GIGGLE CITY: Hometown boy Toby Hargrave builds a ‘nice’ reputation

You have to wonder how stand-up comics feel about working a crowd on New Year’s Eve – getting more hammered than usual, going crazy at midnight, kissing complete strangers on the lips and ending the night by weeping and vomiting on the bathroom floor. The audience members are even worse.

Seriously, don’t worry how Toby Hargrave’s brand of “nice” comedy will go over on Saturday night at Yuk Yuk’s (he’s also hosting Friday). He’s a hometown boy, an alumnus of Rapid Fire Theatre who moved to Vancouver in 2005, en route to impending Hollywood fame (he’s got three movies and a TV show in 2012 so far). This guy can handle himself – with a lisp to boot.

Q: If you could be any celebrity, other than yourself, of course, who would it be and why?

A: Harrison Ford, because I think he might be crazy, but he always gives off a cool, calm demeanour. You never see him doing stupid things – other than marrying Calista Flockhart.

Q: Best heckler story?

A: I think it had to be Fairview, Alberta.

Q: This is the third time the town has come up in the heckler horror stories. What’s the deal with Fairview?

A: It’s just where comedy goes to die. I was about two minutes into the act when I had one guy start shouting out at me. He was drunk. I don’t think he even knew what he was saying. I just don’t think he liked me. But there were six of them, a bunch of rig pigs. Then they all started shouting at me. I remember thinking, I might be able to say something here, but I’m pretty sure they’d beat me the shit out of me in the parking lot. So I just did my act and tried to ignore them. It was comedy survival at that point. I just wanted to get out of there alive.

Q: Do you have an old joke you were sad to let go?

A: Weirdly enough I don’t. You just grow out of them. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. That being said, maybe there are jokes I should let go of. I’ve been doing jokes about my lisp for quite a while.

Q: That whole thing about comics wheeling on their own traits and quirks: is doing lisping jokes a crutch for easy material?

A: I think it’s important to recognize the elephant in the room. But I have a pretty minor lisp. I’m not Nikki Payne. The joke is: “Why do they spell lisp with an S? I can’t even say my own disability.” I wrote that in 1992 with Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie for Teenfest at the Citadel Theatre. I think the late Joe Bird suggested that I use the word disability instead of handicap – “because it has S’s in it and it’s funnier.”

Q: And you’re still doing the same joke 20 years later?

A: The essence of it is still there.

Q: Do you have some new material that’s killing?

A: Talking about trying to have kids. That’s an easy one. It’s realizing I’m going to be a shitty dad. I know it because I’m planning on it. It came up when my wife and I had a conversation. She was quite adamant that she would never spank her child, and asked me, “Could you spank your child? I could never do it! Would you spank our child?” And I said, well, apparently not in front of you. Holy smokes, that kid is learning how to keep a secret!

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

A: Kids today are retarded. The biggest example is that I’m 37 and I’ve already said: what’s up with kids these days? We used to play outside and hit our heads on the concrete and not wear helmets and we grew up OK. And now kids have great thumbs. They just stare at a video game all day. They have no dreams, they have no ambition, godammit it! This world is coming to a screeching halt, I tell ya … I read an article about how child safety is so much better these days, play parks are safer, everything is safer. But yet childhood injury accidents are up over 13 per cent over the last 25 years. Kids need to fall. I don’t remember the comic that said it: Concrete is a teacher.

Q: Do comics steal from each other all the time or is there a code?

A: If someone is doing it, no one is going to tell it to their face. There are lots of comics labelled thieves, in Edmonton, Vancouver, who don’t even know it. But you earn your reputation. I had a joke I was doing four or five years ago and then I saw the Daily Show do it. Which was flattering, but I had to drop the joke. It was: “The United States invaded Afghanistan because of terrorism. If that’s the case, why haven’t we invaded Ireland? Because cars don’t run on potatoes.” The Daily Show’s version was “cars don’t run on kimchi,” about North Korea. You’re going to have a joke that’s similar to someone else’s, but there’s a huge difference between parallel thought and consistently having the same jokes as someone else. You’d be like the Tribute Comic.

Q: The what?

A: You’ve heard of cover bands? This was a cover comic. He would do other comics’ material. No one knew who he was. We actually did this once before: We got a bunch of comics together and switched each other’s material. It was interesting watching someone else do your act in front of you, and then you do someone else’s act. It’s hard. How many times have you heard someone try to tell you a Louis C.K. joke and they just butcher it? Your material is a reflection of who you are, and harder to copy.

Q: Do you have to be a pessimist to be a good comic?

A: You have to hope. I think a comic is someone who’s perpetually depressed but hopes it will get better. He’s just trying to find salvation in the funny so he doesn’t end up slitting his own throat after coming back from doing a Christmas show in Grande Prairie.

Q: That’s where you just were?

A: I was doing some corporate shows around Alberta …

Q: Do you think the corporate shows are a brain drain on the comedy industry?

A: It depends on the comic. Corporates drive me crazy. You dumb it down and sanitize it a little, and it can become pointless, but it pays so much money. It’s like you’re mortgaging just enough of your soul to make the payments, and then you have the freedom to do other things. And at least it’s exposing some people to a new art form. Maybe they’ll come out to the club, buy your CDs.

Q: What’s the joke you’ll never do at a corporate gig?

A: Half my act. I think I’ve certainly offended people and I hope I’ve offended people. It just means they’re engaged. But there’s a big difference between saying something that offends someone and going out of your way to offend and humiliate that person specifically. If you’re saying something just to elicit a reaction, that’s just disappointing. We’re here to make people laugh, and I think sometimes we forget that. We’re lucky. I get paid to pretend to be other people, I get paid to make people laugh while I have a beer. I’m not saying it’s always an easy day at work, I’m pretty much an atheist, but I thank the Lord for this blessing.