Merv Griffin's recent obit in Time magazine described him as someone who "perfected an authentic, unironic, people-friendly manner that was seemingly impervious to the winds of change". If you think that marks him as the last of a breed, you've obviously never seen It's Good to Know People, a regular live comedy show at Hennessey Dining Lounge on West Broadway. It's so sincere, it's positively alternative.
Hosted by Jason Bryden as Bev PoCock and David Milchard as Chris Wes–"two insipid, broken, suburban, emasculated dudes", according to Bryden–the evening is like a live tribute to those PM Magazine–style shows that were all the rage in the 1980s. Only these feel-good MCs are in touch with their feminine side and believe men should be able to cuddle the way women do.
"It's kinda like Larry Sanders with a banal, people-positive bent to it," Bryden says in conversation with the Georgia Straight. "An eerie, earnest look into a local cable talk show."
Milchard and Bryden–who was nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award last year for his work on IGTKP–developed the headband-sporting, pastel-clad, constantly grinning characters to see if they could do comedy without poking fun at anyone. Highlights include sing-alongs to Bev and Chris's spookily cheery folk tunes and, of course, the annual testicular-exam Easter show, when audience members get two chocolate eggs to practise on. (Check out www.itsgoodtoknowpeople.com/ for video of the relentlessly upbeat duo tackling everything from environmentalism to parking etiquette.)
The show was further inspired by their reaction against Mount Pleasant's groovy vibe. "For a few years there," Bryden says over tea at a Kitsilano coffee shop, "the ironic T-shirts were really tight and numerous, the mesh trucker hats were prevalent, and everybody was totally cool. So our response to that was a show that was totally uncool."
Sounds like an ever-so-hip skewering of the genre, but Bryden defies you to find any trace of irony–except in the performances of standup comics who appear as guests–at any of the live shows, which take place on the last Tuesday of every month.
"We're so savvy these days that everything's a big laugh and we can comment on everything. So we just thought we'd try and go back to the root," he says. "We discovered that people were coming [to the show] because it felt good. They were singing along with the songs. Everybody bought into our earnest positivity. They weren't laughing at; they were totally laughing with these people."
The hosts dream of one day taking their baby to television. If that prospect seems daunting, you don't know Jason Bryden.
The 35-year-old actor is a man on the move, doing just about everything show business has to offer. While racking up acting credits in TV series ranging from Terminal City to Battlestar Galactica and Stargate SG-1, Bryden has authored a play titled The Dissemblers, a comedy about our city's condo-and-Chardonnay pretences, to be produced next May by Vancouver's Touchstone Theatre and to feature Sasa Brown, Medina Hahn, and Michael Rinaldi. That's on top of an already-optioned screenplay called The History of Computers and a development deal with the Comedy Network. He's even found time to put together a novel, after vowing to write a page a day for a year.
And he's not above pimping himself out to major corporations, with approximately 80 TV and radio commercials under his belt. "I think the first thing I did was sell out," the Vancouver TheatreSports League alumnus says. "I spent about five minutes trying to be a theatre actor and I just couldn't do it, so I sold out and found it a lot more satisfying than washing boats."
It's this kind of resourcefulness that has kept him out of a dreaded day job for the past seven years. "I figured out that the one thing I could guarantee is I could work harder than anyone else," Bryden explains. "I couldn't guarantee that I'd be the most handsome or the funniest or the most talented, but the one thing I had control over is my work ethic. So that's what I focused on."
With all this in play, the gravitational pull of Los Angeles is too great to resist. So, in January, Bryden and Milchard will make their break and get to know people in Hollywood. It only makes sense, Bryden believes.
"Instead of doing your work in front of people who love you but can't necessarily help you, you'll be doing it in front of people who will want to help you. L.A. is not looking, unlike Canada, to keep the tried and true around. They're looking for the next big thing, for the next meal ticket. In Canada, they're not–they're looking to keep Air Farce going for another 30 years. So I believe in L.A. they are looking for the next thing, and I'm it."
Hey, you gotta believe, right?
"Well, why not?" Bryden says. "It's just as easy as having low self-esteem. So you might as well have high self-esteem."