With a week to go before a string of shows at the prestigious Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, I'm doing what most comedians heading to the festival are this week: warming up.
To that end, I've been performing in small venues that I haven't performed in for a while and even "open-mic nights" in places that are not even comedy rooms save for the set up of a mic stand in the corner (usually directly in the path of the public bathrooms for some reason).
It's an odd way to prepare for a television gala in a theatre that holds 3,000 people such as I'll be part of next week. But it really is the only way to prepare for these things. You need an audience to prepare for an audience.
But then sometimes, you just get lucky.
My wife, who is also my manager (she likes to go by "wifeager") had arranged for a series of shows at Yuk Yuk's in downtown Toronto this week. It's where I cut my comedy teeth back in the mid-90s (yikes) and I have kept a good relationship with everyone there including owner Mark Breslin and his management team including Jessica Guinty who had set up shows for me this week.
Yuk Yuk's Toronto is always a good room to perform in. On "bad nights" there might be only a few dozen people (including other comics, bar and cleaning staff) but they have usually all come to laugh. On great nights it is packed with over 200 people, all on top of each other (figuratively speaking. Grow up!) and the response when you really get them going is amazing.
Then there's a night like last night: Wednesday July 17, 2013. Jessica had asked me if I would host a fundraiser for Alberta Flood recovery and I of course was more than happy to help having spent a good deal of time in Alberta over the years. What I didn't know was that I would be sharing the bill with some of the cast and writers (comedians that I know) of the upcoming CTV show "Spun Out" and also ALL OF THE KIDS IN THE HALL!!! (capitalized for excitement. Not anger)
Like many Canadians, I am a diehard fan of The Kids having watched them on tv and attended their shows while I was at university. But to be sharing a stage (a small one at that) with Dave, Mark, Bruce, Scott and Kevin was something entirely different.
And as if that weren't enough (it was) also on the show providing music was Craig Northey from The Odds and Chris Murphy from Sloan: two of my favorite bands in the world!
Honestly it was like I was having a dream. Like a GOOD show dream as opposed to the ones when I emerge on to a stage in the middle of a play and everyone is looking at me to deliver a line that I don't know.
Rounding out the show were top notch comedians Darrin Rose, Graham Kay, Nick Beaton and Darcy Michael as well as actors Paul Campbell and J.P. Menoux.
The room was packed with adoring Kids fans, screaming their delight at the sight of long-loved characters and sketches as well as new pieces put together just for this night. Dave Foley, who helped organize the evening, ended with a stand-up set which showed a different side than anyone has seen on TV while also exhibiting why he has gotten so far in this business: he's a very likeable man offstage and a downright lovable man on stage, getting away with tongue-in-cheek comments that other comics would be booed off the stage for.
In the end, the show was just less than two hours long, but all The Kids stayed around (literally, in the hall) signing autographs and meeting adoring fans and on top of it all, a good chunk of money was raised for flood relief in Alberta where Kids Bruce McCulloch and Mark Kinney have their roots (which are the first things to go in a flood. #sorry)
I hate when people say of something they know I would have loved to have seen "you should have been there." So I won't say it (though I just wrote it). All I can really say is I was thrilled to be a small part of this magical night. Thanks to Yuk Yuk's, Dave Foley and David Himmelfarb for putting this together and best of success to the team of Spun Out on a successful run for many seasons to come.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to keep warming up. Something not many people say in the middle of a heatwave. Unless you're a comic getting ready for Just For Laughs.
Steve Patterson is the host of The Debaters on CBC Radio and a multiple Canadian comedy award winning stand-up comedian. His one-man show "This Is Not Debatable" runs from July 22-27 at Just For Laughs in Montreal and he'll be performing in the Calgary comedy festival Sept 9-15.