TREVOR BORIS performing with Linda Ellis as part of the WE'RE FUNNY THAT WAY FESTIVAL at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander), Friday (May 26), 7:30 pm. Pwyc (minimum $6 w/ credit card). 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
If there were a list of things not to do as an entertainer, coming out to your parents during a live stand-up show would be near the top.
But that's exactly what comic Trevor Boris did a couple of years ago.
During a series of Winnipeg Fringe Festival sets, Boris's unsuspecting dad was in the audience and the comic included four minutes of new material about being gay and dating guys.
"Let's just say it didn't happen the way I intended it to," says the comic, on the patio of Café Diplomatico, a favourite haunt since moving here two and a half years ago. "Hey, let's get 100 people together and punk my dad!"
"I remember looking down and seeing my dad looking kind of confused. The next week we had lunch and I thought we were having this big heart-to-heart. I asked, 'Are things cool?' and he said yeah. So I thought that was that. Months later I found out he thought I was joking, that being gay was just part of my act."
The next summer, again during the Fringe, Boris revealed (with Dad once again in the crowd) that he was engaged to be married to his boyfriend, Cole.
"The Fringe has been this barometer with my dad," he tells me. "The first year, he finds out I'm gay. The second, he finds out I'm engaged to a boy. I figure the only thing I can do now is show up as a woman."
This story, delivered with Boris's trademark perma-smile and impeccable timing, isn't in his act yet. But with a bit of tweaking, look out. Over the next few months he'll have lots of opportunities to add new material, including a set tomorrow (May 26) as part of We're Funny That Way's 10th-anniversary lineup.
The WFTW gig is the latest in a banner year. Back in February, he came second in the $25,000 Great Canadian Laugh-Off. He lost to winner Jeff McEnery by six points.
"I got 754 points and Jeff got 760," he sighs. "At the moment, it was heartbreaking. That kind of money doesn't come around very often, especially in stand-up. Then again, winning those things can be like the kiss of death. There's all that pressure afterwards."
His runner-up prize was a pair of steak knives.
"I've been cutting myself lately," he jokes. "And eating some very, very bitter steaks."
Good thing, because he needs his energy. Besides headlining at Yuk Yuk's this summer, he snagged a two-week run of shows in Capetown in September, and is taping a Comedy Now special in October. He's waiting to hear whether I Now Pronounce You..., the same-sex wedding show he hosts, will be renewed for a second season on PrideVision. And he gets a lot of recognition particularly from young teen girls for his appearances as one of the bitchy commentators on MuchMusic's highest-rated show, Video On Trial.
"I sometimes feel like Kalin Porter," he says about his Much popularity, which has led to work on the next MuchMusic Video Awards. "Little girls come up to me all the time. They think I'm super-famous."
While Maggie Cassella's WFTW fest is a queer event, it's important to note that Boris honed his routine at so-called mainstream comedy clubs - first at Winnipeg's Rumours and then at Yuk Yuk's, where owner Mark Breslin discovered him one amateur night and encouraged him to move to Toronto.
At Yuk's, Boris's coming-out bit is a riot. A few minutes into his act, he talks about having broken up with his girlfriend. Why? "Because she works a lot," he says in his act. "And I'm gay." He lets the laughter settle down. "We both wanted to date other guys." More laughter. Then the kicker: "I'll give you a couple of minutes to settle your bets."
It's a brilliant, beautifully elongated sequence that immediately gets the audience - mostly young and straight - on his side.
"When they're on your side, you have a lot more leeway in what you can talk about," he explains. "There are comics who feed on fighting with an audience, struggling with them. That's not what I do. I just want to have a good time."
And he does. In fact, in person and onstage, Boris comes across as completely gay - in the original sense of the word, that is.
It's hard not to be carried along by his sunny, enjoyably catty observations about pop culture, bizarre news stories (for instance, that straight girls find kissing more intimate than oral sex) and his former life back in Manitoba as a farmer.
Yes, the gay farmboy background isn't a joke - it's even part of his act. He's the first to admit that he's probably the only gay farmboy stand-up comic in the world.
"If there's another, I'm just going to have to kill him," says Boris with a huge gum-revealing grin. "Come to think of it, it was probably the only niche left in comedy."
When he was 18, he bought 160 acres of land, and the profits helped send him to university, where he took classes and tried his hand at stand-up. Working on the land, he says, also helped him put things in perspective.
"People in the industry get caught up in who's getting what," he says. "I try not to worry about those things. I'm on my own path. Comedy is awesome - it's a huge part of my life. But it's not everything. I'd still exist without it."
He pauses for a second.
"But I don't know where else I'd get that kind of attention."
His fiancé, Cole, is a hairdresser in Forest Hill. "Oh yeah, let's break down those stereotypes," he laughs. The two met in Winnipeg after Boris had already moved to Toronto. When the gay wedding show was taping a segment in Vegas, the two went, and Boris proposed at midnight, complete with a singing gondolier.
One thing's clear. Boris has never felt uncomfortable being a gay comic.
"Even in places like Red Deer, where I thought I'd be burned alive, people have been very open and accepting."
Yuk Yuk's comics and crowds aren't known for their gay-friendly vibe. More than once I've seen a comic say, "That's so gay" as a putdown. But both respond to Boris's infectious honesty.
"I'm the only openly gay male comic on Yuk Yuk's roster," he says. "And, sure, some comics are pretty homophobic. But none of them gives me any trouble. I'm one of the boys. I'm a big hockey fan, I love poker. I don't think I get treated any differently because I'm gay."
And the role model thing?
"I don't think of myself as one, although I've gotten a few e-mails, which is flattering," he says. "I think talking about my experiences, including being gay, and getting this instant approval from a crowd has been the most validating experience of my life.
"It's weird. Being gay probably held me back for the first 20 or 22 years of my life. Not overtly, but it was something in myself. Now it's almost propelling my career."
Yeah, but that doesn't solve his biggest dilemma - namely, how to meet Alanis Morissette.
"Oh my god, she's number one," he gushes. "Even on the way here, I listened to Jagged Little Pill." He points to his pink iPod. "I've always felt like a kindred spirit. I think it's because she's so open and authentic. Especially her relationship stuff. She's got great songs about breakups. She doesn't know it, but she's been there for me so many times.
"I used to joke that she was the reason I went into comedy. I figured if I was famous, too, that would be my best chance. And since I can't sing, maybe being funny is the next best way."
Well, Trevor. You oughta know.
Here are a few more queer comics making noise at this week's fest.
KATE CLINTON (May 25 at 7:30 pm) Hard to believe Clinton's been out and making us laugh about it for 25 years. In her latest show, you can expect lots of shots at American politicians, women's music and everyone's favourite target, The L Word, on which she made a brief appearance in one episode.
THE NELLIE OLESONS (May 25 and 27 at 9 pm, May 26 at 7 pm) The queer trio named after Little House On The Prairie's nastiest character have been off the comedy radar for a while -- they took a break for five years. But now they're back, bitchier and more politically incorrect than ever. Look for bits on Terry Schiavo, Ann Coulter and one dirty knock-knock joke.
KAREN WILLIAMS (May 26 at 9:30 pm) Fest fave Williams returns with more about her life as an African-American queer single mom. Maybe if we ask, she'll tell us about her latest gig as the prez and CEO of the HaHA Institute. (We're not kidding: it stands for Humour and Healing Arts.)
DINA MARTINA (May 25 and 27 at 7 pm, May 26 at 9 pm) I haven't seen or heard of Ms. Martina, who apparently wowed fans at last year's Wigfest with her music/costume/ dance routine. But NOW sex columnist Dan Savage says the performer's "absolutely high-fucking-larious," and we stand by our man Dan.