You might think Vancouver comedian Graham Clark would avoid racetracks, given his allergy to horses. But Hastings Park is precisely where Clark chose to meet up with the Straight on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon. For the Alberta native, it's the perfect place to unwind after his visits to flea markets and yard sales in search of tacky prizes to give away at his weekly Wednesday-night comedy show, the Laugh Gallery, which takes place at Rime (1130 Commercial Drive).
And when you think about it, a day at the races makes perfect sense. Clark, an old soul at the age of 27, would fit right in with the Marx Brothers, with his ever-present vintage paperboy hat, Vandyke-ish facial hair, and quick wit. Even his alias fits: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo, meet Wannabo (a portmanteau of wannabe hobo), the moniker Clark uses on MySpace to differentiate himself from the millions of other Graham Clarks of the world.
Only five-and-a-half years into his chosen profession, Clark has become one of this city's top comedy veterans. He's played all the major festivals in the country, opened in theatres for the likes of Bob Saget, Norm Macdonald, and the Smothers Brothers, and filmed his own standup TV special for the Comedy Network.
But what he loves most is doing his little show down on the Drive. On any given Wednesday, you can see top pro standups, so-called alternative comics, sketch troupes, weird character acts, musicians, and even the odd magician–anything that's played for laughs, says Clark. "That would be my preference, because it's a comedy show. It's not a variety show. I don't want, like, a folksinger, unless it happens to be funny. I welcome anybody that's going to try and do something off the beaten path with open arms."
Unlike most MCs, Clark doesn't rely on his tried and tested material. He'll weave bits of conversation he's overheard on the bus, for example, into a whole new monologue. The reason is that "half of the audience was there last week," he says before admitting: "I'm not saying it works every week."
And he encourages that attitude in the other performers. "I'll never ever persecute somebody for going up on-stage and bombing with something entirely new, because I would rather they do that than come down and do the polished seven minutes that I know will kill. But that also has its place on the show. I want them to do whatever they feel like doing."
The show's staple, though, has to be the kitschy giveaways. On a recent Wednesday, Clark handed out prize packages of such gems as a Murder, She Wrote puzzle, an early Nicole Kidman classic called BMX Bandits, and a Rod Stewart T-shirt.
It's this loose, anything-goes feel that Clark relishes. "I just think it's a really fun comedy show," he says. "That's the only way I have to classify it. It's the type of show that I like to watch."