Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 514: A Stand Up Guy

A few months ago, a friend of mine decided he wanted to try his hand at stand-up comedy.

Now, this is a bright, talented, intelligent guy with a Masters in Languages and a very successful career in another branch of the show business. Maybe it was some kind of bucket-list, mid-life crisis thing. I don't know. But he wanted me to accompany him to a local open mike night and critique his work -- so I did.

And as a result, I ended up meeting a bunch of young comics just starting out and was reminded of the comedy scene in Toronto when it was just a gleam in Mark Breslin's eye and whoever conceived the Just For Laughs festival still hadn't put that first bottle of seltzer down somebody's pants.

On one level, those who do stand-up comedy are no different from those who choose to become actors, singers, writers or directors. There are some who are hugely talented but adrift. Some with little talent but lots of drive. All trying as best they can to find their voice and a way to entertain an audience.

But on another level, stand up comics are very, very different. I've always looked on them as the professional wrestlers of legitimate show business. The kind of people instilled with a clarity of purpose that would give a Jesuit pause and the courage to go out night after night to get a steel chair in the face.

There is simply no one braver than a stand up comic. As the saying so aptly goes -- "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard". And stand ups face their own agonizing version of death every time they step onto a stage.

Through little more than dumb luck, I saw some of the best comedians ever to come out of Canada take their first baby steps. Jim Carrey. Mike Myers. Ron James. Brent Butt. Howie Mandel. And the list goes on.

But perhaps the bravest of them all was Mike MacDonald.

Mike stared down depression and a bi-polar condition long before he ever stood in front of an audience. And he continued to fight those demons as he built an astonishing list of classic routines that were funny as hell.

Later he battled Hepatitis C and performed the super-human feat of rebooting his career following a liver transplant, going back on the road while struggling nightly to remember the intricate, nuanced jokes that had once rendered audiences helpless with laughter.

Much of that is covered in a Marc Maron WTF podcast from last Summer and well worth a listen here. Mike's portion begins about 40 minutes in.

Mike died last night back home in Ottawa, leaving fellow comedians stunned. To many of them, Mike was a giant, both as a talent to emulate, a mentor and a friend.

And those, like me, who saw him perform remain awed by the ability he had to make us laugh.

Whether you had that good fortune or not, Mike left a raft of great routines, TV specials and more to keep us laughing for a long time to come.

Here's a taste.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

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