comedy right now! with pete zedlacher, dave martin, jo-anna downey, chuck byrn, gavin stephens, ron josol and host ryan belleville at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Sunday (October 7) at 9 pm. $7. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
they're hot, they're ambitious, they're funny. And they're about to bring their humour to a much bigger audience on TV. But first they owe a big fat kiss of gratitude to Tony Soprano.Stand-ups Pete Zedlacher, Jo-Anna Downey, Dave Martin and I are nestled in a booth at the Stem, discussing what can and can't be said on TV.
"I changed "motherfucker' to "asshole,' and "big-titted ass-fuckers' to "big-titted ass-bangers,'" says Martin. "The point is, though, that there were still asses getting banged."
Each of them has scored a spot on a Comedy Now special, a crucial rung on the country's comedy ladder.
Lucky local audiences can also catch them Sunday (October 7) at the Rivoli in Comedy Right Now!, where they get to deliver material they couldn't in front of the cameras.
Funny thing is, there's not much the comics couldn't get by network censors.
"I thought the TV execs would tell me I couldn't do this and couldn't do that," says Zedlacher, whose hour-long special opens the season on the Comedy Network October 14.
"When I finally had the meeting, they actually encouraged me to do my more risqué material. I think The Sopranos helped. After CTV broadcast the show and no one complained, it opened up what we can get away with."
Ironically, most of the comics decided themselves what not to say. Crude is OK. Swearing is fine, in moderation. What's questionable is taste.
"A Michael J. Fox joke probably wouldn't work on TV," admits Martin. "You'd just end up looking cruel. But in a live act it would work. There's a different environment."
Downey, who's part of an all-women lineup -- with, among others, Brigitte Gall, Shoshana Sperling and Kate Rigg, each of whom deserves a whole show herself -- to be broadcast later in the season, agrees self-censorship isn't such a terrible thing.
"I'm a pretty aggressive comic onstage, and I have a mouth on me," she admits. "But you don't want to misrepresent yourself."
For her 10-minute spot, she changed the wording of one of her A-list jokes, the one about having sex with a man with a 2-inch penis. She's also taken out a lot of Toronto references.
"I have jokes about the TTC and streetcars, but who gives a shit in Edmonton, you know?"
Zedlacher, who's got his likeable small-town-boy-in-the-big-city act down pat, held back some of his best material from the cameras.
"I purposefully didn't do a couple of my heavy hitter jokes, my triple-A material," he says. "If it's going to be on TV, it'll be watered down eventually. You've got to save stuff so there's something to enjoy at the live show."
All three comics, who've been on the scene about five years, are regulars at Wednesday's open-mike night at Spirits, which Downey hosts.
Committed stand-ups, the three aren't in this to score a quick sitcom.
"We love live audiences," says Downey. "Sure, we like to act and do other things, but we wouldn't be up there if we didn't love this. There's not enough payback."
As for comedy after September 11, the three are philosophical. The weekend after the terrorist attacks, comedy clubs were crowded with folks who needed to escape the CNN screens.
"We're comics. We heal and make people feel better by telling jokes," admits Martin.
"We're not making fun of it. People say comedy is tragedy plus time. How much time do you need here? For some comics it's 15 minutes. For me it's maybe a couple of days."
Stand-Up StatsStand-Up Stats
Zedlacher: Wawa, Ontario
Martin: Yonge and St. Clair
Downey: It was about getting a haircut that made me look like Wayne Gretzky's rookie card. I'm still telling it.
Zedlacher: You can't print it -- it's copyrighted by Letterman.
Martin: "I'm as nervous as a Newfoundland priest at a PTA meeting."
First paid gig?
Downey: Hosting Comedywood North. An hour by TTC for $10.
Martin: A Yuk Yuk's gig in Peterborough on the night Princess Diana was killed. She died in a car crash, I died onstage.
Were you funny in high school?
Zedlacher: I got suspended for a week for a sketch I wrote for the Christmas assembly. Some teachers still won't talk to me.
Martin: Once I brought a gun to school, and everyone laughed. Now every kid in high school is doing it. They're stealing my act, dammit.
Zedlacher: Black Sabbath, Metallica, COC, Pantera, Slayer, AC/DC and Sam Kinison.
Downey: Jann Arden and Sandra Shamas -- two strong, beautiful, funny women who seem like they're livin' the dream.
Martin: Keith Richards and Vince McMahon.
Downey: Performing at a lesbian bar and not being hit on -- even by the girls with the mullets.
Martin: Being the MC at a stripclub stag party for a bunch of curlers in Brantford.
Zedlacher: A tie between having chicken wings thrown at me onstage by a transsexual and opening for the Spoons.
Downey: My first stalker, someone who followed me from gig to gig. I thought I'd really made it.
Where do you wanna be in five?
Zedlacher: Entertaining the American troops overseas with Bob Hope. Bob will be 104!
Martin: On the moon doing observational jokes like, "Hey, what's up with zero gravity?"