Published Oct 02, 2018Growing up in a small town instead of a big city can be difficult, because there aren't as many people around to crowd you, the air is cleaner, there's less crime, the cost of living is lower, and your dad might be able to help you fix that thing you can't fix. What a hellscape. Fortunately, our next show features performers who each left such places for the greener pastures of larger metropolises. The pastures are likely AstroTurf, but still.
Canada's only exclusive stand-up and sketch comedy label, Comedy Records, has teamed up with Exclaim! to launch the Comedy Records Showcase, which takes place on the first Thursday of every month at Wenona Lodge (1069 Bloor St. W) in Toronto. Show times are at 9 p.m. sharp!
Our October 4 edition features performances by Daniel Sylvester, slam poetry duo Definition of Knowledge, and Rob Bebenek and so we thought we'd learn more about them and then present our findings.
Daniel Sylvester is originally from Windsor, Ontario but now calls Ottawa home.
"I grew up obsessed with boundary-pushing sketch comedy like late '80s/early '90s Saturday Night Live, Mr. Show, The Ben Stiller Show, and The Kids in the Hall," Sylvester recalls. "My father and I watched a lot of standup when I was a kid, but I mostly just watched the comedians he loved, like George Wallace, Harland Williams and Kevin Meany.
"But I didn't know that there were standups who could meld the alt sensibilities of the sketch comedy I loved with the standup craft that my dad loved until I was in my 20s, when I discovered David Cross, Eugene Mirman and Mitch Hedberg."
As such, Sylvester says he didn't explore doing standup himself until his late 30s, after seeing a friend perform at an open mic at Yuk Yuk's in Ottawa. He thought he could do a better job than some of the other souls who braved the stage and, drawing upon his youth and upbringing in Windsor, he continues to try and be better than the people he saw that night.
"My teenage friends in Windsor were the funniest people I've ever met," he says. "Still, to this day. And I hang around with pro and semi-pro comedians all the time. I feel that our entire reason for existing at the time was to be funny and make ourselves and other people laugh. Life was a big joke. We'd do ridiculous things like pretend to be a prepubescent 19 century English street beggar with the catchphrase, 'Finger ya bumhole fer ya guv'ner.' Stuff like that.
"Growing up in Windsor, which is a factory town, anything goes as far as humour. You can't offend people in Windsor no matter how hard you try. They've heard it all."
Definition of Knowledge are a slam poetry duo, consisting of Bryn Pottie and Hanan Younis, who are currently based in Toronto. They have less fondness for their respective origin cities.
"We would never perform in our hometown," Pottie says. "We're both from small towns and our bullies still live there and just aren't woke enough to handle how hot we are now.
"We started doing poetry together at a slam and everyone laughed, so we just kind of went with it and now we're comedy I guess," Pottie continues. "We got into poetry because we wanted to find a way to give a voice to those who are not talented enough to speak for themselves. I think we get so many comedy gigs because comedy shows are full of silly stuff and so we balance it out by providing something that is in no way silly — slam poetry!"
While their energetic and outspoken style has been embraced by some in their artistic community, the duo are open about feeling at least a little bit like outsiders in Toronto.
"Our performance has been described by the artistic director of Toronto Poetry Slam as 'half baked,'" Pottie says. "We would actually describe our performance as 'fully baked.'"
Rob Bebenek is originally from Kitchener, ON but is now making his home in Toronto, where he's been working on developing a TV show.
"Eddie Murphy Delirious was the first standup I remember watching as a kid, but I wasn't really a huge fan of standup until I saw Billy Connolly's live in Glasgow show from 1994," Bebenek recalls. "Then Brian Regan at the improv, but I didn't even want to be a standup. I always thought I'd try and go the sketch comedy route and get into comedic acting. I was forced into doing standup comedy and it went well, and as soon as I had that taste I was hooked.
"There are some really funny people from Kitchener," he adds. "DJ Demers and Courtney Gilmour are both from Kitchener, and they're both killers. I don't know if it's hometown specific or not. I'm only funny because of the guys I grew up with. I wasn't even the funny one in my group of friends. I just hung with a group of beautiful weirdos and we'd would spend all our spare time verbally assaulting each other and making ourselves laugh."
Bebenek says he has no answer when asked about his stylistic approach to standup. He doesn't avoid any topic and guides himself with principle that "if it's funny, it's funny."
"If I try to tackle a 'sensitive' topic, I'll put the work in to make the joke good," he explains. "Some comics don't and the joke is lazy and offensive. Then they act surprised when people get angry about it and that's just stupid. You knew what you were doing. I hate lazy writing."
Come see these people transcend their roots on Thursday, October 4 at the Wenona Lodge.
A ten-dollar ticket includes one pint of Steamwhistle; you can buy tickets in advance here.