BITCH SALAD GIVES BACK with GAVIN CRAWFORD, CHRISTINA WALKINSHAW, JULIA HLADKOWICZ, THE CHEETO GIRLS, EMMA HUNTER and host ANDREW JOHNSTON, June 29, 8 pm (7 pm doors), at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). $20. 416-975-8555. See listing.
It's hard not to feel self-conscious interviewing Gavin Crawford. The Second City and 22 Minutes alumnus sees all and has the uncanny ability to pick up and expand on every tic and mannerism you never knew you had.
Watch his impressions of Rufus Wainwright, Lady Gaga and even political journalist Chantal Hébert and you see a master comic caricaturist at work. He nails Rufus's blasé sense of entitlement, Gaga's baby girl voice and... well, pretty much everything about Hébert.
"I'm basically a myna bird," says Crawford, who's stopped by the NOW offices a couple of weeks before his headlining gig at a special Pride edition of Bitch Salad.
He looks lanky and boyish in a T-shirt and shorts, pretty much identical to the way he did back in 1999 when I interviewed him for a cover story a year before he launched The Gavin Crawford Show and a few years before he scored the 22 Minutes gig.
"I mimic everything," he says. "That's why I started imitating Rufus in the first place. We'd be listening to his album over and over - I really like his music! But at a certain point if you listen to Rufus for too long, he goes from being really amazing to being kind of...." He stops, closes his eyes and produces a nasal, wavering extended note, like an animal moaning.
"I think I got annoyed with it and realized how slightly atonal it all was."
Freed from the pressures of doing 22 Minutes, which he left a year and a half ago, Crawford's returned to live shows, doing what he did when he first started out - but on a larger scale. After a sold-out Pride performance last year and a remount at last month's We're Funny That Way Festival, he's developing a show he might tour with.
"After eight years of doing things that had to be under two minutes long, and where nothing could be too edgy, I'm looking forward to doing something that resonates just a little bit more," he says. Then he adds, modestly, "I have a slightly larger profile than I did before, so now I can go places and at least fill a third of the theatre."
Doing live shows is also a nice break from the constraints, politics and ineptitude of TV and film. He left 22 Minutes, he says, because he'd done what he wanted to do in that arena.
"I wanted to add more edge," he says. "I thought, ‘I can stay here and make money and be safe,' but I've never had that kind of career. Things only go well when I follow my gut."
If he hadn't followed his gut, his brilliant version of Harry Potter character Severus Snape delivering an It Gets Better message would never have gone viral; nor would his Hébert impression ever have aired on 22 Minutes.
"It took me about two years to convince the producers to let me do [Hébert]," he says. "They were like, ‘Nobody knows her, she's not big enough.' And I said, ‘It's the CBC. Everyone who watches this show also watches The National. Eventually, I had to ask the show runner for five minutes on air. I told him, ‘If it doesn't work, I'll eat it. But let me do this and I'll shut up.'"
The impression became one of his most popular.
He's still pretty raw about his CBC series that got axed after the recent round of funding cuts. The Ceeb had taped the pilot - a Chris Lilley-type mockumentary set in Alberta - and paid him and partner Kyle Tingley to write six scripts. Then the network announced that it wasn't producing any more new comedy shows. A waste of two years.
"It was a little bit like creating a city and then having a hurricane wipe it out," he says.
He assures me the CBC will likely air the pilot eventually - for the tax credit.
"So there'll be a half-hour of really funny TV on one day."
At least no one in Canadian TV has ever told him to tone down his gayness, which is what happened when he was in Hollywood in 2000.
"When I was in L.A. [for the series Hype], I was told time and again by agents and producers and managers that I couldn't be out. I had good press, but they told me I'd have to ‘take the gay out of the articles' or I wouldn't get work. No one would hire me.
"In Canada, no one said I couldn't be on 22 Minutes unless I pretended not to be gay. They just said, ‘If you're funny, you can do it.' That's one of the reasons I prefer to stay here. It's frustrating, TV- and film-wise. It's a damn hard place to make a living as an entertainer, but there are trade-offs."
There's also the satisfaction of seeing a queer comedy community grow up around him.
"There are now at least five or six out gay stand-ups," he says. "And they're doing all different kinds of material, which is great."