This past week has been a roller coaster of sadness and elation in Canadian comedy.
Beginning with the sad part, last Saturday the Canadian comedy family lost a cherished member when Montrealer (but really all-around Canadian) Andrew Albert, a veteran comic who played many stages and even more non-stage “stages” all across Canada over many years, died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of just 46. While I didn’t have the opportunity to work and play with Andrew as much as many other Canadian comedians did, it became clear after his passing just how much he meant to everyone he came in contact with. To audiences and comedians alike, Andrew was a universally loved man who was quick with a joke, generous with his time, and possessed a personality (and a booming laugh) that made you believe all was ok in the world, or at least it would be. The online outpouring of sadness and love from a community that is, by its nature, solitary and sarcastic, has been extraordinary. If you’d like a testament to Andrew’s talent you can download his album here and a GoFundMe page has been set up to assist with funeral costs since, like most comedians, we prioritize our finances towards killing on stage, not dying off of it. (I hope Andrew would laugh at that. I believe he would.) RIP Andrew Albert. Thank you for enriching the world with your joy and for setting an example on how to do this job with kindness and compassion.
Given this was how the week in Canadian comedy started you might be wondering where the “elation” part comes in. Well, as they say in show business “the show must go on” and this week, for many comedians, including myself, the shows actually DID!
On Thursday of this week I had the opportunity to perform at two shows in Toronto, one outside and one inside, both observing strict capacity and distancing protocols. Still, a small crowd of people at a small distance is much, much more enjoyable to perform to than an indeterminate number of people at vast distances from each other, in various states of attention and Wi-Fi reception. Sure, I was a little “rusty” having not performed standup for a live audience in over 17 months. But it really was like riding a bike (especially the material I did about riding a bike) and in the end the bond between comedy and audience and between comedians is something that really must be experienced to be understood. Despite the fact that my first set at a venue called “Tall Boys” was “unplugged” since a neighbour of the bar had complained about noise the week before (I understand the sound of people’s laughter is jarring after a year of so little laughter, but come on! There are worse things in public noise to complain about. Like fireworks. Or a television blaring “The View”) it was a pleasure just being able to do what I love doing again. And even though there were more comedians at the show than public (if you live in Toronto, please rectify this by going to this weekly show of very talented comedians when you can) even the jokes that didn’t work somehow felt good.
My second set of the night was at a venue called, The Comedy Bar in Toronto where all the various subsets of the comedy world (standup, sketch, improv and “other”) intersect. There, I shared the stage with some long-time comedy friends on “The Pro Show” and, happily, there was a full house (at limited seating capacity) to make laugh. It was very much like the first time I ever took to the standup stage, in the early 1990’s as a student at York University, not knowing at all whether the people staring at me would laugh at what I said. But desperately hoping they would. Thankfully, they DID. And the magic of a room full of strangers erupting in laughter, and finding a way to keep that comedy rolling, is the reason that comedy is more addictive than any drug. Which is good, because comedy is, comparatively, less dangerous and expensive than drugs. Unless you combine it with expensive things. Like drugs.
After that second set and getting to talk to some audience members who were thankful for the night out as well as long-time comedy buddies, who are more like my brothers than my actual brothers (no offense to my actual brothers. But my comedian friends are funnier) it was a feeling of jubilation that only a night of real comedy can bring. Most certainly, the spirit of Andrew Albert was with us that night, smiling down and laughing along. We also toasted several drinks to Andrew. So my apologies if he became the first person to ever be hungover in heaven.
All of this to say that, in a time where the world is polarized between haves and have nots, vaccinated and un-vaccinated, and maybe most importantly between pro-vaccination and anti-vaxxers, well, it’s getting more and more difficult to have a reasonable conversation. When we can’t agree on common sense, what can we have in common?
Well, maybe, just maybe, it’s comedy. Comedy is more inclusive now than it has ever been (but it still has a long way to go). I perform comedy very differently than alt-comics like DeAnne Smith, young Juno-winning phenom Sophie Buddle, or budding star Kyle Brownrigg whom I have described (to him) is the most straight-shooting gay comic that I’ve ever seen. But we can and have all shared the same stage and we have all made the same groups of people laugh.
Comedy comes in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and non-genders. At its best, comedy says what the rest of society doesn’t, in a hilarious, not haranguing (yes I used a Thesaurus for that. It’s called RESEARCH) way. It brings us together, lets the laughter out and, hopefully, can help let what should be common sense in.
Whatever else we can’t agree on, can we at least agree that if you can safely do so, you should go see some live comedy somewhere near you soon? Comedians have devoted their lives to their craft so that we can all escape into laughter for a few minutes. It’s a roller coaster ride of a life as a performer. But as an audience member, you just get to experience the fun parts. And if we can all laugh together it might help us listen to each other over the deathly serious stuff.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Andrew Albert. For friends and fans of Andrew who would like to donate to help with costs for Andrew’s family, a GoFundMe page has been set up here.
Steve will be off performing comedy for the next couple of weeks. The Pattersonian returns on September 5.