JEFF McENERY part of the CREAM OF COMEDY show on the Comedy Network, Saturday (January 21) at 10 pm. Also appears at the ALT.comedy lounge Monday (January 23), and as guest host on SUNDAY NIGHT LIVE Sunday (January 22). See Comedy Listings for details.
If Jeff McEnery's parents hadn't separated back in the mid-1990s, he wouldn't be doing stand-up comedy today.
"I'd probably still be living in Acton, Ontario, and maybe at 45 I'd get a humour column in the Acton Tanner," says McEnery.
As it is, the tall, squinty-eyed, gangly redhead - who sort of resembles that kid you knew in grade school who did nasty things to cats - is one of the fastest-rising comics on the scene.
Winner of the Cream Of Comedy Award for best up-and-coming comic, he's already earned a spot on the Yuk Yuk's roster and this week plays both the Alt.COMedy Lounge at the Rivoli and guest hosts the Sunday Night Live sketch show at the Brunswick.
McEnery's the first to point out that it hasn't all been laughs offstage. After his parents' split, the then teenager and his mother lived in a women's shelter.
"Richard Pryor was a big influence on me, because he turned hard times into comedy," says McEnery in his inimitable country mumble, which is not put on. "I remember growing up thinking, 'It would be great if I could do this, too.' So I took a shot at it."
A stint at the Humber School for Comedy taught him to write about what he knew, so he did - and learned pretty quickly at the city's amateur nights what worked and what didn't. Jokes about the women's shelter and miscarriages were too raw; jokes about his complete lack of sexual prowess killed.
His best bit concerns his belief that vaginas don't exist. He hasn't seen one, he tells us, so to him they're as plausible as unicorns or leprechauns.
Another comic delivering the same material might come across as crude. With McEnery, it's convincing. Anger and insecurity lurk beneath the jokes, but you feel it's real.
"I don't think I'm going to get a girlfriend for a while," he tells me. "Maybe that's why I'm doing this - so one day I can get to that Drew Carey level: an ugly, successful comic who gets to hang out at the Playboy mansion. Right now I'm hanging out at the manor in Guelph."
One of the most surprising moments in the Cream Of Comedy special, which airs Saturday (January 21), comes at the end, when McEnery receives his award. He's moved to tears, not something you see often in the jaded world of comedy.
"It's because comedy means everything to me," he tells me.
"All that talk about girls and stuff is true. I don't have anything else going for me. This is it."