RYAN BELLEVILLE appearing at ALTdot COMedy Lounge, at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Monday (December 2). Pwyc. 416-596-1908. Also headlining at the Laugh Resort (370 King West), December 5-7, Thursday 8:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 8:15 and 10:30 pm. $10-$15. 416-364-5233. Rating: NNNNN
Catch Ryan Belleville on a typical night and chances are he'll be chasing his next fix."I don't care where I go, as long as there's a microphone," says the fast-rising stand-up.
"If I go two days without performing, I get antsy. I love everything about it: showing up, waiting to go on, getting up. Once you step in front of that mike, it's, "Ahhhh.'"
Spoken like a true junkie.
Lately, Belleville hasn't had to go too far to score. Club bookers are clamouring for his likeable, intelligent act, which takes on everything from the differences between Tony Blair and Jean Chretien to beavers chewing off their testicles.
Show up at the Rivoli on most Mondays and you'll see him cracking up the seen-it-all ALTdot COMedy Lounge crowd with new bits.
In fact, he's there this Monday (December 2), performing an extended set after a showcase week in L.A. He's also headlining next weekend, December 5 to 7, at the Laugh Resort, one of the first clubs to give the Calgary-raised comic a break when no one knew his now ubiquitous boyish face.
Offstage, like a lot of great entertainers, he can be a little distracted, a bit wan. One of his running gags is that he's got attention deficit disorder, and you half believe him. But when the mike's on, you can't hold the guy's energy and silly, surreal observations back.
"He caught our attention early on," says Dennis Cahill, artistic director of Calgary's Loose Moose Theatre Company (see sidebar), where Belleville began improvising at 15. "He immediately seemed bright and alive onstage. The best performers always do."
The comic archetype that fits him is the all-knowing fool with cap and bells, doing a little verbal dance while pointing out societal flaws.
Since arriving in town in the summer of 2000 to study at Humber, he's shaken up the scene.
In less than two years, he copped a Canadian Comedy Award, the Phil Hartman Award and a Comedy Now special. Deserved, yes, but if you listen to the occasional grumblings from back-of-the-room comics, you'll hear he hasn't properly paid his dues.
"It's bullshit to pay dues just for the sake of paying dues," counters Belleville.
"Either you're funny or you're not. I've bombed a lot. I've been punched in the face and had eggs thrown at me while busking. Frankly, I don't feel the need to bomb to satisfy anyone."
Anyone else saying those words might come across as defensive. Like mentor Seán Cullen (Ryan and older brother Jason are regulars on that comic's upcoming CBC variety series), he can say pretty much anything and make you laugh.
"I've seen Ryan be crude, and you always walk away thinking, "What a charming guy,'" says Cahill. Belleville knows this.
"If I weren't a cute, happy 23-year-old guy, people might go, "Uh, no. I don't think so.' But since I am, I can get away with it."
For now, anyway.
We're sitting in the comfy living room of the house Belleville shares with Jason, also a comic and writer and the other half of the Flying Bellevilles duo.
In a couple of ways, Ryan's working his way through a transition period.
Physically, he's losing some of the baby fat, his face is hardening, his hair going from spiky and unruly to something more, well, tamed.
"It's for L.A.," he says, patting the do. "I don't want them saying, "What's with the hair?' Or, "Let's keep the hair and lose the guy.'"
His material is changing, too. Seven months ago he ruthlessly culled his set.
"I took out the material where I didn't have my opinions there. I took out the stupid jokes. It's been fun in the past for people to watch this happy little guy dance around and be goofy. But now I know I can slow it down and talk about political stuff. The hardest thing is finding how to not make people get defensive."
A fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, Belleville says his approach to comedy changed after September 11.
"It's still hard to talk about the war even though it's in the papers constantly," he says. "To not make fun of it feels like you're neglecting your job. But sometimes you can hear a comic say "the War in Iraq,' or "the war in Afghanistan' and feel the audience tighten up. Comedy's become so much about pop culture -- sitcomy."
With triple citizenship (his mother, an actor at Shaw, is from the States; his actor father is from Australia), Belleville's ready to go down south.
When he was in L.A. earlier this year, he landed an agent while performing at a tiny open-mike stage bar. Last week he played the same L.A. club frequented by Jay Leno, Chris Rock and Gary Shandling.
The timing could be right for a major breakthrough.
"I have absolutely no other tangible skills," admits Belleville, when I ask, devil's advocate-style, what he'd do if the showbiz thing doesn't pan out. "I didn't do well at school. I don't know how to write an essay. I have no trade. I can't make shoes. I'm fucked.
"If I weren't doing comedy, I'd be a bitch on the street." email@example.com comedy
Blame it on the reaction to a Conservative government, or the fact that there's not much competition. But Calgary's Loose Moose Theatre Company has produced a lot of T.O.'s funniest folks. Besides Ryan Belleville and his brother Jason, here are a few other notable exports.
mark mCkinney/bruce mcculloch Before they got involved in a little sketch troupe called the Kids in the Hall, these two trod the boards and learned how to improvise. Now they're struggling with middle-aged spread.
bruce hunter This former Loose Mooser went on to become half of the comedy duo the Illustrated Men and has since excelled in dramas like White Mice and the current The Danish Play.
rebecca northan One of the few female alumnae -- the talented Christy Bruce is another -- Northan's a regular with Sin City, The Jack Miller Show and the Second City National Touring Co.
albert howell Sure, his Improv Heaven And Hell show is off the air, but the deep-voiced co-creator of the Devil's Advocates still shows up wherever there's good improv.
levi macdougall He recently handed away his Tim Sims Encouragement Award tiara, but this master of the surreal observation is seen regularly in stand-up and his sketch troupe the Distractions.
pat kelly The energetic comic logged two years as the host of YTV's The Zone -- a title that could sum up his life right now as the bright new member of the Second City mainstage cast.