It’s been six months of torture,” says Gary Rideout Jr. in the gutted concrete shell of a restaurant he’s been slowly converting into a 120-?seat comedy club at Bloor and Ossington. “I got into this so I could have a fun place for comedians to hang out and do shows, not to learn to be a skilled tradesperson.”
Ah, the glamorous life of a comedy producer: power over people’s careers, performers clamouring for your attention, pouring concrete.
Yet the much-?needed project will ultimately allow the producer of Sunday Night Live and his friends to develop and perform the kind of sketch and video-?based comedy they enjoy.
As Rideout, a Humber School of Comedy dropout who used his tuition money to fund his first full-?length show, says, “I can spend my days auditioning for brutal commercials or horrible hidden-?camera TV shows, or I can create things I can stand by and say this is something I believe is good.”
It’s a refrain echoed by many of T.O.’s comedy producers. Kenny Robinson started the 14-?year-?old Nubian Disciples Of Pryor evening after opening for Chris Rock at the Phoenix and grasping the city’s pent-?up demand for urban-?style comedy; Lorne Perlmutar launched the Alt.COMedy Lounge in the mid-?90s after being inspired by the new wave of comics in New York and L.A.; and Marcel St. Pierre co-?founded the Bad Dog Theatre five years ago to give improvisers a permanent place to play.
Performers need to be seen, explains St. Pierre.
“You may not know the right people to make that happen, so sometimes you have to make yourself the right people.”
Of course, saying that is one thing; actually following through with it is another.
“People think producers’ jobs are easy until they actually do it,” says Millan Curry-?Sharples, producer of Comedy Now and Comedy Inc., who helped forge the early careers of Russell Peters, Brent Butt and Mike Bullard among others. Like Perlmutar and his partner, Zoe Randall, Curry-?Sharples is one of the few comedy producers in the city who have no desire for the limelight themselves.
But for comics who put on their own shows, the battle between their organizer and entertainer brains can be distracting.
“You’re onstage, and at the same time you’re wondering in the back of your mind if everything is still okay on the other side of the door,” says the Second City and Toronto Sketch Festival’s Julianne Baragar, who frequently performs with her festival co-?producers in the Boiled Wieners. Baragar, who started out behind the scenes as the Wieners’ manager, says she thinks all producers have a bit of the comedian in them. One thing is certain: those who stick with it share a deep passion for their chosen form.
“I’m a comic, but I’m also a huge comedy fan,’” says Maggie Cassella, relaxing after producing the We’re Funny That Way queer comedy festival. While the former road comic draws on her past experiences in organizing the festival (for example, by including a $20 bill in her performers’ welcome kits in case they don’t have any Canadian currency), she draws the line at multi-tasking.
“At the festival, I host but I don’t make jokes unless something goes wrong or I need to stretch for time. If you’re a producer you shouldn’t perform. It’s too much to worry about.”
On that last note, Jo-Anna Downey, who books, hosts, promotes and performs new stand-up weekly at two venues, Spirits and Eton House, is typically blunt. “I wouldn’t wish this [amount of work] on anyone.” Since taking over the Spirits gig 13 years ago, Downey says the number of comics wanting stage time has exploded, and it’s difficult to accommodate all the requests.
The Alt.COMedy Lounge’s Randall agrees. Even though she and Perlmutar have expanded their roster to included video and newcomer nights, Randall still gets four times more requests from performers than she can handle. Trevor Boris, the producer of Video On Trial, has faced so many of his peers wanting to get on MuchMusic, he jokes that his new policy is “You’ve got to sleep with me if you want to be on the show.”
Still, for a motivated comic, persistence can pay off.
“I’ve dodged comics for a year and a half before giving in, and every time I’ve done that they’ve killed,” says Robinson, referring specifically to Last Comic Standing’s Gerry Dee.
Every mover and shaker in Toronto’s comedy scene agrees that seeing comic talent grow is one of the best parts of the job.
“There are people who’ve been performing for less than two years and they’re kicking ass. Why? Because they’re performing every week,” says the Bad Dog’s St. Pierre, who is more than willing to share the spotlight. “I’m always inspired – or I’m outright jealous. It’s healthy competition.”
10 ways to impress a comedy producer
1. Know what kind of comedy they book.
2. Visit their room or watch their show a few times before contacting them.
3. Introduce yourself in person at their room. If it’s a TV or festival gig, mail or hand-?deliver your demo and follow up with a phone call.
4. When you get a spot, show up on time and stick to your allotted time. (Watch for the little red light.)
5. Don’t complain about your order in the show, the venue or the other comics (even if they all suck).
6. If your material isn’t working, write new material.
7. If your material is working but you’ve been doing the same shtick for five years, write new material.
8. It it’s a new material night, write new material.
9. Persist. Even if you’re rejected at first, keep at it and try again in a few months or a year and the year after that. (They’ll remember you.)
10. Don’t persist by contacting them the following day and the day after that and the day after that...
How not to impress a comedy producer
1. Use multiple aliases and e-?mail addresses to secure a spot on an open mic night. (Jo-?Anna Downey experienced this.)
2. Give an unsolicited impromptu set in an empty room as the producer sets up the bar for the evening. (Zoe Randall experienced this.)
3. Leave your entire set on their answering machine. (Kenny Robinson experienced this.)
4. Suggest, as a white comic, that you do an urban comedy night in blackface. (Robinson experienced this.)
Compiled by JUNE MORROW