Friday, December 15, 2017

Local comedy scene bustling with amateurs and pros

November 15, 2017 by Fred Cameron, contributing writer

He stood on the stage—next to Jerry Springer—shirtless, with red tassels hanging from his nipples, and realized it was a little late for second-guessing as millions watched around the globe. The studio audience chanted, “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” The moment is still legendary in some circles; it marked the arrival of Jy Harris.

Harris is a comedian from Victoria, now based out of Vancouver. He made his way to the national comedy circuit at a time when there was no scene in Victoria, no place for aspiring comics to hone their craft.

“My career started in 1999,” Harris recalls, “after going down to the Tally-Ho. It was this bar by Mayfair Mall where all the local drunks would hang out. I saw Darryl Lenox, an amazing comedian from the States who was living in Canada for a while. I just thought this is something I want to do. I love stand-up.”

Vancouver comedian Jy Harris’ career got started when he lived in Victoria (photo provided).

With no place to perform, the writing was on the wall: Harris had to leave the rock if he wanted to have any hope of making a name for himself.

“The first time I did it, I wasn’t quite 19, so I borrowed a friend’s ID and went to Yuk Yuk’s in Vancouver, and I was terrified. I did my first set as Tony Dierick. My first time was a trainwreck. I moved over to Vancouver when I turned 19 and did it for a year or so, and it got less and less nerve-wracking each time I went.”

Since then, Harris has toured nationally, performed across the US and Europe, had a special on Comedy Now, worked on The Jerry Springer Show, and even made his way to acting in films.

For years, local comics either moved away or travelled to the mainland to perform. The talent was there, as well as a growing audience, which left a gaping hole to fill on the island.

“We opened Hecklers about 10 years ago,” says Hecklers Bar and Grill owner Aaron McGough. “[Comedian] Pete Johansson had approached me about doing comedy in the past. I looked him up online and thought he was very funny. We had been open for about six months when we realized we needed something to do, so I gave Pete a call.”

Hecklers opened up on Gorge Road and made Victoria a destination for comedians—touring comedians headline the venue every Friday and Saturday night.

“I’ve watched about 1,000 comedy shows now,” says McGough. “Victoria is a nice place to visit and Hecklers has a decent reputation now, so we pretty well get our pick of the comedians who tour Canada. We have really good acts coming up—I can’t recommend Michelle Shaughnessy enough, Tracey MacDonald, Dave Merheje is great. I’m excited.”

Indeed, the comedy scene has exploded in recent years in Victoria, with events popping up all over town. There are amateur nights and improv classes just about any day of the week; as a result, a subculture of aspiring comics has emerged.

“Shane Priestly and Myles Anderson are a step ahead of the rest,” says McGough, “because they’ve been doing it for a lot longer. I’m not counting Mike Delamont, Sean Proudlove, Wes Borg, and Jason Lamb because they’ve been comedians for a long time. For up and comers, it’s Shane Priestly, Myles Anderson, and Chelsea Lou.”

There are amateur nights across town and workout rooms where comedians can try out new material and refine their game. Quincy Thomas is the organizer of a bi-weekly 4:20-friendly show at Terp City (the next one is Friday, November 24) and the Bad Mama Jama Show, a mixture of music and comedy at Vinyl Envy (the next one is on Saturday, November 25). Thomas says the local scene is pretty good right now, noting that there’s live comedy happening no matter the day.

“Ratfish, Mondays; Logan’s, Tuesdays. Wednesdays, the Mint is always packed. I can get up at Ratfish Thursdays and then the big acts [are] at Hecklers on Friday and Saturday,” says Thomas. “There’s comedy every night of the week.”

Some of the brightest stars in comedy will appear on Victoria’s stages in the coming weeks. Just For Laughs is bringing its Alternative Comedy Tour to the McPherson Theatre for two shows on Saturday, November 18. The shows are headlined by T.J. Miller, of Silicon Valley and Deadpool, with special guest Rhys Darby of Flight of the Conchords. On Saturday, December 9, the controversial Jim Jefferies—one of the most popular comedians of his generation—will perform at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

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