BY MATT LINSEMAN
Waterloo Region residents had some good laughs at the seventh annual Kitchener-Waterloo Comedy Festival opening night gala at Centre in the Square on March 3. The night’s lineup featured comedians Steve Patterson, Sean Cullen, Pete Zedlacher, John Wing, Chad Daniels, Scoot Herring, Emily Galati, Dwayne Perkins and Deanne Smith.
Behind the curtain, though, two comedians gave a little advice and shared some insight into how they warm up their funny bones for each show.
“When you prep for a show you tailor it to the crowd,” said John Wing, a Canadian-born comedian with over 36 years of experience. “With a Canadian crowd, you might do a certain joke that you wouldn’t do with an American crowd or vice versa because they wouldn’t get the reference. Everyone laughs at different things and I have to discover what it is in my psyche that can make them laugh.”
When asked what his favourite part of being on stage was he said, “What do you do where you’re most alive and your mind is going so fast where you can deliver a whole paragraph in your head in a second and a half? It’s more than just adrenalin. It’s the way your brain works.”
Wing said it’s like playing pinball where you’re hitting a lot of targets. He described the experience as keeping everything in your head so it can be unravelled later and put together in a different way. He also said every night is a new group and, in turn, a new challenge.
“If you like performing, it’s about as pure as performing gets,” Wing said. “And it’s my naked ass, nobody else’s.”
Dwayne Perkins has been writing comedy and telling jokes for at least 18 years. He most enjoys the process of having an idea or a point, figuring out how to make that point funny and then seeing it actually come to fruition and be funny.
Perkins also shared a little bit of advice about being a comedian.
“You have to have tough skin,” Perkins said. “You can’t give any moment, good or bad, too much power because you have another show. It’s always the next show, it’s always the next show. I would say that for any comic though once you bomb, then the next time you go on, you’re officially a comic at that point.”
He said people usually do well on their first set because it’s their energy and they don’t know to be afraid. Perkins described it like when Bugs Bunny steps off a cliff and doesn’t fall because he doesn’t know what gravity is.
“Once you bomb, you know there’s gravity and if you can keep going then you know you’re a comic. For me, I was doing it two or three years and I had to do a half hour. I did the time but I didn’t get many laughs and that was brutal. Five minutes in I knew it wasn’t going well and on my watch I still had 25 minutes left. It felt like two days, but I still got through it.”
He said getting booed off stage is still not as bad as 30 minutes of silence with close to no laughs because if you get booed off you don’t have to suffer.
“That wouldn’t happen now because 10 minutes in I would decide to just have fun with it. It’s always important to have fun on stage because that’s how you take the power back. Some people think we’re clowns or that we seek acceptance. I think in the beginning maybe, but it’s very important that you let the crowd know you do not seek acceptance and that you have something to say and it’s going to be funny. So when you sense a crowd trying to take your power from you, you have to find a way to respectfully take it back while not making it tense.”
Perkins compared being on stage to being a teacher on the first day of high school. A good show is when the students are kind of afraid and don’t know what’s going to happen, but the teacher puts them at ease and they like the teacher. When it’s going badly for the comic, though, it’s like a substitute teacher with spitballs being thrown. The students have already set a standard and know what to expect. That’s why it goes back to having fun on stage because even if you’re not doing as well as you normally would the crowd doesn’t know that. So it’s up to you to let them know how it’s going to go.