JOHNNY GARDHOUSE headlining at Yuk Yuk's Downtown (224 Richmond West), October 23-25, Thursday 8:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 and 10:30 pm. $17. 416-967-6425. Rating: NNNNN
If you ever hear someone heckle stand-up Johnny Gardhouse, count to three real slowly. "Mike Bullard gave me that advice on the road," says Gardhouse. "He told me, 'Three seconds. Give yourself three seconds. If someone yells at you, it's amazing what you can come up with in three seconds. '"
Not that anyone would want to interrupt the Owen Sound-born Gardhouse, one of the most likeable and unthreatening comics around.
"I'm a people pleaser," he admits over coffee. "I'm the nice guy. My material's not gross or weird. I'm not a sailor, but hey, I'm from Northern Ontario, where the word 'fuck' is a sentence."
He's also been, for the past year or so, more visible than ever. He's the smiling postman in the commercials who delivers Cash For Life cheques to lottery winner Samantha Bee (now at The Daily Show With Jon Stewart).
His malleable mug even showed up on the lottery tickets.
"I was on a packed streetcar one day and a guy cut through the crowd to tell me I owed him $4," laughs Gardhouse. "I lived in the same neighbourhood for a couple of years and never said a word to the convenience store worker. Suddenly, I'm there taking pictures with him and his family."
But Gardhouse wants to be known as more than the lottery guy or the guy who, back in the mid-90s, took on The Jerry Springer Show.
"I can talk about the settlement now because the gag order is up," he says about his much-publicized legal run-in with the tabloid show for pretending - along with a bunch of other local comics - to be involved in a father-abuses-babysitter scenario.
"We settled for $10. We paid them in a bunch of toonies."
The Springer exposure helped get him auditions with Mad TV and Saturday Night Live, but the comic admits he wasn't ready for it all back then.
"Auditioning in New York was a wake-up call. It made me work a lot harder here.
"If I learned anything, it's that one little thing can change you, good or bad. Showbiz is a wicked lady."
In the business for about 10 years now, Gardhouse says his material is more political and informed than it was when he started out.
"I used to let my face be my punchline," he says, wiggling his eyebrows, which have a life of their own. "I make fun of our leaders, of Americans. I'm constantly blown away by people's ignorance."
And he's looking at this weekend's series of shows at Yuk Yuk's as a turning point.
"I'm in a good place now. I'm happy, I have a wonderful girlfriend and a great family," he says. "I've been doing some of these jokes for about 10 years, and this weekend could be the last time for some of them."