It seems like Shaun Majumder has been around forever. From his days hosting a kids’ game show on YTV’s CLIPS to his rise in the Canadian comedy clubs to his five years on This Hour Has 22 Minutes to his dramatic role on ABC TV’s Detroit 1-8-7, the 39-year-old Newfoundlander has had a long and varied career. It’s both surprising and understandable, then, that he hadn’t done a standup theatre tour of the country until this spring. He’s been busy, sure, but what took him so long?
“It seems to be the natural evolution, as standup goes,” he says by phone from his home in Los Angeles prior to the start of his This Tour Has 22 Cities road show. (Not to nitpick, but there are only 20 dates in 17 cities, but whatever.) “You know, I’ve had comedy specials, I’ve featured at Yuk Yuk’s all across the country, I’ve done Just for Laughs. I’ve done all these things and now I need to pull a Ron James, pull a Russell Peters, and go across the country and do my own theatre tour. Other people were doing it who hadn’t been doing standup as long as I had. So there was a part of me that was like, ”˜Yeah, that’s something I wanna do eventually, whenever I’m ready to do it.’ ”
With his first (and last) season of the cop show Detroit 1-8-7 wrapped, now’s the time. The producers recently announced its cancellation, but Majumder had a blast playing it straight as Det. Vikram Mahajan. Or as straight as he can. It was a little jarring for Canadians tuning in to see the irrepressible funnyman talking about blunt-force trauma to the head. He understands that.
“There are certain preconceived ideas to how one is,” he says. “It takes a bit of an adjustment. But I think if you watch the whole series, you’ll see there’s elements of my real personality, there’s humour they’ve infused into the character.”
Despite being so well known for standup north of the border and having lived stateside for 10 years, Majumder has never pursued a comedy career there.
“There’s just so much work that goes into getting three minutes of standup down here that I just don’t find it enjoyable,” he says. “I’d rather not do standup and then go up to Vancouver to headline a weekend, come home, and not do standup for a little while.”
Sure, he can get rusty laying off for so long, but a free spirit like Majumder doesn’t take long to catch up once he’s under the lights. And with Vancouver being show number 18 on this tour, he’s sure to be a well-oiled machine by the time he rolls into town.
“Then again,” he says, “I also find that when I do one gig every now and then I have so much more fun because I’m up there and it’s all discovery.”
Well, there goes that theory. But that’s more likely just a performer’s neuroses. Majumder is one of the most sparkling and likable comedians in the business. Go ahead, try not to like him. You can’t. And despite seeing the world through his uniquely self-described “Pewfie” (a portmanteau of Newfie and Pakistani) eyes, Majumder speaks the universal language of funny. Sure, he’ll address race, but it’s hardly the backbone of his act.
“The reason for that,” he says, “is only because I don’t think I’m identifiable. I don’t identify myself as one thing or another. I don’t really have much to root it in, other than I’m a Newfie trapped in a brown body looking out going, ”˜Wait, why did I get this way? And why is my skin this colour?’ ”
While his vague beigeness leaves people wondering what race he is, that doesn’t stop him from being at the receiving end of racial taunts. He recalls one night in Guelph after a show when a man spewed a walk-by slur.
“I was called the N word, which made me laugh,” he says. “And I don’t mean Newfie.” Which made me laugh. Leave it to the fun-loving Majumder to see the humour in even the ugliest insult. “That was one of the funniest things I had ever heard because he was genuine. It spawned in me the idea that ”˜Hey, look, folks, if you’re gonna be racist, you can’t be ignorant. You have to be well-read, you have to have great knowledge of the specific race and why you hate them and what the proper moniker is that you call them in a derogatory way.’ ” He laughs, on a roll. “Purist racists out there get very offended. They feel you’re not doing pure racism any good by being lazy with your racism.”
And then, to drive his point home, a dash of irony: “He wouldn’t say it to my face, though, because he knew I’d take my huge wiener and beat him with it as I played basketball all over his ass. Nawmean?”
Majumder says he loves delving into that type of material but treads carefully, not wanting to lose the crowd.
“You gotta pick the right time to do that,” he says. “I think I’ll be able to get away with it. I won’t please everybody, but that’s fine. I’m not out to please everybody.”
Shaun Majumder plays the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Friday (May 27).