MARK FORWARD headlining at Yuk Yuk's Downtown (224 Richmond West) through March 25, Thursday 8:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 7:30 and 10:30 pm. $10-$17. 416-967-6425. Rating: NNNNN
Mark Forward is one of those comics who can get away with saying just about anything. If you're offended, all he has to do is flash you his dimpled smile, which is equal parts anger, sarcasm and Jack Nicholson.
"At first I had no idea about the power of the smile," says Forward, "and then people began mentioning it. I thought, "Gee, maybe I can use it, like a superpower.' When jokes didn't fly, I discovered that I could smile and it would be like I was above it all. In high school, I eventually learned that I could tell people to their faces that they were idiots, and after I smiled they'd go, "Oh, Mark, you're so crazy!'"
True, there's a bit of craziness in his act, which touches on the ugliness of the original Degrassi Junior High cast, slacking off at work and why people treat their pets and children differently.
But he's more like that wise-ass underachiever who used to sit at the back of the class and mouth off. Anger mixed with resentment and brains - a dangerous combination.
"Yes, that was me. I sat at the back of the class," says Forward, who's headlining at Yuk Yuk's Downtown through the weekend.
"Then I got moved to the front of the class so teachers could keep an eye on me. But I'd bug them so much, going in early, stealing the chalk and hiding their equipment, that eventually they let me sit in the back again."
Academia's loss is comedy's gain. Although Forward studied theatre at Humber and began working in - of all things - children's theatre, he had to give it up.
"I don't want to say anything bad about theatre, but let's just say there are a lot of people who are very passionate about it, and when you're not, it stands out."
He remembers clearly his final professional theatre gig.
"A gentleman" - and here he clears his throat significantly - "who owned the rights to the play hated that I was cast in it, and for the entire run didn't talk to me."
Lucky, then, that he found stand-up, where you're basically the entire show. He started off at Yuk Yuk's amateur nights, bombing initially and then getting better, all the while studying rising up-and-comers like Nikki Payne, Ryan Belleville and Gilson Lubin.
"I learned a lot from those guys: they worked so hard, attacked the material and found their persona."
The word "persona" is important in light of Forward's carefully conceived comedy. In his daily life, his voice lacks the smart-alecky nyah-nyah timbre of his onstage persona. But he still embraces his inner meanie.
"I tried avoiding that, tried to be like other comics, but the audience can smell insincerity," he says. "I came back to the sarcasm. It's close to my true self."
He also gets recognized a lot for his TV commercial work. He was featured prominently in a major beer campaign, and appeared dressed up in a fast-food chain uniform.
"I try to be nice," he says about people coming up to him on the street.
"But their reactions are usually so stupid, and very Canadian. They say, "Hey, I know you! I don't know where, but I know you. '"
Forward's reaction? He thanks them. And smiles.