Watching Ken Lawson perform, with his gangly limbs and Jim Carrey–like mug, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything but comedy. He’s built for it.
But for many years Lawson was a musician, playing guitar in bands and as a studio session player in Kamloops. He was in a group called Cozy Gelpod that opened for Nickelback just before they hit it big. He played with former Prism singer Henry Small. Music was his life.
“In high school, I played bars in spring break,” he says over a green tea in a West End coffee shop. “I played biker bars around the Interior. That was my existence. That was my identity.”
Then he found improv comedy and his career took off in another direction. He’s been with the Vancouver TheatreSports League for years, where he still runs all the corporate training and performs whenever he’s in town.
But more and more these days, he’s out on the road, prancing around with his shirt off on stages across the country, throughout the western U.S., and even in Australia. Together with show creator Roman Danylo and a stable of other VTSL performers like Chris Casillan, David Milchard, Michael Teigen, Pearce Visser, and Toby Berner, Lawson is part of the Comic Strippers improv troupe. Despite being “a show for all genders”, the Strippers play to huge throngs of mostly women, who squeal at their tantalizing gyrations and laugh at their not-so-tantalizing, comedic bodies.
The promo shots of shirtless dudes with bow ties posing sexily may confuse some theatregoers into thinking they’re going to see Thunder From Down Under, but they soon get it.
“After they see our bodies, they’re not that disappointed that we’re not going to go all the way,” Lawson says. “There is that absolute suspension of disbelief about everything: us being sexy, about everything. They buy in 100 percent. It’s crazy.”
The conceit of the show is that these male peelers felt they weren’t getting enough respect, so they took some improv workshops—because who gets more respect than improvisers? Well, they’re not the brightest. In between scenes, music blasts and the lads let loose.
“Sometimes, when we hear music, we can’t control ourselves; we’ve gotta move,” he says. “As soon as a scene’s over, boom, music—idiots dancing, idiots dancing. Then we stop and the crowd goes crazy.”
Each of the guys is named Chip. There’s Chip Otle, Chip Rock, Chip Tooth, Chip Sahoy. The spindly Lawson goes by Chip Stick. He wears spandex, a wristband, and “guyliner” to make his eyes pop.
For the past three years, the Strippers have performed about 60 shows per annum. And the 50-year-old Lawson is living a dream.
“My guy plays it with a lot of metal moves, classic cheesy ’80s vocalist moves,” he says. “I’m kind of getting to live out my rock ’n’ roll fantasies. I’m touring more than I ever did with bands. At this stage of my life, it doesn’t make sense that we’re doing these big kinda rock shows. Because it feels like a rock show. Very seldom, I think, in comedy do your fans scream at you when you come out. No one knows who we are. The convention makes them treat us like we’re rock stars. I always wanted that in a band, to be with your buddies touring the world and experiencing all this stuff and having these adventures together because you care about each other. And this is that.”
The Comic Strippers appear Friday (January 26) at North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre, Saturday (January 27) at Maple Ridge’s ACT Arts Centre, February 2 at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, February 3 at the Cultch’s York Theatre in Vancouver, February 9 at Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre, and February 10 at Burnaby’s Shadbolt Centre.