Ron James may not be a towering figure in height but when it comes to comedic talent and astute observations on people and society very few can touch him. His comedy, whether live on stage or on his eponymous CBC show, James pulls no punches while delivering both hilarious and wry comments and observations. No one or any institution from the federal government to the local Canadian Tire store is immune from his rapid-fire and witty delivery.
James, 58, was born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. His Maritime roots and his parents, both now 83 years old and who he describes as "still hilarious," have influenced his take on the world. James cherishes his two daughters, Cayley (26) and Gracie (20), and they keep him grounded -- no gargantuan ego for this guy.
James, a Second City veteran, has acted and performed all over and lived in Los Angeles for a spell but that city was not for him. Based in Toronto, James says Canada will always be home. When not touring James has an adventurous streak and loves to go on journeys testing his mental and physical capabilities.
James is at his best performing on stage and TV viewers can get a taste of his show during a one-hour New Year's Eve special called "The Big Picture" (CBC, 9:30 pm in Newfoundland & Labrador, 9 pm in all other time zones). Facebook culture, rabid real-estate markets, corporate spin, mobile devices, texting, Rob Ford and multitasking are only a smattering of subjects James puts on trial with his form of poetic and comedic justice.
Ron James Talks Travel and New Year's Eve
Vacay.ca caught up with James earlier this month for his comments on his career, comedy idols, conquering his fear of heights and travelling the world.
Vacay.ca: You have a New Year's Eve special coming up. Were you the type to party or have a quiet evening at home?
James: My days of partying 'til the wee hours are long gone. That being said, in an earlier incarnation, I have greeted that dawn on more than one occasion. Trust me, it's overrated. I'd rather wake sober on January 1st than be awake and still drunk!
Vacay.ca: Tell me about your New Year's Eve special? What can viewers expect to see?
James: It is a search for the authentic in a world of constant connection. The set is very cool and we shot it at Fallsview Casino (in Niagara Falls) in front of a sold out audience over two nights. I'm back to the "big canvas" of my earlier specials and it's not regionally themed like they were. Although there is a substantial amount of Canadian content, it does look at our role in the world and the effect of rapid technological change on daily life.
Vacay.ca: You were born and grew up in Nova Scotia? Do you think growing up in the Maritimes helped shape your comedic talents?
James: Definitely! But like anyone who was surrounded by a family who appreciated a good story well told and liked to laugh, not to mention colourful relations and a pantheon of personalities crossing our threshold, it couldn't help but influence me. The same can be said for someone raised in the Bronx, or East London. If you're engaged, you can't help but assimilate the world you're being raised in.
Vacay.ca: Who were your comedic idols when you were first starting out and today?
James: Coming of age in the '70s, I liked [George] Carlin and [Richard] Pryor. Monty Python were huge! Later on Steve Martin and Robin Williams. I don't watch a lot of stand-up today but you can't help but admire Louis CK.
Vacay.ca: How would you brand your style of comedy?
James: Never spent much time trying to brand it because creating content is challenge enough! But I did describe my television show as "affable subversion." It is our job to tip the apple cart without losing the room.
Vacay.ca: You lived in LA but returned to Canada? Any desire to move back?
James: No. Every now and then you think about the place when February's hammer is laying the land low but truth be told, I really dig the change of seasons in Canada. I love a really cold prairie day, or an Ontario fall. Spring in Toronto. A Nova Scotia summer. I also have no interest to run the gauntlet in that carnivore's arena of LA showbiz. The place is littered with "the fallen, failed and forgotten" and no matter what people have, there seems to be malignant discontent it's not enough. Truth be told, I make a great living here. I've built a home, raised two beautiful daughters and put them through university.
Vacay.ca: What was the best crowd you ever recall performing for? The worst?
James: They're all good! But the worst had to be Edinburgh Fringe Festival about 18 years ago. I took my one man show over there for a run in a small study hall at the University of Edinburgh. Last time the doors were open John Locke was writing a mid-term! It held 75 people and two showed up. One was asleep and the other wasn't paying attention!