Ben Miner on the comedy road out west

Comedy legend Tommy Chong, born in Edmonton, Alberta.

Comedy legend Tommy Chong, born in Edmonton, Alberta.

When I started doing stand-up many years ago, one of the ways you proved your worth as a comic was by heading out west for a run. It’s still sort of the same, but back then Canadian comedy was one big happy family and the gigs were plentiful, the money was good and if you managed to come out the other end of the tour with your sanity and a pocket full of cash then you won.

I was still living with my mom when I started touring. I was maybe 23 years old, had a stupid haircut and spent just about all of my free time at the club in Ottawa. The guys I looked up to on the scene back then (Marcus Rummery, Wafik Nasralla, Mike Beatty and Casey Corbin) were all road warriors who’d disappear for a few weeks and come back with the best stories. That’s who I wanted to be and I couldn’t wait for my first western swing. Hanging out at the club in Ottawa was cool and everything, and I for sure felt a part of something, but touring? That made me feel like a real deal comic.

That first tour out west was the best; everything was an adventure and awful and wonderful at the same time. I was young enough where staying in hotels was super fun; I didn’t care that the window in my room looked out to the hallway. Ever have an actual cowboy rush the stage to cuss you out for making fun of farmers? Me neither, but I witnessed that happen to my buddy Matty Billon out west. I think that was in Camrose, Alberta, actually. It was the week Mitch Hedberg died and Matty and I were both huge fans of his; we dedicated our show to him that night. Matty Billon is the type of comic the west breeds, cool and fearless. Did Matty flinch when that cowboy got in his face? Nope, he made fun of him some more and when the bouncers dragged him out Matty yelled, “Hey fellas, can you grab me his belt buckle when you’re done boot-f**king him?” So cool.

There was a point in the late 90’s when a bunch of western comics made their mark in Canada, comics like Chuck Byrn and Tim Nutt, Shannon Laverty, Tom Stade – comics you just couldn’t rattle. Didn’t matter what you threw at them, they cut their teeth out west and they were super tough. Hard to intimidate someone who’s first pro gig was in Fairview, Alberta for a bunch of drunk oil riggers. Makes the Legion in Chatham feel like Massey Hall. Not to mention, Western comics never got the same treatment out east as we got out west. When eastern comics went on tour, we were put up in hotels and taken care of, but when it was time for our pals from out west to come out east they were always stuck couch surfing because most of the Ontario clubs don’t have hotels. So not only were they doing tougher gigs back home, the easier gigs here were made tougher for them too. Brutal. No wonder Chuck Byrn can kill anywhere.

The gigs may not be as abundant as they once were but the comics coming out of the west are still awesome. Calgary’s Noor Kidwai is going to be a big deal, Sean Lecomber is one of the best stand-ups in Canada and he lives in Edmonton. Amanda Brook Perrin is kicking all sorts of ass, she’s another Calgary product. There’s just something about being an artist from out west. Bruce McCulloch grew up in Calgary and did you know that Tommy Chong is from Edmonton? So much great comedy coming from a place that isn’t supposed to be all that funny. And more to come. Or did you think that oil was Alberta’s top export?

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