TRAGEDY PLUS TIME VOLUME 33 – EMMETT HALL

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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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There was a time, not too long ago that in order to be in show business, you had to have a range of talents.

Somebody like the great WC Fields had to be a juggler in addition to being a comedian and all of the Marx Brothers all sang and danced in addition to playing instruments; Chico played the piano, Groucho the guitar and Harpo, well…the harp.

When I meet one of these people in present day, I admit that I feel a tinge of envy. Somebody who is funny, in addition to possessing other artistic skills are people that I have trouble figuring out. How can some people be good at many things, especially in an age where to do so isn’t requisite anymore?

One such specimen is Vancouver’s Emmett Hall. If you’ve been out to see live comedy, you may have seen him reading one of his hilarious monologues (either a Christmas story that uses olde timey nonsensical slang, or his news reports that sound like news readings, but are grammatically disastrous), playing with his medieval rock duo “Knights of the Night”, or being the musical back up for the Sunday Service Improv show. If you’re more of the stay at home type, you may have watched one of the many cartoons he has animated, heard his contribution to the Sunday Service podcast or read his online comic Starbun.

Emmett tends towards being humble about this, making him all the more rare.

In the time I’ve known Emmett he has traveled around the world in pursuit of studying furthering his animation talents, and I’ve always been grateful that he’s returned to Vancouver. Without him here, I might feel that my act of only being able to tell jokes might be enough but that would be at the cost of the comedy scene being far less dynamic.

If you would like to know more you can go to:    http://www.thesundayservice.ca/podcasts

and

http://emmetthall.blogspot.com/

Emmett was kind enough to answer some questions for Vancouver Is Awesome.

When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

I can’t remember a specifically recent moment, but it’s a sure bet that it was one of the many elaborate and stupid scenarios my friend John Young and I concoct while on break at work. It usually stems from some self deprecating conversation. And nobody else thinks it’s funny.

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

That the audience should have an expectation to just relax and be entertained. I think their brains should be poked a wee bit. Give them something that requires a little concentration. When I’m in an audience, I really enjoy the benefit when I get in on the comic’s game or the context of their stage personality. You’ll feel the reward of helping establish the little universe created in that moment between the comic and the crowd. It does requires paying attention and being open minded though. And that can be obnoxious.

What would be your idea of a perfect venue?

A place where I don’t have to second guess tech and equipment in any form whatsoever. I’ve started to keep my material relegated to a piece of paper because I’m too scared of depending on some electronic gizmo or cue.
I would love to do something gigantic in a theatre space though. Tens of thousands of dollars on gear and visuals and sound. Like a play. But good!

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

Y’know, I basically figure everything is still fair game.

However, it does seem like most comedic songs go straight to filth lyrics. That’s boring. I think there is some much unmined material in making fun of the actual music. All forms of popular music need a slap in the face. None of it is nearly as important or as good as everyone thinks it is. This I decree!
And nostalgia references in comedy. Bringing up Popples or Hanson or whatever is too easy. If the actual context of the nostalgia is somehow captured…then that’s fun, I think.
Also, Two and Half Men needs to be dropped as the ‘go to’ reference for what’s wrong with television and comedy and what the masses like, yadda. and etc.
Oh! And the gents in The Sunday Service make too many dick jokes.
Other than that…everything is still fair game. Even dirty songs and Popple references. And dick jokes.

What is your process for writing your comedy pieces?

I like mocking how little I really understand anything and everything. Then projecting it onto the audience by acting like I do know. But I don’t. And neither do they.

Generally, If there’s a spark of an idea I laugh at immediately, then I know it should work well to develop into a bit, or piece, or precious oevure opus. I’ve just got to maintain confidence in that first chuckle I gave myself because once I write it and rehearse it, it’s not funny to me at all anymore.

You improvise music for the Sunday Service, what are the challenges involved with this?

Knowing when not play is very valuable. The music injects so much mood and will often force scenes in a cornball way.

Also, maintaining a fresh arsenal of genres and styles so I don’t get bored with myself. Nobody notices, but I pretend people can tell when I rehash my standbys for happy, cheesy, or scary soundtracks.

What do you get from your comic strip work that you cannot get from live show?

Anything goes when you draw it. Inventing an entire world with my own set of rules is quite fun and I get to watch it morph over time into it’s own weird thing. Like I was explaining earlier, there’s that reward for the audience/reader when they’ve invested their time and concentration into the comedy and story. They’re in on the inside joke because they’ve spent time in the world I (hopefully) constructed clearly.
I haven’t made a new comic strip in months though. Nobody reads it, So I’m full of crap
I will say this…since I work in the animation industry…I think animation is the ultimate medium for comedy. It’s comedic timing choreographed down the the 24th of a second.
And I should know. I’m currently working on My Little Pony.

Why is Vancouver a good place for comedy?

I like that the comedy here spans a pretty wild spectrum. The comedians seem to be consistently experimenting and venturing into very ambitious territory. But it rarely gets so wanky that it’s completely inaccessible to the audience. There’s often an attempt at benefit-of-the-doubtery on both sides. It’s a level of trust that is a nice confidence booster.
That being said, I really just play to my crowd. Who are very supportive. And pretty much consists of John Young who I previously mentioned.

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

The Cody Rivers Show.

What is your favorite joke (street of otherwise)?

Homer Simpson: “Hello. My name is Mr Burns. I believe you have a letter for me.”
Postal Worker: “Okay, Mr. Burns. What’s your first name?”
Homer Simpson: “…I don’t know.

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

Emmett Hall don’t fold. It’s Hall or nothing!
Or something about emmental cheese.