Here’s one you can use in your act.”

A: I always listen. Very rarely are there any good ones. Yes, a lot of times they preface it with, ‘here’s one you can use in your act,’ and immediately you know that, well, no I can’t. Once in a while you hear a good joke. I appreciate people coming up and trying to make me laugh.

Q: What’s the worst meal you ever had?

A: It was in Edmonton, actually. I’m pretty easy to get along with, but it was at this pancake place and it took forever to get my order. Finally I corralled somebody and, oh, they forgot my order so they put it in again. I finally get my order and there’s a hair, a giant hair, so visible, baked right into my egg.

Q: What kind of hair was it?

A: It was a curly hair. Maybe it was a curly cook. I don’t know. Very rarely have I asked for my money back. They said, ‘Oh, we’ll make you another plate.’ No, that’s fine. I’m good. The worst meal I ever had was the one I didn’t eat.