jason rouse headlining Yuk Yuk's Superclub (2335 Yonge) December 26-30, Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday 8:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 and 10:30 pm. $8-$15. 416-967-6425. Also appearing in the New Year's Eve Comedy Extravaganza at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), December 31 at 8 pm. $38.50-$48.50. 416-872-4255. Rating: NNNNN
jason rouse is onstage at yuk Yuk's Superclub and one of the waiters looks like he's about to lose it. Rouse is drawing out the set-up to his closer -- a scenario that involves his sick, dying mom and his grieving, inarticulate dad."No way," mutters the waiter, pacing the aisle, holding back his anger. Like me, he's heard this sick bit before, many times, but Rouse is stretching it out, revelling in it, basically fucking with our emotions.
There are some nervous titters from the audience. Is this guy for real? Did his mom really die?
The boyish Rouse whimpers onstage, crumpled, vulnerable. The audience almost feels compassion. The waiter sighs in exasperation.
Sure enough, Rouse soon hauls out the joke's raunchy punchline, accompanied by a physical impression of a dad crying and simultaneously sexually abusing his two sons.
We've been had, again. But the crude comic payoff -- there are as many groans as laughs -- is unbelievable. Even the waiter has to acknowledge that Rouse, who's sporting a nyah-nyah grin, has pulled it off.
"I like to take things that people don't want to go near," says Rouse, a couple of days later, the nasty grin now gone from his face.
His attitude is completely different. He's less the evil brat known for flashing his ass and deep-throating a microphone than the reflective, sober (literally sober -- four years and counting) citizen who's taped and catalogued his performances since his amateur debut in 1996, and including his recent Gemini Award win two months ago.
"I like to make people feel guilty for what they're laughing at."
For the record, Rouse's mom isn't sick. And his dad never abused him. Sexually, that is.
While we're at it, Rouse hasn't slept with senior citizens, hasn't sodomized the Backstreet Boys and hasn't carried on a relationship with a beautiful, black, female fashion model who just happens to be, um, a mannequin.
But you'd never know that listening to his act, which plays December 26 to 30 at Yuk's and at the swank Massey Hall New Year's Eve comedy gala.
Rouse admits there's some truth to his jokes. For one thing, he knows people who've been sexually abused.
"I've got feedback from them after hearing the jokes, and they appreciate them. I embrace this nightmare that is a reality for lots of people."
Good answer, but not exactly convincing. Neither is his defence of another of his controversial bits, where he wakes up in Montreal after bedding a disabled woman.
"In the joke it's all consensual," he argues. "It's not like I rape her. We have a drink after the show at a bar, just like a lot of comics who meet people after a show. She takes me home and sleeps with me. It just so happens she's handicapped."
What makes his jokes funny instead of insulting is the subtext. His onstage persona is the nasty kid come back to haunt you.
The braces, off in a few months, only add to the effect. He's the thin geek who could only make it with a mannequin. (Fact is, Rouse's offstage girlfriend resembles a blond Geena Davis.)
For a straight guy obsessed by anal sex (guys fucking other guys feature prominently in his act), it's ironic that Rouse lives in the heart of Toronto's gay village. He moved there from Hamilton when he got a scholarship to the Humber School of Comedy.
"I played gay clubs when I was starting out, when I couldn't get on in Toronto," he explains. "Gay people know how to party. They've been through bullshit, they want to have a good time."
Rouse likes raising the stakes. Give him, for instance, a crowd full of hollering punk rock fans and watch him try to get their attention. He does. Or try to ignore him as the only white guy on Kenny Robinson's All Black Comedy lineup.
In fact, it was another white guy in a crowd of black talent -- Jim Carrey in TV's In Living Color -- who was a comic influence. You can see bits of Carrey's physical comedy and envelope-pushing personae in Rouse's act.
After his 30th birthday this New Year's Eve -- where he's set to unwrap a new routine, a musical shocker, at Massey Hall -- he'll be setting his sights on L.A.
There's talk about a Tom Green project for the Farrelly brothers. Rouse and Green go back. At the ALT.COMedy Lounge a couple of years ago they paired up for a sketch that had Rouse playing a prostitute projectile vomiting into the crowd.
Gemini in hand (actually it's at his mom's home), he's also developing a possible TV series, a mix of Billy Van's Hilarious House Of Frankenstein and Pee Wee's Playhouse.
"I like New York but I hate the cold," he says. "I like L.A. and I could get used to the gunfire. I'd lie on the beach and they could just, like, shoot over me."