Big Jay Oakerson looms large over the JFL NorthWest comedy festival. Then again, at six foot three, he looms large over most things.
The Philadelphia-born and -raised standup will be as nasty as he wants to be for five shows at the Rio Theatre when Montreal’s infamous Nasty Show hits the fest. He’ll also be hosting a night of crowd work at the Comedy MIX.
If anything, comics are told to tone it down when it comes to material, but Oakerson remembers his audition for his first Nasty Show.
“I went there and did a pretty dirty set and the only feedback that was given to me was ‘Can you possibly be a little dirtier?’ Sure! That’s no problem at all, whatsoever,” he says on the phone from his home in New York City. “I thought that was insane. That was such a weird thing for such a prestigious festival to say: ‘Hey, can you actually gross this up a little more?’ ”
The Vancouver version will be hosted by Bobby Slayton, who’s known for his ferocious wit and who’s been on the Nasty bill off and on (mostly on) since the ’90s. It will also feature Oakerson in a shared bill with Jersey boy Kurt Metzger, Tony “One Shot” Hinchcliffe, and Vancouver’s own Kathleen McGee.
Oakerson’s own show, What’s Your Fucking Deal?!, which is coming to the Comedy MIX during the fest, isn’t necessarily as shocking as the Nasty, but it can be. No one knows ahead of time how it will play out, since the only rule is that each comedian coming to the stage cannot do prepared material. Oakerson first mounted it in Montreal in 2012 and has since performed it at SXSW, the New York Comedy Festival, and San Francisco SketchFest.
“It’s tons of fun because that’s the only chance it really gets to be as funny to the comedian as it is to the audience, because we don’t know what we’re going to say either,” he says of the crowd work. “You don’t have any idea what you’re going to say until seconds before you say it.”
Some comics unaccustomed to walking that unnetted tightrope fret about going on later in the show, when it seems there’s no one else left to talk to in the audience. But Oakerson gives them a pep talk. “The beauty of going at the end of a crowd-work show is the joke’s pretty much been written for you; all you gotta do now is kinda hit punch lines, because you know this couple’s been married for this many years, you know he thinks her sister’s attractive. You’re given all these tools to work with.”
He sees audience-spritzing as a good skill to have in your back pocket. He says comics just have to tap into that time in their lives when they were hysterical off-stage, before the craft took over.
“They find that they are actually all good at crowd work,” he says. “They’re all funny people. They all never prepared their jokes before they did comedy. When you were just being funny with your friends, you never really overprepared for that. I kinda, like, trick them into finding that spot.”
Big Jay Oakerson is in The Nasty Show at the Rio Theatre from Tuesday to next Saturday (February 23 to 27) and hosts What’s Your Fucking Deal?! at the Comedy MIX on Wednesday (February 24).