Becoming Banksy asks the age-old question: who really is Banksy?

The up-and-coming comedy provides a commentary on society’s relationship with the world’s most well-known graffiti artist

<i> Becoming Banksy </i>asks the age-old question: who really is Banksy?

The Varsity sat down with Caitlin Driscoll, Daniel Pagett, Imogen Wilson, Elan Farbiarz, and Anurag Choudhury, who make up the cast and crew of Becoming Banksy. Becoming Banksy is a comedy that explores what happens when a confused tourist is mistaken for the world’s most famous artist.

The Varsity: There is quite a difference between the way that visual art and theatrical art portray their message. The visual component is very different; you convey time and expression a lot more fluidly, more dynamically as actors. Since Banksy is known for movement and attention-grabbing hooks, did you struggle to convey that same sort of ‘hook?’

Elan Farbiarz: Everyone has a different viewpoint on the art itself, graffiti, Banksy, what have you. It is pretty cool — it’s completely anonymous and people will just show up and gawk at it and care. The anonymity is so exciting for everyone to see. If we knew who Banksy was, I don’t know if people would care.

Imogen Wilson: Banksy is quite unique in the way that it has this anonymity where you could venture to what it could be, like Batman, these individuals that exist in the zeitgeist, but exist where you can’t see them.

Daniel Pagett: They represent the idea, not just themselves.

EF: Some of Banksy’s most prolific works are his installation pieces, which bridge the gap between the theatrical and artist. You’re expected as an observer to contribute — see, touch, manipulate. Your relationship to the space and time you’re in takes your experience. Much like here, a very powerful part of theatre is the ‘now.’ What if we were to expose Banksy?

TV: Banksy’s work is sometimes satirical, but most of the time political. Do you feel a comedy suits Banksy better than a tragedy?

Caitlin Driscoll: When does the artist become the art? It’s about him. Like, the humour that surrounds him as a person — you gotta be able to laugh. His stuff, it’s political, incendiary in some way, but at the same time, the way people get caught up in the fame — it diminishes the messages. It’s interesting to do a comedy about that.

EF: There’s something [ominous] about the rise of our collective zeitgeist and the rise of this artist, which is making very poignant comments on this relationship, between our lives, corporations, privacy.

IW: There’s a quote that Banksy has, it’s, “People only cared about what I had to say when they didn’t know who I was,” which I think is quite cool and quite telling.

DP: Social media carries his art to a larger audience. It carries a similarity with graffiti in that they are both ‘local’ [accessible] mediums. They exist in one place, at one time. I would argue that theatre is more ‘local’ now because of the internet, but with graffiti you can see a picture of it and it kind of works.

EF: But it changes all the time; like theatre, a month later it could be faded, a few weeks later it could be gone. It happens under the cover of night. One morning you could wake up and just be like, ‘Oh what’s that, another piece?’ on your way to work.

PHOTO BY KRIS ROESKE

TV: Did making this ‘local’ theatrical experience have anything to do with the fact that there is a Banksy exhibition happening right now?

IW: I’m from Toronto originally and I always wanted to come back and do something here, and once I saw that Banksy was coming here, it was like, ‘Of course, Toronto.’ You never know how many people ‘know’ Banksy, though. In New York, London, LA, there’s a good base that understands it. All [of a] sudden, people are going to be like, ‘Oh what’s Banksy like?’ The exhibit was great for people who know nothing about Banksy. Our show gives you more depth to what it’s actually all about, the phenomenon. How we talk, the questions, the people who don’t like the work. It’s one of those things where we ask those questions and we give you more than what the exhibit could give you.

EF: I’m a bit of a self-proclaimed renegade. I always loved those stories of people existing outside of convention, and being bold, and making strong choices, you know, Banksy, Batman, Robin Hood, these unsung heroes. On an artistic level, I like his work. It’s clever, well-executed. The stencil work is great. I think his exhibition pieces are his best work.

DP: In terms of the comedy of the show, Banksy uses satire and political messages, and that’s always been a big thing for me as an actor. If I have a message to [the piece], or dramatic catharsis, there should be an equal amount of comedy and accessibility for audiences. A spoonful of sugar is missing from a lot of art. I think that’s one thing that’s really important. Some artists want their voice to be heard, but if it’s not accessible, or if no one wants to listen, then you’re really just shouting into the void.

CD: I’ve always been a big fan of Banksy as a ‘moment in time.’ He’s like, all the things. Banksy is the ultimate stand-up comic. He can do his whole set — no one needs to look it over. He’s there.

TV: If there was one thing you could impress upon Banksy, what would it be?

CD: That’s a big one. My main thing would be, I don’t want to know who you are. I want you to remain anonymous. I like the choices being made. I don’t want to meet you, I don’t need to meet you.

DP: Because I think of Banksy as more of an idea than a person, it’s hard to say what I’d say to him necessarily — I’ve already said a bunch of things ‘to’ him. It’s harder to say something to an idea than to a person. I’d just say thanks.

EF: I’d ask him where the treasure is buried. I mean in the same way, it’s my belief that it’s bigger than one person. If I were to meet someone from ‘Banksy Inc.,’ I’d probably want to participate. What’s the secret code? How can I join?

IW: Obviously Banksy has all this money now. I’d want to know what, or how much he profits off his works and his projects and exhibitions. How much do you control, what power do you have, and how do you earn all of this? It’s a big corporation.

Anurag Choudhury: I find it strange to ask people about their professions, so I’d probably just ask for a pint and then ask about his politics.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Becoming Banksy opened on September 28 and will run until October 14. Tickets are available at www.becomingbanksy.com.

When you can’t make it to the drive-in, the sofa is a great place to spend a lazy summer evening

A perfect movie for capturing every summer vibe

When you can’t make it to the drive-in, the sofa is a great place to spend a lazy summer evening

Here’s a list of movies for all your summer watching needs.

For beach vibes: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Honourable mention: The Descendants

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is set in balmy Hawaii, amid palm trees and dreamy ocean waves. Between Kristen Bell in a pink bikini and Mila Kunis with a white tropical flower tucked behind her ear, this movie is sure to make you wish you could leave city life behind to join the characters in a warm haze of sand, cocktails, and bathing suits. Also, Paul Rudd as a surf instructor is officially my summer chillness guru.

For thriller vibes: Jaws

Honourable mention: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Famously featuring a great white shark devastating unwitting beachgoers, this movie is ideal for those of us who want to both get in the summer spirit and are in the mood for mystery and suspense. With its marvellously tense soundtrack mingled with a summer resort aesthetic, Jaws is a great way to add a surreal creepiness to an otherwise tranquil summer day.

For romance vibes: Call Me by Your Name

Honourable mention: (500) Days of Summer

Set in the small town of Crema in northern Italy, this movie is a delicious exploration of the ups and downs of summer love. Call Me by Your Name captures the salacious heat of summertime lust, the playfulness of a fast-paced friendship, and the excitement of pursuing someone forbidden. You can witness the blissful sensuality of falling in love against a technicolour backdrop of tall grasses and shaded ponds. It also isn’t a real summer romance film unless there’s a strange sex scene involving fruit, and Call Me by Your Name certainly delivers on that front.  

For innocent Disney vibes: Moana

Honourable mention: Lilo and Stitch

It’s an animated movie about a strong young woman embracing her passion for the ocean by defying the confining boundaries of her island — you can’t watch it without developing an unshakeable desire for adventure. Featuring a dazzling but deadly crab, a beautiful grass-covered goddess who finds her heart, and songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda at his finest — Moana inspires you to take the voyage across the ocean — whatever your own metaphorical ocean may be.

For horror vibes: It

Honourable mention: Friday the 13th

This coming-of-age movie about finding friendship during a time of adversity is often punctuated by characters groaning that it’s summer break, a time for relaxing and having fun, not fighting monsters. It is perfect for those of us who disagree and think the whole point of summer break is fighting monsters.   

For showbiz glam vibes: Almost Famous

Honourable mention: La La Land

If summer is the time when you repress all the biology facts you’ve been cramming in your brain and return to your childhood fantasies of living a rock-and-roll lifestyle, this is the movie for cultivating your delusions. Almost Famous is about a young hopeful journalist on the road with a bus full of washed-up rockstars and glamorous groupies — the summer road trip of your dreams.

For childhood nostalgia vibes: High School Musical 2

Honourable mention: The Parent Trap

This movie asks “what time is it?” for us to all yell back, in perfect unison, “SUMMERTIME!” High School Musical 2 has a song for every summer scenario: summer job doldrums, perfecting that fabulous poolside aesthetic, the inevitable breakup after a summer romance fizzles, angsty soul searching on the golf course, and, for some reason, a “pineapple princess” pining after a fish with a long, complicated Hawaiian name.

For ‘80s classics vibes: Dirty Dancing

Honourable mention: National Lampoon’s Vacation

With its iconic soundtrack and killer dance numbers, this movie will make you long for those days of family vacations. Except this time, instead of wasting your holiday sunbathing and begging your older sister to sneak you mojitos from the bar, you could be falling in love with the resort’s dance instructor to the tune of your favourite ‘80s pop songs.

For teenage revelry vibes: Meatballs

Honourable mention: American Pie 2

If summer makes you nostalgic for high school (shudder), then you probably spent your teenage years partying at your friend’s beach house, or drunkenly singing songs around a bonfire. Meatballs, however, will make you wish you had spent your summers as a camp counsellor — the main duties of which are apparently playing pranks and scoring chicks. This film will make you pine for the semi-innocence of those blissful teenaged summers.

For musical vibes: Mamma Mia

Honourable mention: Grease

Amanda Seyfried’s character is a makeup-free, beachy-haired goddess who always has a bathing suit on underneath her white summery blouse, in case she needs to frantically chase after a retreating boat. Spoiler: she does. She lives on a fictional Greek island called “Kalokairi” that is essentially a slice of heaven. The crystalline ocean and Mediterranean architecture of the island would also make me want to periodically burst into song. To me, the soundtrack to this movie is the soundtrack of summer.

Skule Night returns for its 97th anniversary

The engineering musical and sketch comedy revue has been in the works since July

Skule Night returns for its 97th anniversary

Skule Nite, the annual revue put on by U of T’s engineering students, returned for its 97th run from March 14–17 at Hart House Theatre. The sketch comedy and musical showcase was composed completely of work by current engineering students and alums.

Skule Nite allows engineers to showcase their talents in song, dance, and sketch writing. The musical poked fun at the quirks of university experiences, including relationships and online dating, finding a job, studying and food cravings, and the occasional summoning of Satan.

The show’s production process lasted nearly an entire year, with the creative work and brainstorming beginning in July and auditions in September. The students’ work definitely came through in their performance.

Chris Renaud, an engineering alum and this year’s musical director of Skule Nite, described the songs as “creative re-imaginings of other songs.” The songs featured in the musical all had their lyrics rewritten with lyrics to match the sense of humour of the musical. “The songs are picked first in the summer… and ultimately form most of the vision of the show,” said Renaud.

Renaud broke down the process of the music behind the musical. “It’s a pretty fun process because the people in the creative team — myself, the directors, the vocals, the choreo team, the producers — we all get to pick our own ideas for songs,” said Renaud. “It takes a long time for us to go through each individual song… put together concepts, discuss the feasibility, and how awesome it would be.”

The songs remain at the core of the musical, with the sketches emerging from them. “It was a really fun process and one of my favourite parts about doing Skule Nite,” said Renaud.

Pia Dimayuga, a cast member of Skule Nite and current engineering student, discussed the intensive work that went into their performances. “We started having some rehearsals in the fall and then starting second semester, much more heavily. Cast are in rehearsal about 16 hours a week.”

This includes working on both their sketches and musical numbers. Dimayuga said that there are two weekday rehearsals for the sketches, which are workshopped with the director and assistant director. On weekends, the cast rehearses vocals and choreography.

This year, Dimayuga, a Skule Nite veteran, joined the cast again. The show’s basis of combining sketch and music doesn’t change, but the changing cast adds to the experience. “I think Skule Nite is one of those really cool things that is very different every year because the people that you do it with [are] very different every year,” she said.

What stays the same is the ethos of the show. As Renaud puts it: “a big [and] kind of unique fact about Skule Nite is that we’re engineers doing artistic stuff.”

Bill Burr thinks Canadians are a bunch of animals

“You invented a sport where you skate around with a club and fighting is legal”

Bill Burr thinks Canadians are a bunch of animals

You might recognize Bill Burr’s name because one of his jokes offended you. Or you might love that his jokes offend people. Regardless, the comedian has been proving himself to be a multihyphenate, dabbling in acting, podcasting, and scripted television. Burr ventured to Toronto this past weekend for the Just For Laughs comedy festival, which opened on Thursday, September 21. He spoke to The Varsity about his tour, parenting styles, and why Kim Jong Un is like a drunk guy on a weekend.

The Varsity (TV): How’s your tour been so far?

Bill Burr (BB): It’s been great, I mean it’s the most fun job, I do a bunch of different jobs in entertainment and this one’s the most fun. I still love it the way I loved it way back when when I started, and I’ve got a brand new hour of stuff since my last special… Toronto’s one of my favourite cities so I’ll have a good time.

TV: Do you find that people respond differently in Canadian cities and Canadian audiences in terms of taking offence and being sensitive? Canada has this reputation for being super polite and delicate.

BB: I know, but you guys aren’t though. You’re a bunch of animals. You lose the playoff series and you go burn down your city. There’s the popular version of what you guys are like and there’s what you guys are really like: you guys drink like animals, you love hockey, you know, you invented a sport where you skate around with a club and fighting is legal, so I mean… in a good way, I don’t find you guys to be polite. Thank god you’re not polite, so I have a lot of fun when I’m up there.

TV: Fair enough. I had a couple of questions about your last special. You filmed it right before the election and you talked about feeling like you had to just watch dumb daytime TV, the kind that, I think you said, soccer moms watch in the morning, just filling up on all this dumb stuff to disconnect from this terrible political reality that was emerging. How’s it been for you since the election in terms of that? Do you still feel like you need to disengage and sort of take the escapist route? Because it seems like things are getting worse.

BB: Well, I mean, that’s what watching the news will make you feel – news has always done that, it will always make you feel like things are getting worse. I don’t think – I think things are changing, obviously, I’d probably say obviously global warming’s the biggest issue, you know, that’s obviously gonna affect everybody else, but I have a faith in humanity.

TV: Really?

BB: I think most people, yeah, because most people are decent human beings, it’s really just a small number of people with a tremendous amount of power, getting everybody all stirred up. I mean look how much Trump can get people stirred up, he talks about entire countries, callin’ em rapists and this and that… just has a complete inability to look at a big picture, and how we’re all connected, and what leads to certain things, and certain dynamics, and certain decisions that people make and, you know.

It is a really crazy guy there in North Korea shootin’ off his fireworks like it’s some drunk guy on the weekend. I mean just sittin’ there, shooting it over that…he said he shoots it over Japan, it’s a small island north of it, I thought it was like he’s shootin’ it over Tokyo, I was like this guy’s out of his mind. I can tell you right now, that guy is not long for this world.

What he is doing…I kind of respect it because the guy’s just thumbin’ his nose to everybody, so he definitely has some balls. He’s also a dictator’s son, so I think he lived like such a sheltered life and was probably called some sort of a God that he has no grasp on the devastating ass-kicking that he’s going to receive if he continues to do what he’s doing. But having said, that I just became a dad and I come home and my daughter’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.

TV: That’s incredible, congrats.

BB: I’m playing drums, I’ve got the new hour, I’ve got F is for Family [the animated Netflix sitcom Burr created and stars in], the sun is shining today, there’s all kinds of great things going on, that even if that fatty shot a missile over right now and killed me, I could die, yeah, yeah.

TV: I don’t wanna dwell too long on that stuff. You’ve got F is for Family. Do you think you could talk about the idea for that and how that came about?

BB: I was telling childhood stories on stage and everybody was laughing, but every time when I went to pitch a show that was even remotely like my childhood it was like like ‘Oh, that’s gonna be bad for kids to watch, that’s misogynistic, it’s this-opic, that-opic, this-ist, that-ist.’ But when I pitched, ‘it’s a fat dumb guy who can barely tie his shoes, married to some hottie who’s way smarter than him, and who rolls her eyes all the time about how dumb he is,’ they’re like ‘Oh that sounds funny!’, right? Yeah, can I make the guy have the intelligence level of a dog, you know what I mean.

I love how women always complain like, ‘it’s always some fat guy married to a hottie,’ yeah it’s a fat moron! He’s a complete moron, he’s nothing to aspire to as a man! Yeah, so, I was seeing the whole South Park and Family Guy, seeing what they were getting away with and I thought, well, what if I just animated my childhood stories?

And I couldn’t offend anybody because these are animated people… what are they gonna do, influence animated children? But having said that, Beavis and Butthead got in trouble for it, Bart Simpson early on, early on when he was an underachiever and proud of it, people were like ‘I don’t want my kid wearing that.’

TV: We opened talking about millennials and F is for Family, there’s a lot to say about parenting styles and how they’ve changed, and it seems relevant now, especially since you just had a kid this year. My parents grew up with a parenting style that’s a lot closer to the show. My dad’s dad had some issues with alcohol, stay at home mom, he would get hit sometimes when he screwed up – basically, him and my mom, they had to sort of make it on their own. Kinda latchkey kids, and there wasn’t this super-involved, overbearing parenting style. What I feel like happened is parents who had that sort of parenting style sort of swung to the other end of the pendulum, where now they feel like they have to be perfect parents, to make up for what their parents weren’t —

BB: Yeah they gotta, they try to become friends with their kids. It’s like ‘I wanna be the cool mom,’ ‘I wanna be the cool dad,’ it’s like, no, you don’t. No, you don’t. You wanna be the one that’s making your kids be like ‘Mom! Dad! God!’ And kids will thank them for that when they get into their mid-to-late twenties, when they get out of college and into the real world and they start contemplating getting married and having a kid – once you have a kid, then you understand.

I’m still me. I’m still this idiot. And now I have this responsibility. And it’s like, wow, that’s what my parents must have thought of: who the hell am I? Who the hell am I… Becoming a parent is one of the most arrogant things you can do. I feel like, who the hell am I to be responsible for somebody else’s safety and life that’s like innocent, defenceless.

TV: I’ve noticed that a lot of comedians talk about how specifically college crowds are really tough to handle because audiences seem to take offence to just anything that seems a little bit unsafe or provocative or dangerous. Jerry Seinfeld said he doesn’t play colleges anymore for that reason, because nobody will laugh, they’ll just overreact. Do you think that the rise of Trump has made it more difficult to defend the sort of politically incorrect speech that people take offence to? Or do you think that we need more politically incorrect speech and that we need to push back on this oversensitivity and policing of language?

BB: I think that that whole thing politically incorrect language ‘should we use it, should we not use it,’… you can’t even answer that question, ‘cause there’s no context. My thing is basically, you can talk about whatever you wanna talk about onstage, so long as you don’t have any malice in your heart. Now, overly sensitive people will project malice on you because of their own life experience, and sometimes just because you’re famous enough that they can use you as a springboard to get attention on their cause, and they don’t care if they’re throwing somebody innocent to the wolves.

So as long as there’s no malice in your heart and you’re just joking around, you can talk about whatever you wanna talk about, and this whole thing that you’re literally through your words going to make somebody homophobic or make somebody racist… I always say to people like that if they truly believe that, I would say like you, are you racist? I’m asking you, are you racist?

TV: After watching your last special, on a basic, primitive level, maybe in certain situations I have racist fears.

BB: Then there you go, that’s completely informed, but the average liberal would say ‘no, I’m not.’ And then what I would say is, well, what could I say within an hour, give me an hour’s amount of time, what could I say that would change you and make you racist? Okay, and then if they say nothing, it’s then, so then what you’re saying to me is that you are this higher being compared to the average human being, you feel like the average human being is such a moron that in one joke I can undo 18 years of solid parenting.

The amount of times that I’ve said onstage…like everything that I say onstage, the second I say it and you listen to it, it isn’t what I said anymore. You hear it, and then it gets cut with all your memories and all of your experiences — I look at it, it’s like drugs that have been stepped on. People are so self-involved that they’re just sitting there trying to crucify you. They’re so goddamn self-involved that they feel like their experience is everybody’s experience and their interpretation is the only interpretation, and it isn’t. It’s bullshit. But you know, it gets people to watch these news programs so they entertain it. Because what are they really gonna do? Talk about pharmaceutical companies?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Brian Regan can outsmart a horse-sized duck any day

The comedian speaks to The Varsity ahead of his September 8 Toronto show

Brian Regan can outsmart a horse-sized duck any day

Standup comic Brian Regan is currently on a tour that will take him across the continental US, which includes stops in Hamilton and Toronto. The comedian, who recently agreed to film two specials for Netflix, spoke to The Varsity ahead of his upcoming September 8 show in Toronto about being labelled a ‘clean comic,’ life on the road, and comedy in the current political climate.

The Varsity: I was just reading your interview with Jim Gaffigan from a couple years ago, and you talked about this idea that your comedy is labelled ‘clean comedy,’ and how that label sort of makes you cringe. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that, and if deciding to pursue what other people refer to as ‘clean comedy.’ Was that a conscious choice or was that just something you were more naturally drawn to?

Brian Regan: A little of both, you know? When I first started, I was always mostly clean anyway, you know. But I wasn’t 100 per cent clean, I had a handful of— it’s just the word ‘dirty jokes’ sounds so strange — but I had a handful of jokes that were off-colour or whatever. But, you know, it’s so weird to me to do something only 97 per cent of the way. I tried to go 100 per cent clean. Just for my own head. It wasn’t because I was like a prude or something like that, it was more because I was very anal. I don’t want to be 95 per cent something when I can be 100 per cent something. I decided to go completely clean just because I like to see how hard I can get people laughing without using certain words. 

TV: Do you still find it challenging to keep the act 100 per cent clean or is it natural to you at this point?

BR: It’s not hard for me. I mean, there’s plenty of things to talk about. I always try to be careful to make it clear that it’s not an ‘us against them’ kind of thing, you know? It isn’t like I’m trying to make a point. Sometimes people come up to me after shows and act like I’m on their side as opposed to the other side, but the other side is evil, or something. ‘Thank you Brian, for not being like them.’ You know what I mean? But I like them! I like them over there, they’re just different. 

TV: Them is my friends. 

BR: Yeah, you know. So to me it’s better when a lot of people approach comedy from different angles. I like that there are dirty comedians, I like that there are political comedians, I like prop comedians. I like that there are clean comedians, to describe it that way. It’s different people approaching it from different perspectives. It’s all good. 

TV: Others would label you as a comedian’s comedian — I have quotes in front of me from Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Burr, Marc Maron, all listing you as one of their favourites. When did you realize, if you had this moment of realization, when you felt that your comedy appealed to the masses, but also to these career comedians who really admire your work?

BR: Well I never really — it was not something I sought out, to have comedians like what I do. I’ll put it this way, I didn’t try to do that specifically. I want to make everybody laugh, not just comedians and not just the audience. I want to make everybody laugh. There’s a term, the back of the room, and that means the comedians standing in the back of the room. And I think some comedians out there that care about the audience and not so much the back of the room, and there are other comedians who care about the back of the room and not so much the audience. And I’m a pig. I want everybody. I want to capture as many people as I can. Audience and back of the room. So when I found out that other comedians liked what I did, it was flattering. 

TV: I want to know more about life on the road, because I think that that’s something that very few people experience or can really understand, is that life of touring. I know that you’ve toured pretty extensively, and you’ve also taken your family on the road at times, your children. What is that like and what are some of the challenges in doing that?

BR: It’s so much a part of my life that it feels normal. In fact, I woke up the other day and I was like, ‘Where the heck am I?’ You know, I looked around and realized I was home. It’s kind of strange. I’m like, ‘Oh, this is my house.’ It’s just the nature of the beast, but I’m also careful to spend plenty of time at home. I’m at home more than I’m away. And I do shows throughout the year but I’m not working every weekend. I’ve got plenty of time to be home with the kids, and all that sort of thing. I still enjoy it very much. I’m sure there’ll be a day when I grow weary of all the travel, but right now everything is fine. 

TV: Are there some cities or areas of the country that you find are easier to tour in than other, or have the best audiences? Is there anywhere that you return to again and again and you feel like this is sort of your niche?

BR: Toronto. My favourite place on Earth. 

TV: Oh, I see. 

BR: That’s one of the things that is fun about doing comedy, is I get to go to a lot of places I might not have gone to otherwise. I like playing big cities, I like playing little cities, I like playing in New York state one day, and Des Moines the next day. It’s cool, people like to laugh everywhere. And also, to be able to go to Toronto, to be able to go to Canada, you know. If I had chosen another profession, I wouldn’t have been able maybe to do that at all or maybe certainly not as often as I do. So it’s cool, it’s fun. 

TV: Okay, so speaking of appearing in Toronto, what are some of the biggest differences, I’m curious to know, between Canadians and Americans that you notice when you’re here?

BR: I like Canada. Well, I like all audiences. Canadian audiences, they’re really going out of their way to enjoy the subtleties of a joke. US audiences can do that as well but you can also catch a US audience that is more like, ‘Give it to us on a platter, comedy boy! Don’t make us think too much.’ Not always, occasionally you can catch an audience like that. But in Canada, it seems like more often than not, the Canadian audiences are willing to build half the bridge. You know, I always feel like the best jokes are when the comedians build half the bridge and the audience builds the other half of the bridge, and you meet in the middle. You want to leave certain words out of a joke, you want the audience to go, ‘Ah, I see where you’re going with this,’ and it’s nice to meet happily in the middle. It’s not as fun to catch an audience where, ‘Oh, I have to build the bridge all the way over to you, I see,’ you know? I mean it happens, what are you gonna do?

TV: I want to know where you stand on the debate of whether or not comedians should stick to performing a selection of their best jokes, or should they turn over their act completely every year or few years. Maybe what works best for you is a better way of putting it. 

BR: I like to turn it over. I’m fortunate that every few years I can record an hour of material, whether it’s a TV special or a CD or whatever. And then once it’s recorded, I can feel like okay, that material, I worked on it, I created it, I made it as good as I think I can make it, and now it’s recorded and now it’s out there and now I can move on from it. There’s pressure for me to be doing stuff that is new. The newer the jokes, for me, the more excited I am to tell ‘em. So I think it helps me as a performer. Also I have the nice byproduct of people wanting to come back. You know if people come up to me after shows, I always like when they say it’s funny, but I also like when they say it’s new. To me it’s a compliment. I had somebody on my Twitter feed last week, was performing in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Somebody — didn’t reply but it made me laugh — said, ‘Hey, I’m coming to your show in Hampton Beach, will the material be new? I’m like, ‘In relation to what? I don’t know when the last show you saw was, buddy.’ It’s new from 20 years ago, it’s not new from the day before. So new is a relative term. But I love letting old jokes fall by the wayside and letting new jokes come into play. 

TV: And I like the idea that he has already purchased tickets to your show and if you say that the jokes are old he might not come. 

BR: Yeah, maybe he should have asked before he bought the tickets. 

TV: This question may veer a little bit into the political, but I was curious, in your recent appearance on Jimmy Fallon, you said that you thought a really good dad might be able to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I was curious, do you think that Jared Kushner is that dad?

BR: [laughs] I don’t know. I mean, I think I get political without getting overly specific, you know what I mean. I just, like, to me, that joke is — even though it is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s about how dads can solve problems quickly. So the joke is almost reverse engineered. I just think it would be funny for somebody to solve a political crisis like a dad would solve a problem between two kids.

TV: On that appearance, you led up to the joke by talking about the political climate in the US. Do you find anything has changed with appearances since the election? I guess your comedy isn’t so inherently political, but do you find anything that’s different in what maybe people are willing to laugh at versus not? Or have you not had that problem just because of the nature of your material? 

BR: Well, I think everything is fair game, you know. Every single subject is fair game, if you ask me. It all depends on what perspective you’re coming from. And not every comedian wants to touch on every single thing, but I think with as many comedians as there are and as many subjects as there are, everything should be fully covered. I don’t think of myself as a political comedian, but I do like to touch on it. It is part of the world, and part of what affects me and that sort of thing, so I do like to touch on it. But for me, at least right now, I don’t want to faction my audience. I don’t want to go there, cut my audience in half.  Like, hey, this half will enjoy what I’m talking, the other half hit the highway. I’m not opposed when comedians do that, I mean, there are comedians who definitely have a point of view and they’re not shy about sharing it cause their act is political in nature, that’s the nature of the beast. But you know, I don’t want to cut my audience in half and then the next joke talk about donuts, and donut sprinkles. Half the people are in their cars driving home going, ‘Man, they could have really gotten into this donut sprinkle joke and the only thing I hear is comments about Trump.’

TV: We’ll move on to the few rapid-fire questions I have and then I’ll let you go. First question is, salty or sweet?

BR: Sweet. 

TV: Sweet, okay. 

BR: Eleven Krispy Kremes is my record. I’ve never done a dozen, but I’ve done eleven. 

TV: If there was a movie based on your life, who would you want to play you?

BR: Will Ferrell. 

TV: Describe your sense of style in three words. 

BR: Kirkegaardian with Machiavellian undertones, and a Nietzsche perspective. 

TV: What is the longest road trip you’ve ever taken?

BR: Probably a month. 

TV: From where to where?

BR: Well, I used to do shows, I used to stay in a comedy club for one month, and I had two one-hour shows that I would rotate back and forth. So when I say a road trip it wasn’t really — well, I have silly answers. This is rapid fire and I’m getting too into it. 

TV: That’s totally fine. 

BR: Comedy clubs for a month, but I also drove across the United States one time and I took three weeks and that was a blast. 

TV: What were you like in college?

BR: I was like a new baby chick coming out of the egg. 

TV: Last question: would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? 

BR: You’ll have to repeat the question, it’s a bad connection. It sounds like a very important question, I don’t want to get it wrong. 

TV: It’s very important, the people need to know. Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? I can tell you afterwards what President Obama said, but I definitely want to hear your answer first. 

BR: Okay, I just want to make sure I’m hearing it correctly. Would I rather fight, like a fight—

TV: Yes, like a physical right. 

BR: Okay, a hundred duck-sized, like a duck, like a duck in the water?

TV: Yes. 

BR: Or one horse-sized duck. 

TV: Yes.

BR: You know, I always have my notes in front of me, to lead me into something. This isn’t leading me towards any of my notes. 

TV: This is a famous Reddit question, so I didn’t actually make this up, I don’t want to take credit for the question. 

BR: Alright. I would rather fight one duck-sized horse. 

TV: Oh, but that’s not an option. 

BR: Oh, I messed it up. 

TV: It’s one— one horse-sized duck is maybe what you meant to say?

BR: One, yes. I would rather fight one horse-sized duck. 

TV: Okay. That was President Obama’s choice too. 

BR: Because, you only have to deal with one brain. 

TV: Yeah, a hundred is quite a lot. Even if they are duck-sized. 

BR: Yeah, then it’s like, you know, hey, I have big knees, but these guys are forming a faction and they’re coming around on different sides. At least the one horse-sized duck, I can face it the entire time, and I could beat it with my brain power. I can outsmart a horse-sized duck any day.

Brian Regan will perform at Massey Hall on September 8. 

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

What’s in a joke?

Kathy Griffin, Louis CK, and the pressing need for intelligent humour in comedy

What’s in a joke?

Comedy has long been a forum for the crass, the vulgar, the indecent, and the shocking. As a result, comedians have been exempt from the rules of comportment by which we expect public figures to abide. The forthrightness of a comedian’s objective allows us to lower our guard: the comic isn’t convincing us to buy a product or support a candidate — they’re just someone on a dark stage trying to get a laugh.

But what happens when the laughter turns into gasps or jeers? It can be difficult to parse these types of incidents, which seem to recur every few months. Why do some so-called ‘edgy’ or ‘offensive’ jokes get laughs while others are endlessly dissected and editorialized until the comic is forced to apologize?

Comedian Kathy Griffin recently faced a tidal wave of backlash for a photo in which she appears to be presenting Donald Trump’s decapitated head, bloodied and grotesque, to the camera. Though Griffin intended for the stunt to be a joke, it received little support; it was instead condemned as tasteless and crude.

Griffin is hardly the first comic to be accused of crossing the line. In a 2015 Saturday Night Live performance, Louis CK joked that the legal and social price paid for pedophilia is so steep that “you can only really surmise that [child molestation] must be really good… for them to risk so much.” Within minutes, the internet predictably ignited with opinions divided between condemnation of the material and praise for CK’s willingness to tackle such a taboo subject on such a big stage.

In this instance, however, support was far more widespread for CK than it was for Griffin. While there was some backlash, there was a counterweight of support that Griffin did not find. The Guardian even published a piece complimenting CK for a joke that “expresses a level of complexity around that topic that is rarely seen” and for “[using] humour to confront difficult topics.”

The discussion about when comedy deserves condemnation exists within a larger discussion about political correctness and free speech. As frustrating as the seemingly constant outrage-punditry-apology cycle may be, berating an audience to ‘toughen up’ or ‘learn to take a joke’ doesn’t accomplish all that much.

Griffin promptly apologized for her misdeed in a brief video, and in doing so, she inadvertently revealed the nature of the distinction between CK’s joke and her own.  Among concessions that the image was “too disturbing” and that she “went too far,” she said one key thing: “it wasn’t funny.”

Here, Griffin hit upon the crucial difference between her scandal and that of CK: though the former wasn’t funny, the latter was.

CK’s comments had substance, sharpness, and a little bit of truth to them. They made us consider the shade of grey in an issue that most would rather remain black and white. Alternatively, the Griffin photograph was just rude for rudeness’ sake. There’s nothing clever or interesting about it: it raises no issues, and it prompts no questions. It’s just a dead Donald Trump.

Of course, what is or isn’t funny is entirely subjective. But the important issue is not whether a punchline conforms to some abstract definition of ‘comedy.’ The audience’s understanding of and reaction to the joke is enough to push the needle between support and condemnation.

This matters because in comedy, consequence is king. The intention of a joke is just not salient if the audience understands it differently. Confronted with an underwhelming reaction, the stand-up doesn’t pause to explain to audience members why they should, in fact, have laughed at the joke they were just told. The audience either reacts, or it doesn’t. This distinction, arbitrary as it may seem, is the reason CK was able to come back and host SNL again earlier this year, whereas Griffin was fired by CNN from her yearly gig hosting New Year’s Eve Live.

We understand comedy to be an area in which controversial subjects can be openly discussed. This is not because some governing body has decided so, or even because of the long tradition of edgy and controversial comedy. Rather, it’s because the nature of the medium itself causes us to approach difficult problems in new ways and to expand our perspectives. When we can laugh at something, we can understand it in a new light.

This willingness to engage comes from us, but it is only triggered if what we are hearing feels like comedy — that is, if the jokes are funny. Comedians are not immune to backlash, but a joke is a unique opportunity to approach a complex issue in a novel way. This is what the CK joke achieved, and where the Griffin stunt fell short.

CK uses his comedy as a trojan horse. In a setting that is comfortable, relaxed, and even lighthearted, he compels his audience to consider an issue that is troubling and complex: human sexuality is complicated, and people who experience the urge toward pedophilia are likely just as horrified by it as we are as observers. In its capacity to create these insightful moments, comedy is unique.

Not just any sort of boundary-pushing qualifies as humour. Eddie Murphy begins his classic special Delirious by warning the audience that “faggots aren’t allowed to look at my ass while I’m onstage.” I don’t think that joke is particularly funny, but it’s not because the word ‘faggot’ disqualifies it right off the bat; in another context, that kind of language might make for a brilliant satirical routine. But Murphy’s reference, like Griffin’s, is just tired: it feels dated, ignorant, and naïve.

Over thirty years later, contrary to what people may believe, edgy comedy is still widely appreciated — it’s just that the edges have shifted. It seems that it is nearly always the audience’s responsibility to be thick-skinned, though it should be the comedian’s responsibility to understand their audience and create a show that is both enjoyable and challenging. Nothing is strictly off-limits. Any kind of joke about any subject imaginable is on the table. Just as long as it’s funny.

 

Zach Rosen is an incoming second-year student at Trinity College studying History and Philosophy.

Comedy On Campus

U of T has a wide range of improv clubs on each campus

Comedy On Campus

“Improv is living on stage,” says Kyle Warne, the vice president of U of T Improv. Warne is speaking about his relationship with improvisational comedy which began in his first year as an undergrad, when he decided it was time to become involved in an art form that had captivated him for years. “Improv is much more than I thought it was.”

Improv is divided into two categories — short-form and long-form. Short-form usually revolves around a preset structure or game, sometimes driven by audience suggestions, whereas long-form is an extended, story-driven approach.

As a competitive improv team, U of T Improv participates in ‘summits’ that bring together teams from across Canada to showcase their comedic styles. The most recent of these took place over ¬¬the weekend of January 22 and featured teams from eight different universities across Ontario and Quebec. The event, held at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse on campus, was filled to capacity.

Skule Improv is another campus club dedicated to sharing the love of improv. Believe it or not, engineering students have time to run a comedy club, which Candice Lam, a member of the executive team, calls “an extremely common misconception.”

According to Lam, “many engineers are driven to participate and get involved in socially and artistically oriented clubs,” precisely because of their heavy workloads. Although the Skule Improv club has grown out of the engineering society, it remains a “very inclusive” environment for non-engineering students as well. In fact, Lam herself is a health and disease major.

Marisa Di Leo is another member of U of T Improv’s performing team who sought out a way to connect with the improv community in Toronto after transferring from Queen’s University, earlier this year. “I found right away that [the club] was a really great community to be involved with on campus,” she says. Warne agrees that on such a large campus, it’s important to find a niche. “What does every student at U of T have in common, other than going to U of T?” he asks rhetorically. “I’m going with nothing.”

The idea of performing in front of crowds at all, let alone unrehearsed, is terrifying to many people. Fortunately, the improv community is an accepting one. “The environment celebrates mistakes,” Lam says. Similarly, Di Leo says, “improvisers are naturally a very open-minded group of people… we’re taught right away…to listen to each other, and accept what one another is saying.”

So how can students get involved with improv? “It’s difficult to find many things in improv that broke through to mainstream,” Warne says. Unlike stand-up specials or comedy sketches that are easily accessible via Netflix or YouTube, there isn’t an established way of consuming improvisational comedy other than actually going to see improv performances.

Ironically, a great number of famous comics, such as Will Ferrell, Stephen Colbert, and both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler started their careers in improv. As many of these household names progressed to other mediums like sketch comedy, late-night shows, or sitcoms, they left improv behind. Nonetheless, improv theatres continue to serve as recruiting grounds for institutions of comedy.

Students looking to become involved can attend workshops with professional improvisers offered both by Skule and U of T Improv on a regular basis. UTSC and UTM have their own improv clubs as well. Beyond campus, Toronto has “one of the best improv scenes on the continent,” according to Warne. Students who are interested in learning from professional improvisers can also check out the city’s Bad Dog and Second City theatres, both of which offer performances and classes.

However, potential improvisers should take note of its addictive quality. When asked if there’s a moment of his improv career that stands out to him, Warne cites his final performance of his first year at university: a long-form performance known as an ‘improv party.’

In an improv party, all the members of the group are assigned various eccentric characters that happen to be at the same house party and wander in and out of scenes. He describes it all in vivid detail, including a teammate who played a professional air guitarist while miming. “That moment, the end of last year, just looking back, looking at the team… I just felt so much pride at what we’d managed to put together… I really knew on that stage that this was something I was going to want to do for as long as I can.”