GIGGLE CITY: It’s awesome being Howie Miller, says Howie Miller

Is it wrong for a white guy to laugh at a native stand-up comedian telling jokes that riff on native stereotypes?

That’s a difficult question … so we won’t get into it here.

Just say that Howie Miller’s career on stage, screen and film has come far beyond playing the race card, thanks to a knack for being accessible to many different kinds of audiences and for knowing when or when not to use the R-word, the F-word, or God forbid, the N-word. As the Edmonton comic says, “It’s easier to dirty up a clean joke than to clean up a dirty one.”

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

A: It’s pretty awesome being Howie Miller!

Q: Let’s say any other celebrity.

A: … Harrison Ford. He’s in the biz, he’s pretty gruff, he was in Star Wars. To instantly have those memories would be pretty cool.

Q: What’s your best heckler story?

A: I was in Grande Cache doing a big comedy show, three comics and me headlining. And just when I get to the stage, these two drunk couples come in and sit in the front row. The rule with hecklers is that you give them a couple of shots and if they’re not playing well, you let them know you’re not happy and the third time is when you have them removed. But with women drunk hecklers, there’s absolutely no winning. You’re always going to lose. You’re powerless. The first thing she said was, “MAKE FUN OF MY HARELIP!” in some weird, masochistic way. “MAKE FUN OF ME BECAUSE I’M A LOSER!” Yes, she had a harelip and she sounded retarded and she was obviously drunk and she just wanted me to lambaste her, but she was doing it herself. I couldn’t win. So I tried to do more of my routine and she’s like, “MAKE FUN OF ME!” There was nothing I could do. I said goodnight. I cut the show a little short and then they removed them. Then they ask me back on stage, which was nice of them.

Q: How would you have handled it differently?

A: If I knew what I know now? I would’ve punched her in the face and broke her nose. No, I wouldn’t do that. What would I do? I don’t know. Do the whole rest of my set with a harelip?

Q: Do you have a joke you don’t do anymore that you were sad to let go?

A: I had a couple I let go, for political correctness reasons. I’ll go with the safer one: I’d light a smoke on stage and blow smoke into the air real quick, and I’d ask the audience, what is that? And somebody would say, “smoke signals.” And I’d hold out the cigarette and say, no, that’s a native cell phone. I’d put it down on the ashtray and say: call waiting. Then I’d pull out my pack of cigarettes and say, oh, conference call. If my lighter didn’t work, that meant I was out of minutes. And if I had chewing tobacco, that’s texting. Of course you can’t smoke in a club anymore. I tried to mime it but it was really lame. It’s just not the same.

Q: What about the joke that’s not so safe?

A: It has the N-word in it.

Q: Is that the only word you won’t say on stage?

A: If I’m in some dive and they only want to hear profanity, I’ll let it fly. You really have to tailor your act to where you are. But the N-word is one of those words, well, let’s give it a rest for a while. You don’t want to give power to it. Let’s just put in on a shelf.

Q: Do you have a joke that’s close to being over the line that you pause before bringing out?

A: It always involves testing the crowd. I do a lot of big theatre casino gigs and corporate functions, so they don’t necessarily want you to swear anyways. I usually end one of those shows with this sappy routine … “we’ve had a lovely journey, it’s an honour to perform for you, this is why I love my job, I get to perform to new people every week, but there is an old show biz adage that you can only please half the people half the time,” then there’s a big pause, then I say, “If I’ve offended anybody here this evening, fuck off! Freedom of speech!” Usually there’s a standing ovation and a big cheer. It’s never not worked. But in my head it could not work sometimes.

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

A: They’re more spoiled. They have it easier. My dad had a stick in the closet. I’d get spanked with a stick. Now I even cringe when I hear somebody yelling at their kids in the shopping mall. I’ll be like, oh, don’t yell at them too hard, but wait a minute! I used to get my ass beat when I was a kid! Kids should not be screaming at the mall, and I hate planes.

Q: Wouldn’t your dad have said the same thing: kids today are spoiled?

A: Totally … My parents were quite a bit older because I was adopted, so there was a huge generation gap when I was growing up. They were all really old school and here’s this adopted native teenager who just wants to fight for his right to party.