PETE ZEDLACHER headlining at Yuk Yuk's Superclub (2335 Yonge) through December 2, Thursday and Sunday 8:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 and 10:30 pm. $10-$15. 416-967-6425. Also hosting ALT.COMEDY LOUNGE Monday (December 3) at 9 pm, pwyc; and as part of OTHER PEOPLE'S STUFF II Wednesday (December 5) at 8 pm, $10 (or one unwrapped toy), both at the Rivoli (332 Queen West). 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
stand-up pete zedlacher isn't known for his character work, but sometimes, for special occasions, he hauls out a hoser named Petey Dirtbag.Dirtbag, who sports a black T-shirt, jeans, Metallica vest and cap and flashes the Rock On symbol with one defiant hand, is also a comic.
"But he's a hack," says Zedlacher, who's definitely not a hack. He's headlining his first week at Yuk Yuk's Superclub throughout the weekend and taking part in the Rivoli's cool lineup of comics doing other comics' material (see sidebar).
"While other comics are on," explains Zedlacher, "Dirtbag sits there with a pen and paper, writes down their jokes and changes the punchlines. Then he goes up and does the same jokes. It's like a callback to the whole show, only the jokes have these filthy endings."
Zedlacher's probably not aware of it, but within his alter ego lie all the contradictions of one of the country's fastest-rising stand-ups.
Like Petey, Pete's a hardcore metal fan. He seduced his girlfriend, stand-up Jo-Anna Downey, with a Metallica number. By all accounts, his karaoke version of Black Sabbath's War Pigs is unrivalled.
Both Petey and Pete hail from small towns -- in Zedlacher's case, Wawa, Ontario.
And while one is undeniably obnoxious and the other, at least offstage, is careful and polite, lurking under Zedlacher's boyish grin and calm exterior is a mind that's capable of some twisted turns.
"Three years ago I was edgier, darker, doing stuff about midgets having sex," says Zedlacher, nursing a soda water at Spirits Bar & Grill, where he developed much of his act at Wednesday's famed open-mike night, run by Downey.
"I think I was trying to impress the comics in the back of the room, rather than the audience," he says. "It wasn't me."
That's the key to Zedlacher. There's good Pete and bad Pete. Responsible Pete, reckless Pete. Savvy city slicker, small-town boy.
Zedlacher admits Dirtbag is his way of getting back at the business. "I think he comes out of bitterness and anger. But the funny thing is, he's a legend now. People actually request him."
Yuk Yuk's Mark Breslin, who's seen comic talent come and go, says Zedlacher has an all-round likeability.
"You like Pete the minute he opens his mouth," say Breslin. "His act travels well -- comedy room, Rotary Club meeting, corporate gig. Even in front of people who are extremely sensitive, he shines."
But Zedlacher's achieved all this without pandering. Confident, cocky yet never threatening, he's equally at home at the big clubs and alt venues like Spirits and the ALT.COMedy Lounge, where he regularly tries out new material.
A turning point came when he realized he could tell stories about his own life. Forget the midgets. Go with reality.
"If I see something funny and start writing it down and begin giggling to myself, I know it will kill," he says.
On a recent trip back home to Wawa the week after his hour-long Comedy Now special aired ("He was so popular, I thought I was with the King Of Kensington," quips girlfriend Downey), Zedlacher heard Enrique Iglesias's hit song Hero on the car radio. He was so stunned by its cheesiness, he nearly drove off the road.
The scene has since become a routine, which has evolved over a couple of weeks into something as stupid and funny as the song itself. Zedlacher mimics Iglesias with a bad Spanish accent and puns on Hiroshima and hero sandwich.
"It's an absurd bit," says Zedlacher, the sounds of pool cues and beer glasses reminding him of his years as a bartender at the Madison and Pauper's, where he'd regularly hold impromptu post-shift sets on the second floor. "You just keep pushing the joke until it's not funny any more."
Ten years ago, graduating from high school, he had to decide between engineering at U of T and theatre school in New York City. Inspired by SNL reruns and a touring Second City show, he opted for the Big Apple, though the acting training didn't help when his Visa ran out and he tried breaking into the local theatre scene.
"If I'd gone into engineering, I'd be getting laid off from Boeing right about now," he muses. "I'd be in Willowdale, married and going to comedy clubs, thinking, "I could do that.'"
Instead, he's here, staring straight at the headlining circuit, thinking about the States. He doesn't want to be a stand-up at 40, telling jokes about RRSPs and kids to the 18-to-35 set.
"Canada's a big gym," he says. "It's a place to work out, then make it big somewhere else. That's the way the game's played. Look at the big comics now, Seán Cullen, Shaun Majumder, Jeremy Hotz. They went to L.A. or New York, got established, then came back and were embraced."
He realizes the whole comic-sitcom fad has passed. "I don't think there's going to be an Everybody Loves Petey," he says. But then again, he wouldn't mind being that smiley TV guy who walks into the room to laughter. As long as the cheque clears.
His dream gig, he admits, would still be opening for a metal band.
"Metal drives what he does onstage," says Downey. "He's a shy guy, but put a mike in front of him, and oh my god."
"Don't all comics want to be rock stars?" he asks. "Harland Williams went on tour with his cousin Kevin Hearn and his band Thin Buckle. He turned down movie roles. It just goes to show you that any one of us would give it all up in a second to be a rock star."