Can the Straight pick ’em, or what? In 2010, Ivan Decker was one of our comedy up-and-comers in the Fall Arts Preview issue. Cut to 2013: Decker has quit his day job, released a comedy special online, opened for the likes of Jay Mohr, Brent Butt, and Seth Meyers at the River Rock Show Theatre, and guested on CBC Radio One’s The Debaters seven times, and this weekend finds himself headlining the Comedy MIX, one of the top comedy clubs in the country, for the third time. Just last week, his video special was released in audio format on iTunes.
Decker’s growth as a comic is no surprise, given his work ethic. He’s known in the community as a hard worker, running from gig to gig to hone his craft. On the night he sits down in a West End coffee shop with the Straight, he’s on his way to perform at the Morrissey and then at Kino Café. The next night he’ll be at Corduroy, then he’s off off to Cranbrook for the weekend. But that’s what you do when you work for a tyrant.
“Now that I have this free time,” he says of life after the reality of 9-to-5, “I have to be my own boss. I have to be the worst boss I’ve ever had. I can’t just take a break.” He says he makes himself sit at a desk and write every day no matter what. But the boss is always looking over his shoulder. “I have a little mirror so I can look at myself and point,” he jokes.
Decker’s even branched off into sketch and improv in a continuing effort to grow as a performer. He’ll write the odd YouTube sketch and has taken classes and performed two improv shows with Instant Theatre.
“I’m trying to expand,” he says. “Anything I can do in the realm of comedy. There’s no harm in expanding your tool belt.”
But it’s not as easy as it looks, even for a guy as comfortable on the standup stage as Decker. He describes his improv experience as “terrifying”.
“In improv, you have to create everything out of nothing, which I find very difficult,” he says. “With standup, you’re a joke hunter—you’re trying to find the laugh and move on—whereas in improv you’re supposed to try to do whatever the scene needs to remain interesting.”
But standup remains his true passion. While he’s one of the funniest and most likable young comics in the country, he remains largely unknown outside of B.C. His problem, he says, is one of branding. Clubs and festivals unaware of his impressive chops see a boyish-looking 27-year-old white guy and think he can be replaced with any generic observational comic.
“It’s hard for me because there’s nothing remarkable about my appearance,” he says. “If somebody has, like, a plaid shirt and a beard, that kind of projects that he’s probably going to be that type of alt-comic because he has the uniform.”
And the fact he works largely clean isn’t always a boon in a world of edgy and personal comedy.
“The thing about being a quote-unquote clean comic is you get booked for these shows where the audience is mostly in their 40s, 50s, and 60s—old married couples,” he says. “Yeah, I’m not swearing, but I have nothing they care about in my act. They don’t care about the plight of the single man living in the city who thinks it’s too hot on the bus.”
At least he has the respect of his peers, no matter what their age or marital status. It’s a testament to his reputation within the comedy community that Decker often finds himself headlining with more seasoned professionals on the same bill. Each time he’s been the main attraction at the MIX, he’s worked with the likes of Graham Clark and Phil Hanley. This weekend sees Patrick Maliha hosting and Simon King middling.
“And I gotta headline after that,” he says. “So it’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be fun. I’m excited about it. When I headline clubs here I always try to have something kind of new in there. I’ll do something to make it more interesting for me. It keeps it fun.”