Local comic makes serious study of comedy
Lars Callieou has been studying comedy longer than he’s been a comedian – thanks to his long-running weekly show on CJSR radio. He’s had on every area comic you could name during the last 11 years; they’ve plumbed every angle, dissected every joke, shared many a gory road story.
As such, he is uniquely qualified to comment on the state of comedy in Edmonton. In a word: healthy.
“We have this reputation for being blue collar, but as far as a smart, savvy comedy audience, people would be surprised,” he says, noting that “Edmonton has more theatre seats per capita than anywhere in the world.”
Does anyone want to run out and fact check this?
A number of events at the annual Edmonton Comedy Festival Oct. 12-14 are already sold out – including the “Masters” show Callieou is performing at on Saturday with Wendy Liebman and Darcy Michael. So that’s a good sign.
The secret to success, the comic says, is the same thing that produces such wonderfully eccentric local bands: There’s nothing else to do in this Godforsaken frozen outpost but create stuff. For developing comedians like Lars and his peers, there wasn’t much film or TV work, “so you had to focus on just the comedy because there wasn’t anything else,” Callieou says. Yet there was no lack of paid live work, in town and on the road, and in fact more stage time than stand-ups to fill it, “So the comedy scene in Edmonton got strong out of necessity.”
Aside from turning economics on their head, comedy here is no different than anywhere else: “I’ve found for the most part crowds around the world are almost identical, from Melbourne to Cologne, Germany ,to Las Vegas, to Tampa, Florida, to Vietnam, all of the places I’ve performed, they’re all the same. It’s a bunch of people who come to laugh, they’ve come to comedy show, and most of them have the same hopes and dreams: A job they love, a significant other who loves and respects them. So the relationship material works – it’s all the same.”
So change in comedy isn’t geographical. Comedy audiences everywhere are just getting smarter. It’s partly about sensitivity and being politically correct, for instance considering jokes about trans people that would’ve passed unremarked five years ago wouldn’t fly today. And yet, still, “You can make a joke about anything if you do it properly,” Callieou says.
He points to Lenny Bruce as the one who opened the doors in the ‘60s. Bruce was one of the first comics to talk honestly his life and the world around him. “Before that it was all Catskills,” Lars says. “Jokes got passed around: ‘Take my wife, please!’” Then came people like the great Richard Pryor and George Carlin to set the agenda for the new breed of comedians expected to tell the brutal truth: stuff to make you laugh, feel uncomfortable and think all at the same time. You might say comedy in general has become darker as real world gets more brutal – but Lars, among others, is not that kind of comic. His own material is not that dark. It’s personal. In fact he says he once wrote a dark Ebola joke he wound up giving to a comedian friend because it didn’t fit the act.
“I think as you get further into comedy, you talk about things that matter to you a little more – and a lot more if you’re really good,” Callieou says. “The relationship stuff: Being 41 and not being married yet, not having kids, and wondering about the future. I think being vulnerable is one of the most incredibly important parts of being a comedian, talking about things you’re afraid of, talking about the things that keep you up at night. Comedy is meant to get laughs, first and foremost, but when you can talk about being afraid of being single forever and not even knowing how to run Tinder, there might be people in the audience going, ‘yeah, me, too!’ Then there’s this real moment of connection. People often ask me if that’s a true story and I can say almost 100% of my comedy is based in truth. Sure, you embellish it a bit, but it’s real life.”
After the comedy fest, Lars will be back at his studies: on the air with Comic Jenius (every Thursday on CJSR 88.5 FM from midnight to 2 am), and hosting the weekly comedy open stage Sundays at the Urban Tavern.