Ron James can’t go two minutes, it seems, without creating a perfect metaphor to drive his point home. The quintessentially Canadian comic is one of the great wordsmiths in the business. His shows are a tangent-laden journey through the country and its people, with stops for personal reminiscences and rants. In other words, buddy’s got a mouth on him and he knows how to use it.
“I like to have a pretty eclectic buffet,” he says on the phone from his Toronto office. “I like there to be a lot of choice in there over the 90 minutes.”
These days, you’re lucky to get 45 minutes from a headlining comic. But James feels an obligation to his audience, who’ve shelled out 40 bucks a piece for a ticket and arranged for a sitter, even when there are so many entertainment options in the family media room. He will go 90 minutes to two hours without a break or opening act. “I like to get that roll and pitch,” he says. “I really like to take the car out on the highway for a spin.”
No surprise. The Nova Scotia native comes by it honestly.
“I came from a Celtic culture, right?” he explains. “I was surrounded by people who would never shut up. They just talked. I mean, it wasn’t a fiddle-playing kitchen, but people could tell a story—oh, jeez, they could tell a story. It was holy. And you listened, and you respected it. These things stayed with me.”
James’s act, coming to the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Saturday (March 8), really is a wonder to behold. Watching him recite one of his many lengthy passages in one breath leaves you gasping for air yourself. And he can as easily wax eloquently on the wonders of life as he can pop off on politicians (or, as he puts it, “glad-handing political opportunists with a pathological pursuit of power who as soon as they get elected don’t give a rat’s ass about the people that gave it to them in the first place”). And unlike many comics working today, he doesn’t draw a whole lot from the world of celebrities.
“I’ve just never been one to pull my act from popular culture,” he notes. “If you’re just watching TV shows or just watching movies or fucking around on the Internet, you’re just going to the same well as everybody else.”
The 50-year-old comic, who has had plenty of success in Canada, still believes he shouldn’t get too close to the rich and powerful. “I think it’s important for a comedian not to be a member of the country club. I’d never want to be in a room filled with people I make fun of for a living,” he says. “I don’t want to be the guy inside with the alligator on my shirt, for Christ’s sake. But it’s hard, isn’t it, when we’re all carrying this Sisyphean lump of fuck called the bourgeois dream?”
Sisyphean lump of fuck? Told you the guy had a way with words.