Comedian Stewart Francis doesn't need North American approval

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Twenty years into his standup-comedy career, Toronto’s Stewart Francis received his first-ever review of his act. That was in 2008, in the very publication you’re reading, 2,000 miles away from his home.

Cut to 2014 and Francis is a veritable comedy superstar in his adopted home of London, England, 3,500 miles away in the other direction. He’s written about in all the papers, gets interviewed on the BBC, shows up regularly on the telly, and hobnobs with all manner of VIPs. In 2010, he supported Ricky Gervais on a 60-show tour of the U.K.

“My profile is nonexistent [in Canada] in comparison to over here,” Francis tells the Straight during a family visit just outside of Edinburgh. “I’m a semicelebrity hanging out with rock stars and royalty.”

Hesitant to give details, the humble Canuck eventually reveals it was Bono, Roger Daltrey, and “one of the princes”.

Fame was a long time coming—but well-deserved for one of the funniest one-liner comics of them all.

“It’s kind of what I hoped would have happened in my home and native land,” he says. “But as you well know, we don’t have a star system in Canada for the arts, so all of us have to go further afield to find success. That’s disappointing, but having said that, I’m grateful for the way it’s turned out for me.”

Francis worked the clubs all across this great land for years, and even hosted the game show You Bet Your Ass on the Comedy Network for two seasons. But Canadian show business is a different animal.

“I recently went back to Toronto and a guy I was on the elevator with turned to me and said, ‘You a comedian?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I’m a huge fan of yours.’ I said, ‘Oh, thanks!’ And he said, ‘What’s your name again?’ That just really sums it up. I wasn’t offended; I found it quite funny. But technically, if you’re a huge fan of someone’s, you would know their name, I would have thought.”

By his estimation, he’s done about 17 or 18 episodes of the hugely popular comedy panel show Mock the Week in Britain, which helped catapult him into Brits’ consciousness. “I’m suddenly entrenched into the people’s brains where they now know me by name,” he says. “The power of television, I’m telling you.”

Now he’s turning down offers to return to the show, not because he doesn’t love it but because he doesn’t want to overstay his welcome. He notes the irony.

“I’ve never wanted to be that performer where it’s ‘Oh, not him again,’ ” he says. “It’s funny how I’m coming from Canada, where you’re craving recognition. I’m grateful for it and I do need it over here, but I turn down more television work than I accept because I pride myself in whenever you see me on TV, it’s gonna be good.”

Francis is coming home to catch his beloved Maple Leafs in person. He was also going to swing down to Los Angeles to perform on Conan O’Brien’s talk show, but opted instead for a weekend at Yuk Yuk’s in Vancouver. An odd choice, to be sure, but Francis is doing well enough in Europe that he doesn’t need North American approval. Also, the local Yuk Yuk’s franchisee, Garry Yuill, is an old friend.

These will be Francis’s only Canadian dates on the trip. In fact, it’s the first time he’s been booked into a Canadian club since his last review in the Straight in 2008, when he was here for the Vancouver Global ComedyFest.

“I thought I’ll just do the club for Garry because he’s asked me a couple times and there’s not a lot of pressure involved in that. And the Leaf games are just joyous—hopefully,” he says. “I wanted it [the trip] to be more or less nothing but pleasure. So I will do Conan or another late-night show down the road. I don’t look to conquer America. It’s no longer on my list of things to do.”

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