John Beuhler's comedy outgrows dirty roots

Vancouver gets its share of big-name American comics coming through town, and the following weeks are no exception, with Bill Maher, Margaret Cho, and Bill Cosby making appearances. John Beuhler is neither a big name nor an American-he is, in fact, a local-but he's just as funny as they are.

Beuhler won't be demanding thousands of dollars for his appearances at Lafflines in New Westminster this and next Friday and Saturday (March 18, 19, 25, and 26). Then again, you won't have to shell out a small fortune to attend. And if you haven't already seen him at all the comedy clubs and rooms in the city or on his televised standup specials, you'll want to check him out. His jokes, delivered in an impish, cheeky style, are sometimes dirty, sometimes politically incorrect, but always intelligently crafted. It's no wonder, then, that Brent Butt chose him to help write the comedy bits for the upcoming Juno Awards ceremony that Butt will host.

When the Straight caught up to Beuhler, he was in Regina, opening for Butt at a new casino. While the Corner Gas star may be big across the country, his popularity is magnified greatly in his home province, as you might expect.

"It's amazing. Everybody's coming up to him," Beuhler says. "It's so annoying. I'm having questions about wanting to be any kind of famous, you know? Because he gets just the biggest, weirdest mouth-breathers coming up to him all the time. Just constantly."

The 27-year-old started out eight years ago on an amateur night at the same Lafflines he's headlining now. After his first time on-stage, club booker Mark Dennison invited him back the very next night. Two years later, he won the B.C. Homegrown Comic Competition, which allowed him to perform at the prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. He was a finalist at the Seattle International Comedy Competition and was nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award. In 2003, he moved to Montreal, lasting a year-and-a-half, and was asked to perform at the Just for Laughs Gala, which is reserved for the best of the best. The evening was hosted by the legendary Carl Reiner and featured such names as Greg Proops, Mike MacDonald, Todd Barry, and Maria Bamford, but it was Beuhler who stole the show. He was signed to an American agency after that performance, but it wasn't what it was cracked up to be.

"They sat me down and I made sure: 'You're not just going to shelf me, are you, like every other company does?' And they go, 'No, no.' And I go, 'You're not just shopping around to pick up people to justify your trip here or anything?' And they go, 'No, no, you're great.' So now I can't get them on the phone. Hollywood is so fucking retarded, oh my God. Everybody kinda wants to get on you when you're making money. Nobody wants to develop anybody because that takes money, right?" So Beuhler is toiling away on stages throughout Canada, doing comedy clubs and corporate shows and going for acting auditions, although he says "my agent's always telling me it's really slow for ugly guys right now."

He's released a CD called Baby Teeth (available at www.johnbeuhler .com/), which features some of his favourite bits from over the years so he can stop performing them live and work on new material. A sample from the disc: "Wouldn't it be cool to have a sniper in your hometown? Because you could blame shit on him. You get to work one Monday and someone's like, 'Someone just killed the boss!' You're like, 'That damn sniper.' They're like, 'No, they poisoned him; I don't think it was the sniper.' You're like, 'Oh, it was the fucking sniper. He's tricky. Last week he beat my ex-girlfriend to death with a football helmet.'"

Beuhler, who describes himself as a comedy nerd (he has a large tattoo of Alfred E. Newman on his left biceps), is maturing as a comic. Instead of ratty T-shirts and jeans, he now wears a jacket and tie on-stage. And he's striving to work cleaner.

"I'm really more aware now of the shock laugh as opposed to the actual good laugh. I mean, I think I have some smart shocking jokes and some smart dirty jokes, but I can really now tell the difference. Especially when watching other people and when I'm writing. 'Am I writing a story about animal rape? Why am I doing this? Is this funny? This isn't funny, it's just a can-you-believe-he-said-that? kind of thing.'"

The transition, he says, is "definitely very hard. I'm having a really difficult time with it." So expect a combination of the old and the new at his Lafflines performances.

He may not have the name recognition or the bank account, but Beuhler delivers. And it's time we stop thinking you have to be on TV every week or live in the U.S. to be a good entertainer. The Vancouver comedy scene, he says, is "the best that I've seen. We just got a new crop of hilarious guys a little while ago: the Jeffrey Yus and Graham Clarks. And there's even another group coming up now that I just saw that are going to be really great. The amount of people that I see that are obviously going to be very good is kind of frightening for an old guy who's been doing it for a while."

It may be more frightening that 27 is considered old. Still, Beuhler's got nothing to worry about. There's always room for funny.