To watch Dave Shumka on-stage, you might think he’s a bundle of nerves. He paces, clutches his hair, hunches over. But he never gets anxious, he says.
Well, mostly never. Last fall, he got the call to open for the hottest comedian working today, Louis C.K., at the Vogue Theatre. “I was nervous for a week leading up to it,” he says at a downtown coffee shop before a gig. The show went well, the sold-out crowd loved him, and—presto—no more unnecessary stress. He doesn’t worry anymore about whether people think he’s funny.
“I’ve had enough positive feedback,” he says.
He’s been getting encouragement from his fellow comics since he started back in November 2005. His originality is what made him stand out.
“The jokes were all really short,” he says. “And I was—and still am—awkward on-stage physically.”¦But as soon as I get on the stage I just become physical. I guess I was decent to start, but I look back at those jokes and I’m embarrassed. It was a little immature. But I’m not mature now.”
His jokes have always exhibited a level of what he calls “sophisticated immaturity”. “They’re not funny to dumb people, I don’t think,” he says.
Shumka recently started, with Taz VanRassel, a monthly showcase of standup and improv called Arrogance. The next one happens on Tuesday (September 22) at 8:30 p.m. at the Biltmore Cabaret.
When not performing on-stage, Shumka is half of the hugely popular Stop Podcasting Yourself Internet broadcast, with Graham Clark. They started the show in March of last year, when it debuted to about a dozen of their friends. Eighty episodes later, they’ve got fans all over the world, thanks in part to being featured on the front page of iTunes a few times.
Stop Podcasting’s success is not really a surprise to Shumka. “I do it with Graham, who’s a prizewinning comedian and one of the funniest gentlemen in the country,” he says. “It’s certainly gratifying that we do get this positive feedback when we believe we’re doing something that’s good. If we still just had a dozen listeners, I doubt we would still be going.”
The show is so popular, the pair occasionally broadcast in front of a live audience, as they’ll do for the Global ComedyFest on September 26 at 1 p.m. at the Westin Grand Hotel.
While he’s all over the Internet with his podcast, you won’t find any Dave Shumka standup on-line. Not yet, anyway. He’s a bit of a stickler for quality, so he’s yet to post bits of his act.
But that will change. In April, Shumka performed at a Halifax Comedy Festival gala, which will be televised in March 2010. With good audio and video feeds, no doubt someone will upload it to the Web. And that would suit him just fine.
“I really should put things on the Internet,” he says. “It’s mostly laziness. But I’m really not a self-promoter. I feel very weird asking people to pay attention to me.”
He won’t have to ask for long. People are starting to notice on their own.
Jane Stanton is making up for lost time. The 35-year-old standup comic has been plying her trade for less than five years but has already won two competitions, been featured on CBC Radio, guest-hosted the CityNews List, guested on Urban Rush, and played Bumbershoot. She also hosts the popular monthly Teen Angst show at the Railway Club, and has two Thursday (September 24) slots at the Global ComedyFest: 6:30 p.m. at the Westin Grand, and 9 p.m. at the Media Club, as part of an XM Radio taping.
Had she started younger, who knows where she’d be? But that’s not something she dwells on.
“Yes, I started late, but I don’t regret it,” she says, sitting in a booth before a show at Yuk Yuk’s on a recent Wednesday. “Yeah, I can’t lie. For a second I was like, ”˜Oh, if I had started earlier I’d be 15 years in.’ But would I be better? Because I was an idiot when I was younger. But all those things make you who you are.”
Those things were, she says, partying her face off. Stanton did make an abbreviated attempt at standup, getting up on-stage four times before giving it up for two years. It was fear that kept her away, but when she finally screwed up the courage to give it another shot, she was hooked.
“I had shivers and tears in my eyes,” she recalls. “I was like, ”˜I love this!’ ”
The former collegiate soccer player has lived enough and thought about comedy enough to just be herself on-stage, instead of attempting to do an impression of a standup comic. She always admired comics like Richard Pryor who didn’t put on an act. Under the spotlight, Stanton has traces of Chris Farley’s misplaced sexual bravado and Jim Gaffigan’s sotto voce asides, but clearly has her own voice.
“I don’t really talk about the normal female things,” she says. When she does, she’s occasionally advised by other comics to soften her outrageous approach. For one bit about being proud of her stretch marks, someone suggested she act embarrassed by them instead.
“But I’m not,” she says. “That’s me, that’s why I say it that way.”
Much of her material is about food and sex, and occasionally both, such as when she instructs a sandwich to “fuck my face!” But she’s growing. And as her profile grows, she’s realizing the need to tone down some of the sailor language in order to score the more lucrative TV and radio work.
Still, Stanton says, her 30 to 45 minutes of material shrinks to about 20 if she’s forced to work clean. The advice she got was to “do the joke like you’re telling your grandma. Not dumb it down or anything—just take out the needless dirtiness.”
“I’m just trying to keep working all the time and get better,” she says, which is why you’ll see her on-stage five or six nights a week. “I’m a whore for shows.” Or, to all the grandmas out there: “I love doing shows all the time.”