After the Great Canadian Laugh Off 2007

Please forgive any semblence of immodesty, this was written just after I placed third in a 2007 Great Canadian Laugh Off Semi-Final.

perplexed as to why a stranger has my camera

perplexed as to why a stranger has my camera

I arrived on Thursday, one day before my time in the “ring”. I flew in early, and really hadn’t slept but ended staying up all day catching up with friends and then going to McVeighs to do a guest spot. Having been up for 40 hours (with about an hour’s nap) I wondered if I’d pull it off. It went well and added to my confidence. I guess it also helped being in a city where people hadn’t seen me for a long while, so my material was all new. That and sleep deprivation. Andrew Evans closed the show, and we closed the bar.

I knew going in that there was only one other Canadian on my night. Kinda my fault as I requested a weekend spot (so I’d not go to Toronto too early) and the other out of towners (country-ers?) would also need to limit their travel time. Getting there I got to feel the caliber of the comics I was going to have to compete with. Though it was daunting, the green room had a feeling of brotherhood. It was a great feeling. We got to talk, joke, ask each other about where we’re from, what comedy is like there. It was a meeting of peers.

But competition is competition, Shannon and Beth came in to do the draw for the order. Before they began they asked us if anyone would like to volunteer to go first. We all looked around, skirting eye contact and looking down. Nobody wanted to just “give up” and accept, perhaps, the hardest spot of the night. As they started to make the draw I joked that I’d probably be first anyhow, but the named pulled out was Geoff Brousseau of Seattle Washington. Other positions of note, Al Prodgers of South Africa drew fifth (out of eight). Still my name didn’t come out of the can. Al was followed by Andrea Henry from Boston and then only the two Canadians were left. Mark Casey’s (the winner from Barrie Ontario’s Yuks) name was drawn. I was to go on last.

The crowd had been pouring in, the room almost full. Dana Alexander got the crowd going and we were off. Geoff Brousseau did very well, what you’d expect from someone who was here because he’d previously competed with Dylan Mandhlsohn and Paul Myrehaug at the Seattle Comedy Contest. He claims he flubbed his first joke, but I couldn’t tell. The crowd loved it. I had to keep dipping downstairs as the TV in the green room kept going out. Katie Riffey, a pro from Washington, DC, kept it going. Tony Gaud from Florida did another killer set. I began to feel the butterflies rise. I don’t like the pressure of competitions, I find that I choke or try desperately too hard.

Not all the comics hit, but the show was going well.

I walked down and watched Al Prodgers. He was calm, not over exagerated. He had a cool sounding accent, and spoke slow enough so we could understand it. He was older than most in the contest, maybe in his 50’s, and had charm. His brand new “fish out of water” material helped exploit his exotic appeal. Watching him I felt the butterflies go away. Why was I worried about competing, he would obviously win. I congratulated him as he came off stage.

I now felt all I really had to worry about was making the crowd laugh. Just my 8 minutes, the contest was over. And I trusted my eight was good.

Andrea Henry is from Boston, a city of comedy legends. She works primarily out of “The Comedy Studio“, an artist run collective who’s philosophies I looked at when starting the Comedy Dawgs. She was an incredible writer, low key dry jokes that tore into the crowd.

Just before me went Mark Casey, the winner from Barrie. Mark’s green-ness showed somewhat, especially after following such a strong act.

from David Kemp's going away party

from David Kemp’s going away party

Then it was my turn. Just before my introduction, I made eye contact with Dave Kemp. He made me smile, a little taste of home. I approached the stage so my foot was on it as Dana said my name. My set went off just as I planned it, with the exception of one “helpful” heckle. I was able to take the crowd where I wanted to go and they laughed everywhere I wanted them to. I walked onstage without any “contest” nervousness and was thus able to do what I wanted – make people laugh. It was liberating.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz2pJqBomps&w=420&h=315]

As I got offstage, Al met me at the base of the stairs “You F u cker! You undersold yourself to me.” It was teasing between comrades. It felt good.

Finally after a wonderful guest spot by Simon Cotter, Dana reclaimed the stage to announce the winners. When she called my name, I was a little shocked, and had to be directed to get up there. I placed third! Andrea Henry received second place and Al Prodgers took first place and moved on to the finals. Later, though they don’t reveal the actual numbers, I was told the top three were very close – as they were on Tuesday, the night Peter White won third as well.

If anyone hasn’t looked to Halifax as the new hotspot for comedy in Canada yet, I think that has changed.

-Ash

PS: again, please forgive me if this has come off as immodest.

How (Not) To Stand-up Comedy: Stage Greed

Bill Hicks(originally posted February 20th, 2006)

Tonight I may have been tested.  Tested and I failed.  Failed badly.  Tonight we had our 2nd Annual Bill Hicks‘ Memorial Rant Off, an event I look forward to.  Not just for the chance to spew bile and tell the world how broken it is, but also the chance to see comedians stretch out of their comfort zone, try something new and work on new performance skills.

By warning the crowd of what they’re in for, advertising it as a special night we hope to draw people who want to hear this particular style of comedy.  At the start of the show very few people in the audience admitted to knowing of Bill Hicks.  But the stragglers who came in late did, and the crowd was educated.  We had a good crowd.  No, we had a great audience.

Many of the young comics here in the scene stepped up to the challenge, everyone did their best sets that I’ve ever seen them do.

Gingers Comedy Dawgs

Yanick Simard

Nick Simard and Cheryl Hann really stood out.  But with such a great crowd, with so many comics on the show a little thing crept into the process.  Greed.  The laughs were so great, the crowd so willing to journey with us on flights of fancy and hate, it was hard to get off stage.

Onstage at Gingers

Cheryl Hann

 

We had a special guest show up, last minute.  Mike McQueen (now based in Toronto).  I asked him to do just five minutes tight and squeezed him in just before the last act.  Mike did just that, kept to time and did a great set.

Problem is, I’m an ogre for keeping the show from running long.  I do it to keep the audience from feeling worn out.  If a crowd leaves wanting more, they’ll return sooner.  Optimum time is an hour forty-five, two hours tops.  When we burn most all our “A” material on an audience, they’ll return and may be persnickity if we do mainly jokes they’ve heard before.  With such a small audience base (Halifax NS is a big town, not really a small city), we need to encourage repeated visits.

At Gingers Comedy Dawg

Mike MacQueen

We started at exactly 8pm.  Mike came off stage (after his tight 5 minutes) at 9:54pm.  The closer was supposed to do 10 to 15 minutes… more if time was available and the crowd willing.  I had the choice to say no to the closing act, save it for another time.  Problem was, I was the closing act.  I had looked forward to this show for weeks.  I had prepared special material, dredged up older material that had not seen the light of day for years because of it’s bile.  I wanted to do this show.

Like a spoiled brat I did it.  It was 9:57pm by the time I hit the stage.  I abridged some jokes, editing on the stage trying to cut, losing myself not to the jokes but the need to get off stage.  But too much of what I wanted to do got out.  I false ended several times.  The crowd was with me.  I attacked the comfort of the audience, I yelled at them as to how they have the power to make this a better world… and if they didn’t, the possible consequences.  Then I ended on a pussy joke.

It was cathartic, but I felt like an unprincipled ass.  I was greedy for the stage attention that I did what I feel is bad for the future of the show.  Generally I didn’t do much material or the style of material that people see regularly from me, but I taxed an audience.

Time will tell (by the number repeat customers) if what I did was so wrong.

-Ash
February 20th, 2006

Can You Name A Comedy Writer Who Has Won A Nobel Prize?

(originally written March 6, 2008)

I wrote this in response to a friend who asked me “Do you feel that comedy is underrated as an art form? (You’ll see why I’m asking this on my blog.) How is it similar to more “serious” arts? How is it different?”

I do feel comedy has been underrated, even ghetto-ized to a degree.  Partially because so much bad comedy has been produced that the great comedy is swamped by it.  Bad comedy seems much more acceptable to the populace in general than say bad drama.  Then again, there are soap operas. 

 

Gingers

Onstage in Halifax

Good stand-up comedy is similar to more “serious” arts in that it asks it’s audience to think.  It’s major difference is it’s immediacy to it’s audience.  The audience gets to respond immediately, and the performer knows if he’s gotten a reaction.  Brevity is a pinnacle of art.  Whether an artist can get their point across with a single brush stroke or a single frame out of a roll of film – it’s always that moment, that realization, that connects the artist’s thoughts with his audience.  Good stand-up comics provide many vignettes (jokes) to present mainly one point of view.  How briefly they can express them, boiling the words, actions, expressions down to the barest of minimums and yet be completely understood is it’s own reward. 

If a crowd get’s you, really gets you, laughs at your jokes while you perform them and maybe, just maybe looks at some things in a different way, who the hell needs a nobel prize.

Introducing BattleCOM

BattleCOM has been called a rap battle of nerdity, a yo momma battle for people who like their mommas, the 8-mile of geekdom, but most commonly it’s been called awesome.

Lightening speed rounds as two performers take the stage to battle for the crowd’s affection one line at a time.  Part scripted comedy, part improv, part attitude and knowledge this show pushes comics to reach out of their comfort zones, interact and adapt – all for the audience’s love.

How it works:
Battlefields (topics) are predetermined, and the Battlers will come prepared.
– Battles are a best of three. It can be won in the first two rounds.  Ties earn no points.  Winning is determined by audience vote (via colour coded Battle Flags).  A clear majority (approximately 60%) is needed for a win.
Moderator announces which Battlefield is being fought.
– Moderator then calls to the stage the two Battlers, by point of view and name.  In the case that one performer is still onstage (they won the previous round), Moderator calls up only one more Battler

First Round: positive – defend or exhalt your position / point of view
– first to go is determined by previous battle, or second battler called to the stage starts
– second performer’s positive statement
– Moderator comments and calls for the audience’s vote

Second Round: negative – attack your opponent’s position or character
– loser of round one starts (if previous round was a tie, moderator’s choice)
– second performer’s negative take
– Moderator comments and calls for the audience’s vote
– If it is a sweep (two wins by one Battler) see resolution below

Third Round (if necessary): Free for all. Battlers choose to attack their opponent or defend their positions
– loser of round two starts (if previous round was a tie, moderator’s choice)
– second performer’s turn
– Moderator comments / audience votes

Fourth Round: In case of ties, the Moderator may start another free for all round or call for a revote
– loser of round two starts (if previous round was a tie, moderator’s choice)
– second performer’s turn
– Moderator comments / audience votes

Resolution
– Moderator announces this battle’s winner, thanks / derides the loser
– If the Victor had won the previous round (so now a Victor twice in a row) they are retired with honor as a Master Battler, only to face one last Battler (or second Master Battler) determined by this Battle Field.
– If this Battle was the Victors first win, they remains onstage to face a new Battler maintaining his position
– If no Master Battlers have been awarded, the last Battler standing wins the Prize.  If one Master Battler has been determined, they face off against the last Battler standing for the Prize.  If two Master Battlers were crowned, they face each other to determine which gets the Prize.

– The Prize
– The winner (either Master Battler, or Grand Battler or Last Battler Standing) receives the accolades of the crowd AND      the choice of performing 5-7 minutes, or selecting someone to perform 5-7 minutes of material

A typical show will consist of 3 Battle Fields and 6 Battlers plus a Moderator.  Winner of the final Battle Field generally gets a little more time.

Press Release: Halifax Shows

“Halifax Comedy OG Paul Ash…” – The Coast, Oct. 2012

Paul Ash is returning to Halifax to play 5 shows at Yuk Yuks Halifax (in the Westin Hotel, 1181 Hollis Street), a club he was instrumental in helping to open.  Co-featuring for Oct. 11-13th (8:30pm) with the charming and Talented Christophe Davidson (@thischristophe), hosting a special edition of Yuk Yuks Open Mic on Oct 17th (8:30) and unveiling his new comedy combat show Battle-Com with a special late night show (10pm) also at Yuk Yuks.

 “Halifax audiences are standing up and taking notice of the Comedy Dawgs…” – Chronicle Herald, 2004

 Ash, originally from Nova Scotia, is a fixture on the Canadian comedy scene.  He’s worked for Festival Just For Laughs for over 12 years, has been a juror for the Canadian Comedy Awards, has won CBC’s Laugh Out Loud and may be best known to Haligonians as one of the cofounders of the Comedy Dawgs, the stand-up comedy collective that germinated Halifax’s current wave of comedy.

“Without Paul Ash and the Comedy Dawgs, there would be no comedy scene in Halifax… there would be no Picnicface” – Andrew Bush, 2010

 Paul Ash is that special kind of person who sees the best in everyone, except himself. His self loathing comedy is peppered with rural charm and big city cynicism.

“Paul Ash’s shows have the following qualities, which stem from the man himself: an unpretentious atmosphere, enthusiastic performers and appreciative audiences. Halifax’s loss has undoubtedly been Montreal’s fortunate gain” – Examiner.com (Stephanie Ein)

 

Showtimes:
Thursday Oct. 11th, doors 7pm, show 8:30pm.  $12 regular, $7 military, $5 student
Friday Oct. 12th, doors 7pm, show 8:30pm.  $16 regular, $12 military & student
Saturday Oct. 13th, doors 7pm, show 8:30pm.  $16 regular, $12 military & student
Wednesday Oct. 17th, doors at 7pm, show at 8:30pm.  Just $5 (just hosting)
Saturday Oct. 20th doors 10pm, show 10:30pm.  Just $10, $5 students and military

  “Comedy in Halifax now is akin to the music scene in Seattle circa 1993? – unattributed quote 2004

Ode to the Comedy Dawgs

The Coast, Halifax’s indie weekly recently wrote an article on Comedy in that city. You can find it here

I wanted to write a letter to the editors to thank them.

 

 

 HALIFAX COMEDY ON THE LAUGH TRACK

The Coast, Dec. 31, 2009

I was very happy to read your article on the Halifax comedy scene online. It was a pleasure and did my heart well to see that this community is still growing and so positive. There was a lot that went into building a Halifax comedy community, especially one so supportive.

When I moved back to Halifax in 2003 there was no real place to do stand-up comedy and I’d have to thank the Improv Knights (including Bill Wood of Picnicface) for helping keep my sanity and giving me a place to perform. Catherine Robertson is correct, it is a drug.

Halifax is a music town and rightly so, with so many talented musicians bar owners didn’t have far to look for live entertainment and something that seemed as untried as stand-up comedy, with the restrictions that art form has (audience sitting, rarely mingling and of a set duration) why risk it when a band could play all night for just a little more than beer?

But then, a chance meeting on Christmas Eve, 2003 led to the birth of the Comedy Dawgs. I know my name comes up a lot in the start of the Halifax comedy scene, but the unsung hero is Joe Mauricio. Joe was from the US, and had recently been the personal attendant of a high monk of the Shambala organization. Released from service (and I don’t know how else to say this) in Halifax, he was getting back to what he did before seeking enlightenment – comedy. Joe was born in New Jersey, and it was still in his voice, he started comedy in Boston, eventually moving to New York and running a room in the Paper Moon Cafe (later to become the Boston Comedy Club). Together, Joe and I, approached Ginger’s Tavern to do a monthly comedy show – and because they were normally closed on Sunday night, they were willing to risk having something different. Joe’s comedy skills, promotional ability and his connection with the Buddhist community, got us started with a monthly comedy show. Joe is very stream of consciousness (and is now based out of New York once again), I was a traditional club comic – it was neat mix. But performing a new two hour show each month was very hard, so we opened up to look for new comics and we found two great guys (the other founding members of the Comedy Dawgs) just in time to move it weekly – Paul Edwards, still in Halifax and Mike MacQueen (now in Toronto and part of the comedy duo “Bring Back Swayzes” with other Dawg veteran Bryant Thompson).

Brian Keefe of Gingers took a chance on us, Joe moved back to the states and comedy motored on. I found Halifax to be a unique situation, being very isolated (from the comedy world at large), there wasn’t that internal rivalry that seemed part of every other comedy scene I had been part of (including the early 1990’s Halifax Rubber Chicken / Maritime Comedy Connection scene). Some experts say this rivalry drives comedians to be better, but I made a conscious decision to try to foster a sense of community where comedians support each other. Week after week new comedians came to the stage, some made me cringe but others made my jaw drop (Bryant, Mike, Peter White, ‘Stabby’ Steve Mackie, Mark Little, Nathan, Cheryl, Ian Black). There was so much untapped talent in Halifax, talent that wouldn’t have had a venue – it made me realize the Comedy Dawgs were bigger than any one component or act – it gave people hope and the ability to dream of something better. It gave laughter. It gave validation.

New people came and went, some working hard behind the scenes, Dave Kemp and a grandmother from Dartmouth Bev Moore (with her husband always in tow), the Comedy Lounge’s Gerry Farmer, all with more heart and moxie than most comedians. Nathan MacIntosh (who joined the Dawgs with Picnicface’s Cheryl Hann) moved to Toronto with Bryant and Mike to attend Humber College’s comedy program. As stated with Mike and Bryant’s success it should be noted that Nathan won the “Cream of Comedy Award” and is featured this coming week at Absolute Comedy Club in Toronto. People began to notice that comedians from Halifax were different, not just different, but good. Former Maritimers in the industry wanted to experience the a hometown crowd and asked for the chance to perform whenever they visited – even comics not from the Maritimes wanted the excuse to see Halifax crowds. Mark Walker, Andrew Evans, Tracey MacDonald… And still locals shone. Introducing Mark Little to Bill Wood was a no brainer, shows expanded to Dartmouth and even Ahmerst. Comedians moved to Halifax (note Andrew Albert), tours were arranged with Yuk Yuks.

There are way too many comedians to mention who slid through, some came to get famous, some came to get drunk, some just came to say they tried their hand at it others to feel just a little bit better about the rest of their lives. But all of them were proud to call themselves ‘Dawgs’.

With love and peace
Paul Ash