TRAGEDY PLUS TIME VOLUME 24 – GUY MacPHERSON

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“Comedy is tragedy plus time.”
It’s been said many times by many comedians. I believe the original usage dates back to the great Carol Burnett. It’s a quote I have borrowed from to title this column about the wonderful talent in the comedy community right here in Vancouver.Since I’ve lived in Vancouver, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they had a bad experience at a comedy show and never went back. This is as ridiculous as swearing off restaurants as a whole because of one case of food poisoning. It’s my hope, that the profiles here will bring back those who have turned away or open the door for those who have never seen live comedy.

Finally, for those out there that don’t like to laugh, they might be best served by a quote from another lady of show business, Julia Roberts:
“Show me a person who doesn’t like to laugh and I’ll show you a person with a toe tag.”

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When I was a kid, my only real portal into the behind the scenes world of comedy was to read any and every book or magazine I could find written on the subject. I was lucky enough to find a dog-eared copy of Phil Berger’s The Last Laugh at a garage sale and I consumed it over and over again like a favorite album. The interviews inside revealed the struggles and the private laughs of some of the giants of comedy.

Anyone growing up today with the interest in comedy nibbling at their heels need look no further than Vancouver’s own Guy MacPherson. He has interviewed comedians both fledgling and legendary in both written and radio form.

It would have been a natural fit for Guy to turn his journalistic attention towards the world of jazz; his father was the legendary jazz saxophone player Fraser MacPherson. If he had done so, comedians and comedy fans alike would be missing out on a world of knowledge.

That’s not to say that everyone is a fan of that decision. MacPherson has had a run in or two with comedians over the years. There was an occasion when Brad Garrett, of Everybody Loves Raymond fame, took exception to the review Guy did of his stand up performance here in Vancouver and did so on the Tonight Show (here’s a link to Guy’s rebuttal: http://www.straight.com/article-76593/guy-macpherson-addresses-comedian-brad-garretts-straight-comments-on-leno)

A similar back and forth occurred when David Cross responded to a review that Guy did of his performance in the Global Comedy Festival. (a link to Guy’s blog: http://wsf1027fm.blogspot.com/2009/08/david-cross.html).

This is not to say that Guy goes around panning everything, (quite the contrary, Guy is a huge comedy fan) but as a writer and reviewer, you need to have opinions and sometimes those ruffle feathers.

I can confess that every time I read one of his interviews, I feel like that kid again, reading that garage sale book and wishing there was more to read and as long as Guy keeps writing, there will be.

If you want to read more, go can go to http://wsf1027fm.blogspot.com/

Guy allowed the tables to be turned and answered some questions for Vancouver Is Awesome.

Photo credit: Brian Nation

When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

The tables have turned, have they? I’m used to asking the questions, not answering them. But okay, I’ll play along. I’m not a big laugher, which seems incongruous, I know, for a guy who loves to watch a lot of comedy. But I never was, even as a kid. I always thought the laughing got in the way of the jokes. Audiences would laugh and I couldn’t hear the tagline. That being said, on rare occasions I will bust a gut. A couple of comics that have given me giggle fits have been Stewart Francis and Alex Nusbaum. On a personal level, I remember once being in a car with my friend who said something cliché. I said, “Let’s talk in clichés all day.” He replied, “Let’s not and say we did.” Even if he didn’t realize it, it was the funniest line in the world to me and I was on the floor. Or maybe I was just loopy.

What is one myth about live comedy you’d like to dispel?

That you can’t see good comedy at a comedy club. You can see good (and bad) comedy anywhere, from a coffee shop, bar, comedy club, theatre or arena. The venue does not make the comedian; the comedian makes the venue.

What would be your idea of a perfect venue?

Like how I segued right into your next question? I’m a pro… So, perfect venue? As I mentioned, I like anywhere but much prefer smaller rooms and clubs. Things just feel more personal, more intimate. You feel like you’re in on something special. Beyond that, I like a good, strong sound system (again, I don’t want to miss the jokes over all that annoying laughter).

What do you think is a comedy premise that needs to be retired?

I believe there’s no such thing as a hack premise; only a hack comic. A funny comic can make any lame premise fresh. Treading into overused territory is tricky because it’s a struggle to keep the audience on board, but if you’ve got a unique slant on the subject, have at it. That being said – and it’s not a premise but a line – I would love to never again hear “Thanks mom/dad” from a comic pretending a heckler or supporter was a parent. Or any of those kinds of fill-in-the-blank gags.

How did you decide to focus your writing on comedy?

I have always loved comedy, starting with albums as a kid, to books as I got a bit older, to stand-ups on Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin, to live comedy starting at the old Punchlines in Gastown. I started out as a sportswriter but still always went out to watch live comedy. When it finally hit me that I didn’t really like sports beyond basketball, I started telling various editors that comedy should be written about. I couldn’t figure out why Eastern European avant-garde music and interpretive dance should get ink and not comedy. All three are hilarious, so why not include the legitimate art form of comedy? Slowly but surely they started to agree.

What do you get from doing your radio show that you don’t from writing about comedy?

I started the show because I used to do a lot of radio in university and I missed it. I hosted a jazz show, did play-by-play for the basketball team, hosted a sports talk show and a late-night eclectic music show. With What’s So Funny? I’m able to accomplish a couple of things: Get more in depth with the comics because it’s one hour of commercial-free conversation, and acquaint myself with comedians I don’t get to write about. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t get to do stories on whoever I want.

Why is Vancouver a good place for comedy?

You’re begging the question, mister. Are we all in agreement that Vancouver is a good place for comedy? But let’s say it is (because I believe it is). I’ll take it from a fan’s perspective, which is what I am. While there are good comics in just about any city, there are really only three major destinations for comics in Canada: Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto. In the States, a comic has so many major cities to choose from that it dilutes the pool in any given place, apart from New York and L.A. Here we get our fair share of the nation’s best comics. Think about who’s come out of Vancouver: Brent Butt, Irwin Barker, Peter Kelamis, Ryan Stiles, Craig Campbell, Colin Campbell, Glenn Wool, Bonnie McFarlane, Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Will Sasso, Rick Ducommun and too many more I can’t think of at the moment.

Who is one performer/group of performers you think everyone should see at least once?

Just one? Why must you put limits on my recommendations? I can’t choose just one, but if you, dear reader, pick any one of these comedians, you can’t go wrong: Brian Regan, Doug Stanhope, Stewart Francis, and Paul F. Tompkins. Or, if you’re in possession of a time machine, go back to the Urban Well days and watch Brent Butt in action.  There wasn’t a funnier comic alive when he was performing regularly. I’m also a proponent of going to see comics you can’t stand from their work on TV. Why? Just because their live shows are often a big surprise and are often nothing like what they’re able to show you on TV. You know how you’ve been disappointed by a live comedian you’ve loved from TV? It works the same way in reverse. Never assume you know what comics are like until you’ve seen them live.

What is your favourite joke (street of otherwise)?

I can never remember jokes, but the late, great Irwin Barker told me a great street joke that I love: Two Jewish guys are walking down the street. They pass a church with a sign that says, “Convert to Catholicism; get $50.” One of the guys says to the other, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” Half an hour later, he comes out. His friend says, “So, did you get the $50?” The first guy says, “Is that all you people think about?”

Irwin also had so many great lines himself, like, “My cousin has a serious gambling problem so much so that his wife left him. He’s trying to win her back, though.” I could go on and on with his stuff.

Every article about comedy has to have a pun in the title. What would you like yours to be?

Yeah, why is that? It drives me crazy. One myth I’d like to dispel about journalists is that they write their own headlines. We don’t. But no doubt mine would be the same awful one that just about all stand-up comics get at one point in their careers, only the pun lies elsewhere in my case: “A real stand-up Guy”.