PAUL HAYWOOD headlining at Tom Foolery's (194 Bloor West) Friday and Saturday (September 13-14) at 8 and 10:30 pm. $15, stu $5. 416-967-5005.
Offstage, stand-up Paul Haywood seems pretty unthreatening. Tall and thin, he could be John Lithgow's Canadian nephew. He speaks quietly and politely, just what you'd expect from the child of two high school principals from Scarborough.But give him a microphone and you suddenly understand what Haywood's about. The attitude is less shy than sardonic. And the quiet surface can erupt at any moment. The principals' kid knows lots of school secrets, and he's not afraid to tell them all.
"I feel like a reporter at times, or like a tour guide saying, "C'mon over here and look at this,'" says Haywood, days before his headlining gig this weekend at Tom Foolery's.
"For instance, why do they charge admission to the Symphony Of Fire? It's in the sky, for god's sake."
On paper, that might sound like Seinfeld slice-of-life stuff, but Haywood -- head cocked knowingly to the side -- gives it more of an edge.
"I like to stir the pot," he says. "I don't want to talk about how I tried to take the cat for a walk."
Consider one of his best bits, his story about moving to Parkdale, opening his window one fresh morning and watching a hooker take a dump in his yard. He fleshes out the tale with a hilarious image of the woman squatting, a pained, constipated look on her face.
"That actually happened to a friend of mine about 10 years ago, when Parkdale was extra-creepy," he says.
"He literally opened the drapes and, "Oh, good morning! What the hell is going on?'"
Speaking of crap, Haywood likes calling bullshit for what it is.
"I like to talk about the things that aren't being said. I enjoy getting those muffled laughs, the ones where people don't know if they should be laughing or not."
For example? Cancer. Haywood has a near-classic bit about Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, who had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, then made a comeback.
"Non-Hodgkins lymphoma," he says in the joke. "N... H... L... -- hmm. That'd be the official cancer of the NHL."
He then points out that Mario Lemieux survived the same disease, concluding, "Unless your grandma has a helluva slapshot, she's gonna die."
It's mordant stuff -- the image of a granny on the rink, the suggestion of elitist treatment for athletes, and the fact that probably everyone in the audience has been touched by cancer. Haywood himself lost his mom to cancer 21 years ago.
"I'm trying to peel back and get at the truths that are universal," he says.
He's also trying to avoid the kind of easy material that got him quick laughs at amateur nights eight years ago.
"I used to do a gag about CLIT-FM, pointless goofiness," he admits. "Fart jokes are hilarious, even today."
One of the jokes he's currently working on concerns how some comics appropriated the recent death of stand-up J.T. Huntley by making it seem like their own personal tragedy. It's structured like a talk show called The Back To Me Show.
These days, apart from stand-up, Haywood's taking acting classes, appearing in the occasional commercial -- a Budweiser spot with the comic in an ugly turtleneck sweater won an award in the U.S. -- and is working on a short film about serial killings in and around a comedy club.
"It's important to be doing other things," he says. "I can tell when I hear a joke that the comic wrote it in his living room with the TV on. You've got to get out and experience things. Mix it up. Evolve."