Darren Frost is a standup survivor. He’s been heckled and physically attacked, but keeps coming back for more. Of course, there have been successes along the 25-year journey, too, but they’re not as juicy and fun—just good, solid credits: he’s a two-time Canadian Comedy Award nominee, has put out four DVDs and three CDs, and has done CBC’s The Debaters and Mr. D.
On his latest tour, which hits Yuk Yuk’s for a special Sunday-night show, he’s selling all of it on a USB stick that contains 25 hours of comedy, including 12 hours from his DVDs, podcast appearances, CDs, early clips from what he calls his crowd-pleasing “happy clappy fun boy” era, and such later clips as the one of him being physically assaulted by a thrown whiskey tumbler that landed straight on his solar plexus and being verbally assaulted by unhappy punters. He calls it The Darkness Within: A Lifetime of Disappointment.
This is a guy who supplements his income with numerous acting gigs (Hairspray with John Travolta and Fever Pitch with Jimmy Fallon, as well as voice work on Camp Lakebottom, among others). So where’s the darkness and disappointment?
“I think I cut myself open every night and let it bleed out, pretty much,” he says. “The stories speak for themselves. Constant bad luck.”
His wife of 11 years jokes about the “Frost family curse”.
“I used to tell a story in my act about a Quebec field trip in high school,” Frost says, on the phone from his home in Toronto. “It’s true: 41 people applied for this trip and 40 could go. And I couldn’t go. Everyone’s screaming ‘Yay!’ and hugging each other. It’s just a setup for a lifetime of disappointment.”
Two of his three kids have the same heart defect, tetralogy of Fallot, which has required multiple open-heart surgeries. Frost has battled diabetes and skin cancer. He’s had problems with a vasectomy and been misdiagnosed with other ailments. He’s got no other choice but to laugh about it—or at least cause the audience to laugh through his piercing stares and angry outbursts.
It didn’t start out that way, though. His first five-ish years were spent doing a wacky character with funny pants.
“That was the era,” he says. “It was just doing material that got laughs. I did very well. But you realize it’s kind of hollow. I felt very trapped, so I said, ‘Enough of this,’ and I shitcanned all that stuff and started doing other material. I think I’m better for it.”
But the angry guy on-stage now is also a persona. The real Darren Frost is somewhere between the polar opposites, although probably closer to the intense current version. “It’s a heightened version of who I am now,” he says.
Frost has moved away from commentary into more personal stories, which resonate with audiences more, even if they can’t totally relate to the string of bad luck that follows him around. And that’s seen a decrease in the number of altercations he gets himself into.
“People generally had an opinion about a news story I was talking about and if I didn’t have their opinion, they got pretty upset,” he says. “That led to battles with hecklers or people getting upset and trying to shut the show down. You can be upset with what I say to my kids or how I present them, but it doesn’t screw up the audience as much as when I did my Third World hunger jokes or jokes about the [Greyhound] beheading. I just don’t have the heart in me anymore to want to fight every single crowd to that level.”
He seems to be enjoying himself more, too—as far as a Frost can, anyway.
“I love it when all the planets align. They don’t always align, but I do still love it,” he says of life on the road performing standup. “It’s my heroin, there’s no doubt about it.”
Darren Frost’s The Darkness Within Tour plays Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club on Sunday (May 17).