Phil Hanley finds funny in the truth
It’s bittersweet for a local arts community when one of its own takes the next step in their career. You’re happy for and civically proud of their success, but at the same time you have to lament the weakening of the talent pool.
The Vancouver standup scene has taken its share of hits lately, starting with Brent Butt’s ascension to Al Waxman–like status in Canadian situation comedy, taking him away from the action on the frontlines. Since then, we’ve seen Peter Kelamis split time between Vancouver and Los Angeles, where he starred as Adam Brody on SGU Stargate Universe; lost Lachlan Patterson to L.A., where he’s performed on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno; and watched new Southern California resident Todd Allen do a set on the Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.
Add to that partial list Phil Hanley, the latest Vancouver comic to take his act south of the border. Hanley has been spending a good chunk of his time in Manhattan, and will be returning there in July for an extended period. The Vancouverite made his American network debut on Ferguson’s late-night talk show in March, after perfecting his five minutes at the Comedy Mix, where he’ll be headlining Thursday through Saturday, and other small rooms around town. While that practice gave him a certain confidence, it didn’t quite replicate the experience in front of the cameras.
“It’s more nerve-wracking than doing it [the act] in front of a tap at a bar,” he jokes over tea at a downtown café. Still, the set garnered him an American manager, who in turn got him gigs playing clubs and colleges in outposts such as Michigan, Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas. In fact, he’s already booked into 2012.
The downside is that, after playing all the festivals in Canada and performing on national TV and radio here, Hanley now finds he’s low man on the totem pole in the new market.
“It’s weird to go somewhere and start all over again,” he said. “It’s crazy. Especially in New York, I’d have someone vouch for me at just an open mike and they’d be like, ”˜Oh, cool. Just send me a tape.’ And you’re like, ”˜To perform here for six people for free I have to send you a tape?’ It’s like being the new guy at school, only you’re an adult.”
The lanky cardigan-loving comic has spent the last seven-and-a-half years cultivating a nebbishy persona with a misplaced confidence. When playing stages in the States, he often opens with a straight-faced “I’m Canadian. I hope that doesn’t intimidate you.”
He also originated the term “stay-at-home son” long before Zach Galifianakis made it famous in The Hangover Part II. (Reached by email, Galifianakis told the Straight, “I really don’t know what to say. I had no idea. I feel bad. Had I known of the coincidence it would not have been used. I have been in his shoes before. It is frustrating. Phil is a very good comic by the way.”)
Although Hanley is a slave to jokes, they don’t come at the expense of the truth. He still lives with his parents when in Vancouver (he’ll be featured in an upcoming documentary on adults still shacked up with Mom and Dad [to air on CBC’s Doc Zone in 2012] and has argued for the lifestyle on CBC’s The Debaters). And those button-front sweaters really are a staple of his wardrobe.
“The cardigans predate comedy. I used to just wear a cardigan just because they look dynamite, you know?” he deadpans. “Then, when I started doing standup, all the other comics started making a big stink about it, commenting on it. But this is just what a gentleman wears.”
Hanley has also become adept at crowd work over the years, hilariously placing it seamlessly between his prepared material, all at a measured pace. Asked to describe his style, Hanley says: “People say it’s dry. They always use the two words killer and dry.”
Expect that kind of droll wit on display at the Mix. And, of course, the cardigan.
Phil Hanley plays the Comedy Mix Thursday through Saturday (June 9 to 11).