Fall arts preview: Comedian Garrett Clark's rise is no joke

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      Garrett Clark likes to joke that he had a lot of good luck in the first year or two of his career and then nothing since. “It set the bar high for a lot of disappointment later,” he says with a laugh while talking with the Straight on a West End park bench.

      Yes, he beat out hundreds of other hopefuls at the age of 17 to host a segment on CBC TV’s The X and scored a part in Second City’s Tony and Tina’s Wedding in Toronto before he hit 20. While further auditions haven’t landed him much, it’s not like the now 28-year-old has been sitting around.

      He continued with his standup in his hometown of Toronto (taking an 11-month break when he sold vacuum cleaners in Kelowna while he was figuring out his life) and eventually landed in Vancouver two years ago.

      He recently won the Winnipeg satellite of the World Series of Comedy competition, which gives him a more favourable slot for the big contest in Vegas later this month. And this past summer, after he opened for Iliza Shlesinger at Yuk Yuk’s here, the American headliner brought him to Arlington, Virginia, for four shows. Last year, Bryan Callen had Clark open for him at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles and for five nights in West Palm Beach, Florida.

      Not bad for the self-described “shy, awkward, nerdy kid”.

      What helped him break out of his shell was moving back to Canada at the age of 14, after 10 years in Sydney, Australia. Suddenly, that accent was exotic and people were asking questions. Then he got the nerve to take the impressions he was doing privately for family and friends up on-stage.

      “I was one of those kids who was enthralled by people like Jim Carrey and Mike Myers and the Canadian greats, and I wanted to be involved in comedy in any way I could,” he says. “Standup, I thought, was the most respected and raw form but I never really had an interest. I wanted to do improv and sketch but I thought I needed to do the standup thing just to earn some chops. And it turns out I was better at stand­up than I was at improv or sketch, so I just kept doing it.”

      He hasn’t touched the other comedic forms since, although that’s going to change in the new year. In February, Clark is packing up his baby-blue Ford Windstar and moving to L.A., where he plans to register for classes with either the sketch- and improv-based Groundlings or Upright Citizens Brigade, both known feeders to your favourite televised comedy fare.

      “Ultimately, what I’ve always wanted to do is Saturday Night Live, so I’m going to try and tap into those windows to see if I even fit,” he says. “It’s what I’ve always wanted, so why the hell not try? I mean, shit, I could always come back and get a job anytime. Why not try now while I’m single and don’t have a mortgage? I don’t want to regret not trying my hardest. I really need to give it everything I’ve got.”

      Why not, indeed? That audition dry spell can’t last forever. He recalls hearing an army analogy on a podcast recently: “Sometimes you’ve gotta throw your bag over the wall and you don’t know what’s over there, but you’ve just got to throw it over and be ready for whatever is coming,” he says. “Commit and go for it.”

      It seems to have worked for him so far.