GIGGLE CITY: Brian Stollery has a short attention span
In the old days, Henny Youngman could fire off one-liners – “take my wife … please!” – and no one would wonder if the poor guy was having marriage troubles, or expect him to get into some deep comi-philosophical routine about the battle of the sexes. It was a joke and that was that. It didn’t have to be true.
Times have changed! Modern comedians are expected to be brutally honest about themselves, about the world around them, about everything. Why? Because, with the media, corporations and politicians lying to us on a daily basis, stand-up comics are the only people left who tell the truth. Just ask Calgary’s Brian Stollery. Actually, we did ask him.
Q: If you could be any celebrity, who would it be and why?
A: I’d like to be George Carlin, but he’s dead. Seriously, I’ve always admired him. I don’t watch a lot of comedians these days, but I studied Carlin.
Q: What’s your favourite Carlin bit?
A: I sound elitist here, but if you’re a true Carlin fan, it’s not the Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television. He had three parts to his career: The suit and tie, then the Seven Words and then he had the stuff he did on the DVD “Jammin’ In New York,” a beautifully-written one man show: Very political, very poignant to the situation and to the things we all do as human beings. Here’s one of my favourites: “Muhammad Ali, he’s back at work again; he’s being allowed to work once again. He wasn’t for a while, as you know. For about three and a half years, they didn’t let him work. ‘Course he had an unusual job, beating people up. It’s a strange calling, y’know? But it’s one you’re entitled to. Government didn’t see it that way. Government wanted him to change jobs. Government wanted him to kill people. He said, ‘No, that’s where I draw the line. I’ll beat ‘em up, but I don’t wanna kill ‘em.’ And the government said, ‘Well, if you won’t kill ‘em, we won’t let you beat ‘em up!’”
Q: What’s your worst heckler story?
A: I don’t get that many hecklers anymore. I’m pretty rapid-fire, so I don’t give anybody a chance. I can tell you about the worst show I ever did. I make my living as a comedian, so I do a lot of corporate shows. I did one at this restaurant in Calgary – a venue not set up for comedy. It was a last minute hire. I get there and there’s no stage, no light, bad sound and no one can see me. It was a long day, meetings all day and everyone is tired. My act doesn’t go very well. There were servers walking in front of me as I’m performing. After about 10 minutes of this, I said, maybe would could get the servers to not to walk in front of me while I’m performing? And one of the audience members yells NO! They were hungry. So I do my act, and there’s not many laughs. You start to think that you’re not funny, so it’s really hard at that point, but after about 25 minutes, they start to laugh. I thought, hey, I’m getting to them! Usually it takes about 10 minutes, but hey, this is great. So I look behind me and this fucking manager had a metal ladder set up behind me and he had a bucket and he was trying to catch this drip in the ceiling – during my show. This was the only show I can think of that I cut short … I almost did another gig where they wanted to me do my act through the French fry mic. I turned it down.
Q: Do you have a favourite joke you don’t do anymore because you think it’s stale?
A: To me the personal hell is having to blow through stuff I’ve done a thousand times, to sell it again. I don’t know if I’ve ever been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, but I get so bored doing the same stuff. I write all the time, every day, and I’m always trying to push old material out the back so I get to the new stuff. The new stuff reflects who I am TODAY.
Q: Do you have a new bit that’s going over particularly well?
A: I just wrote something today and I’ve never done it before. It’s club joke: They always say you can’t make a joke about rape, but I beg to differ. I bought a bottle of water, a bag of popcorn and a hotdog at the Saddledome – and they charged me $13.75! I felt violated. I felt like spraying the cashier in the face with mace. Are you serious? You can’t be serious. A bottle of water and popcorn and a hot dog for $13.75?! Maybe I’m living in a dream world, but that’s ridiculous.
Q: The same thing would probably cost more at Rexall Place.
A: They’re all the same. The cashier should’ve had a gun. It’s rape! And you can’t take it out on the minimum wage cashier. It’s the guys who are running the place.
Q: Do you have to be a pessimist to be a good comedian?
A: You have to have an inquiring mind. I equate myself to being a lifelong learner. It’s like any artist. You have to fill yourself up. You have to read, read, read, read and experience life, and then as a comedian you filter it all into comedic bits, observations.
Q: Does it torture you that you always have to analyse every experience you have?
A: I like it. I like being a comedian. It’s very reflective of my personality. I’m like Curious George. Why do we do this? Why don’t we do that?
Q: What’s the difference between kids today and when you were a kid?
A: Everything is recalled for kids now, Fisher Price recalling a toy, some piece of clothing for being unsafe. When I was a kid, they never recalled anything. We had a swing set, we got it from Zeller’s and the whole fucking thing would lift up off the ground. I was THIS close to going to school in a short bus. We played with lawn darts. It’s amazing we lived.
Q: Do you have a joke that’s close to being over the line?
A: I talk about kids in my act, and then end with: “You may get the impression that I don’t like kids. But I do. I love kids. In fact, my shirt was made by a kid. So let’s have a round of applause for No. 23 for making me look so fantastic!” I don’t do that at the corporate gigs. They don’t find that funny. But it’s true, isn’t it?
Q: Do you always have to tell the truth when you’re on stage?
A: Audiences know when you’re not telling the truth. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. If you made up the joke, the response is less, and if it’s true, the response is always better. They always know if you’re lying.