Steve Patterson can’t wait to get back to his roots. The 13-year vet of the Canadian standup scene is best known these days for hosting the CBC Radio One comedic fake game show, The Debaters. That gig takes him all over the country, recording 33 episodes a season in every decently sized outpost. He does such a bang-up job, either perfectly complementing the comic debaters or saving the occasional turd exchange with flawless ad libs and zingers, that he’s become in-demand as both a corporate performer and host for televised comedy-fest galas.
But it’s the small clubs where he cut his teeth. Those big-paying radio, TV, and corporate jobs are great, but there’s something about the down-and-dirty of a brick wall and a microphone that keeps a comedian sharp.
“I haven’t had a chance to do a club run in a while,” Patterson said on the phone from his home base of Montreal. “I miss it because you need the bite, you need the edge. I don’t want to become the corporate guy that’s just doing corporate shows. I would hate that.”
Having a devout following on radio has other pros and cons, too. Typical CBC listeners, says Patterson, aren’t necessarily comedy-club patrons. When they show up for a live show, as they invariably do, they are in for a bit of a bumpy ride.
“I can just see the shock in their faces,” he says. “”˜The host of The Debaters swears sometimes?’ I know I’m not the most edgy guy out there, but you have to have some edge in your comedy or else it’s not worth listening to.”
Patterson is excited to be opening up the brand new Comedy Mix club this weekend. The Mix, which is where Yuk Yuk’s used to be at the Century Plaza Hotel on Burrard Street, is the latest independent to go up against the national chain. They’ll have a leg up on their opponent, because comedy fans are already used to going to the venue and Yuk’s hasn’t yet found a new room. Over the next two months, the club will be bringing in such headliners as Ian Bagg, Tom Segura, and Andrew Grose.
“The fact that they’ve chosen me and asked me to be there for their opening weekend is really nice,” he says. “I’m not going to let myself go into autopilot and just do old stuff I’ve done 100 times. I wanna do brand-new stuff. So I feel a good sort of nervous energy about it. When you host shows, you can’t really get into your comedy rhythm and your groove. You don’t get the chance to get to know the people or them get to know you. So that’s why I’m really looking forward to this weekend. I don’t want to let them down.”
There’s little chance of that happening. Patterson didn’t rise to where he is by regularly tanking. Unlike too many headlining comics, Patterson doesn’t coast on his tried-and-true material. His corporate work has taught him the value of tailoring each show to his specific audience.
“As a comic,” he says, “you’ve got 80 percent downtime. You’ve got all day to take in a new environment that you’ve never been in before. I guess you could just slack off and sit in your room and smoke pot, which is what many do. You’ve been paid to travel somewhere, why wouldn’t you incorporate that into your writing and feed it back to the people?”
Patterson has played Vancouver throughout his career. And through his hosting duties on The Debaters, he works with comedians from across the country. So when he says, “Per capita, I would say that Vancouver’s comics are probably the funniest in Canada,” it means something. His reasoning? “It’s a very hip crowd in Vancouver. And hip isn’t even a hip word anymore. Everyone is very savvy, they’re up to date, they know all the latest references, so if you are coming at it from an outdated perspective, they’re going to call you on it right away. They’re gonna call bullshit. They don’t want to hear men-are-different-from-women jokes.”
Apparently, that topic is not open to debate. And Patterson would know.