JASON ROUSE headlining at Yuk Yuk's Superclub (2335 Yonge), Wednesday (June 19), 8:30 pm. $8. Also appearing as special guest at the gala opening of Yuk Yuk's Downtown (224 Richmond West), with headliner Mike MacDonald, July 3 (sold out). 416-967-6425. Rating: NNNNN
It's one of the final nights at yuk yuk's Yonge and Eg location, and Jason Rouse is giving the small Monday-night crowd an unexpected treat. Before going on, he airs a "greatest hits" video for us, a telling montage of recent scenes from the life of one of the hottest stand-ups in the country.Look, there's Jason meeting comedy legend Howie Mandel. Classy. There he is accepting last year's Gemini Award for best individual comedy performance, and hanging with the Star TV crew. Cute. There he is at the Rivoli, paired with comic Tom Green....
Uh, what's this?
Tom's sticking his finger down Rouse's throat and Rouse, his cock clamped in a vise, is spewing vomit onstage. Oh, my. Now Jason's fucking a pumpkin.... Now he's shitting on -- what's that, a dead porcupine?
"I love that spectrum, the contrast of me receiving a major award and having a bowel movement on a dead animal," says Rouse a couple of days later.
"I realize that some of those things are the lowest of the low in comedy. They're crazy and stupid. But I like to mix them up with well-written and well-performed stuff, too."
If there's a common theme in Rouse's art and life, it's his talent for contrast. He's like a walking example of that Sesame Street song about one thing not belonging with the others.
It's there in his current look, which includes a shaved head, a growing beard, limbs covered in tats and a mouthful of braces.
"I don't know where you're from," he tells me, almost taunting, "but this look is not going to work with the general public."
It's also there in his show, where he'll deep-throat a microphone while looking seductively at a guy in the front row, then tell a joke about dating a beautiful black female... mannequin.
"People wonder if I'm straight or gay or just come from a bad home," says Rouse, who, for the record (not that he gives a damn who knows), is straight yet lives in the gay village with a woman who looks like a blond Geena Davis.
"I love messing with people so they're always guessing. It keeps everything off balance."
No other comic I know can pull the dual strings of sincerity and nyah-nyah meanness better than Rouse. He can hook you in with a story about his mom dying of cancer, then hit you with a crude punchline to punish you for being sucked into such a sentimental tale. (His mom, by the way, is fine.)
"I think," he says, "audiences see a human side to me."
He's got a point. There's a boyishness and geeky charm that audiences respond to. Sort of. But then again, what's so human about a guy defecating on a dead animal?
"Stop the videotape and you'll see that at one point the bowel movement is touching the animal and still inside me," he explains, like a demented commentator on the Learning Channel.
"It's kind of like a mother and newborn before the cord is cut. There's a new beginning there."
Rouse, who's on the bill for the sold-out gala opening of the spanking new Yuk Yuk's Downtown (see sidebar, this page) on July 3, is used to new beginnings.
He left an aimless and doped-up working-class life in Steeltown for Vancouver in the early 90s, where he MC'd after-hours warehouse parties full of punk and hiphop acts and DJs. In 1996, tired of washing dishes for a living, he stepped onto his first amateur night comedy stage -- at Yuk Yuk's, it turns out -- and was hooked.
"I went up and thought, "This is it. This makes me feel good. I'm going to do whatever I can to make it as big as I can.'"
He has. Since moving back east, commuting from Hamilton to Toronto to do 20 gigs a month, then getting a scholarship to the Humber School of Comedy and moving here full-time, he's come about as far as any stand-up can in this country without moving to the States.
He's also doing what he wants. Last New Year's Eve he spent part of his 30th birthday at the swank Massey Hall comedy gala, during which he did some stand-up, ripped into a Slayer song and then ran around the stage as Baby New Year, clad in a white leather thong and a pair of goggles.
He's currently developing a TV show -- a cross between Billy Van's House Of Frankenstein, Pee-wee's Playhouse and The Wizard Of Oz -- and is looking for production dollars. One of the show's recurring segments will be a bit called Bi-Curious George, about a chimp and his life partner, the man in the yellow hat, which may (for copyright reasons) be changed to the pink cowboy hat.
A showcase in L.A. is lined up for July; he's doing two weeks in England in August.
More importantly, he's been substance-free now for four and a half years -- despite the fact that some of his best friends are dealers and he hangs out in clubs all the time. His father, whom he sees maybe once a year, is a full-blown alcoholic.
"People always assume I'm on drugs," he says. "But you know what? It's the guys onstage in the suits and ties who are the biggest stoners and alcoholics."
"If you ever see me with a beer in my hand, that'll be the beginning of the end. It will mean that something is very wrong in my life and I don't know how to fix it.
"Right now," he says, as sincere as he gets, "I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life."email@example.com
The Joy Yuk's Club
by GLENN SUMI
As Yuk Yuk's prepares to move to its fancy new digs at 224 Richmond West, founder Mark Breslin recalls the club's glory days.
"I remember Sam Kinison with a needle in the kitchen, Robin Williams doing a four-hour filibuster in 1979," he says. "We'd have 1 am shows where the feature act wouldn't come on until 3:30 am. We were heckled by priests."
Besides Kinison and Williams, the list of past performers who've stepped onto one of Yuk Yuk's local stages over the past 26 years reads like a who's who of comedy, even if Breslin didn't recognize their talents at the time.
Back in 1983, he was quoted as saying that stand-up Jim Carrey was "a very fine Vegas act that Ronald Reagan would probably enjoy."
Still, it's hard to think of any major Canadian stand-up - Harland Williams, Kenny Robinson, Jeremy Hotz, Norm MacDonald - who hasn't done time on a Yuk's stage. How long they stay there is another issue.
The club is known for its policy of not letting its comics play competing clubs - something that sparked a mini-exodus from its roster in the 1990s, when stand-ups like Brent Butt, Eric Tunney and Brian Hartt left.
"It's a business deal," explains Breslin. "We provide distribution of their product in exchange for access to markets. Since all comedy is based on novelty, we don't want to overexpose anybody."
The move from Yonge and Eglinton to the heart of clubland seems a bid to broaden the club's audience base. The $2.5 million invested in design and building enhancements will attract a more upscale crowd, one that's used to lineups.
The menus will be updated, too. "Our old snack menu consisted of fried and deep fried," laughs Breslin.
But there won't be a dress code.
"People can wear anything," he says. "Personally, I like pink chiffon on a guy."