Fall arts preview: Ben McGinnis makes audiences sit up and listen
When it comes to irrational fears, glossophobia ranks right up there. So you might expect a shy person to avoid getting up on a stage and speaking to a room full of strangers. But contrary to popular belief, most standup comics are not cutups 24/7. In fact, many of them are rather introverted in real life.
Ben McGinnis is one such comic. Sitting next to him in a Broadway coffee shop, one has to strain and lean forward to hear him talk over the coffee grinder and background music. But that low-key demeanour hasn’t stopped him from performing at comedy clubs, rowdy bars, and festivals.
“Yeah, I would say I’m pretty quiet and reserved in social situations,” says McGinnis, who you can catch opening for L.A.–based Michael Kosta at the Comedy MIX, from September 27 to 29. “I certainly was never the class clown. Nobody ever said, ‘Ben, you’ve got to do standup.’ ”
But he was drawn to it from a young age. As a teenager, he admired Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, Garry Shandling, and Chris Rock. That’s as far as it went, though. He wasn’t a theatre kid, didn’t do any performing. Five years ago, as a 25-year-old, he finally worked up the nerve to take David Granirer’s comedy course at Langara, which culminated in a performance at a Commercial Drive restaurant.
That went well, so he kept at it. His quiet delivery and solid joke-writing skills make audiences sit up and listen. “You have to be able to hold those pauses and trust that the audience isn’t going to interrupt you,” he says. “I feel like I just talk on-stage the way I would talk in real life, but it’s a heightened, written version of it.” It also helps that he uses a microphone.
McGinnis also stands out by keeping things clean. When he started out, he would drop the occasional F-bomb, but he quickly weeded out the curse words. He’s self-aware enough to see himself the way the audience sees him.
“My character on-stage is a little bit introverted and there’s kind of a bravado or brashness to swearing,” he says. “And also I just look like a nerdy, collegiate white guy.”
In May, McGinnis was one of 11 local comics—and the least experienced of the lot—to record an online special at the Waldorf Hotel (available as a digital download at thestandupcomedians.com/ for $5). He claims he hasn’t watched the final product but is still happy with his performance. “I felt it was as good as I could have done,” he says. “They were a great crowd. They were very open to watching me and came along with me wherever I went. But when you actually look at that situation, everything’s in your favour to succeed: it’s a group of young people that all paid to watch comedy, they’re in my peer group, and if I can’t make them laugh then I don’t really have much sense doing this thing.”