GIGGLE CITY: Donovan Workun funniest when allowed to be himself

The whole notion that “corporate comedy” is a brain drain that removes the best comic talent from the public eye recently surfaced with the curious case of Donovan Workun – a master comic improviser who’s so good at doing those high-paying corporate shows that he rarely performs in public as the Atomic Improv anymore.

The troupe he founded with Paul Mather (who went onto TV fame) and now runs with partner Mark Meer has, as they say, “moved on” from the bars. Good for him – bad for us who remain in the bars. You can still see the 42-year-old veteran funnyman around town on his own, at Die Nasty most Mondays, and in a special appearance at the Myer Horowitz Theatre this Saturday night for CBC’s live taping of The Irrelevant Show. But an Atomic Improv show has become a rare treat.

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

A: Mick Jagger. And I don’t think you have to ask why. Do you? Really? Come on. He’s the coolest guy ever. What does he have left, 20 years? I would take those 20 years.

Q: Best heckler story?

A: I had a guy from the British military and he was beaking off, and I let him have it. I don’t know what I said, I was just making fun of him and he threw an ashtray at me. He totally missed the stage, which was nice.

Q: Again with the ashtray. What did you say to set him off?

A: I never remember any of that stuff. I had this one guy. I don’t remember what he said to me or what I said to him, but he was coming up to the stage to beat me up. He was totally going to punch me right in the face, and I just kept insulting him so bad that he slowed down and then started to slouch and then turned around and just went to sit back down.

Q: Do you remember anything that happens during your shows?

A: Not much. If the show was really, really good or really, really bad, I will remember bits of it. If something struck me as really awesome, I’ll remember it.

Q: What’s the most awesome thing you remember?

A: Mark and I did a gig at the NAIT bar, the Nest, which is a rough bar. You really have to work it. They like it dirty and they like to push and see how far you’ll go. We did a thing where we’d get the audience to suggest different genres and do the scene in whatever genre they shout. And one guy yelled out, “Snuff film!” And then Mark instantly just shot me in the head and I dropped to the ground, and then he got on top of me and proceeded to hump me, to hump my dead corpse on the stage. I don’t think I’ll forget that one. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Q: Did you – what do they call it when an actor starts laughing during a scene? – do a Harvey Korman?

A: Corpsing. I did. But it was real. Harvey Korman used to fake it.

Q: No way.

A: That’s what I heard. Yeah, but I think that’s what got me turned onto comedy when I was a kid: Watching Tim Conway make Harvey Korman laugh.

Q: Do you have a favourite improv game?

A: The rhyming game: telling a whole scene in rhyme, we still do it all the time, but I used to do it so much that I would dream in rhyme.

Q: You’re doing it now.

A: There you go. Here’s an interesting story: Paul and I were doing a TV interview for the Winnipeg fringe and we were going to play Day in the Life, to re-enact a day in the life of the presenter. So we asked her what she did and she said she stayed home all day and didn’t answer the phone. Apparently the news had just broke that Kurt Cobain was found dead. So then they cut to us. So Paul played the girl and I kept calling and calling and saying, “Hey, it’s Kurt. Why don’t you answer the phone, I need somebody to talk to. I’m lonely.”

Q: This was just minutes after his body was discovered and you’re joking about it? Too soon?

A: No. If I censor myself, I’m done. I just did it. Was it a good thing? I don’t know. Maybe my career hasn’t gone as far as it should have because of my lack of ability to censor myself.

Q: But shouldn’t comedians be honest?

A: I think they should be. It’s a funny thing because people are so PC. People expect the whole society should be PC, but if you go to a top notch comedy show and see someone like Tracy Morgan or Lisa Lampanelli, they’re racist and offensive and dirty – and people love it. Because I do corporate shows, maybe that’s what I’m missing, because I think I’m the funniest when I’m allowed to be myself.

Q: So you do censor yourself at the corporate shows.

A: When I do those shows, I don’t put myself in situations where I’m completely going to let go. I’ll do Die Nasty and I’ll say things there that I really want to and half the audience loves me and they come every week because they don’t know what I’m going to say, and the other half is just shocked, but I think they’re titillated by that. I’m always pushing what I do in the corporate world, but I never go 100 per cent. I don’t know. Maybe as a comic, I’ve lost who I am.