Sooke, B.C., about 45 minutes west of the capital, may be a vibrant arts community, but unless you stumble across a particularly funny jewellery maker or fabric artist, you don’t think of it as a comedy hotbed. Although, granted, the potholes can be a riot.
So when Kevin Banner, a lifelong standup-comedy fan, decided he wanted to give comedy the old college try without having to take up crafts, he was forced to figure it out on his own. Hell, in 2005, there wasn’t even a scene in Victoria, but that didn’t stop him.
“I just called around to music open mikes and asked if I could do standup,” he recalls over a coffee at a Main Street café in Vancouver. “Some places said yeah, but I couldn’t use any foul language.” He finally found his spot when one manager he cold-called shouted out to the people in his bar, saying: “I got a fuckin’ guy who wants to do fuckin’ comedy. Would language be a fuckin’ problem?” Everyone yelled back, “Fuck, no!”
He performed there once a month for four months before getting his first paying gig (“as you should,” he jokes). “My fifth time on-stage, I did 40 minutes. I wouldn’t be super comfortable doing 40 minutes today.”
He’s being modest. Banner, who describes himself as a “strongish middle” who’s closing in on headlining, is a natural in front of a crowd and a great writer. (“I don’t think I’d be so heavy if it wasn’t for bullying,” goes one of his jokes. “But I took a lot of lunch money in my day.”) For a guy who’s been doing comedy only five years—he doesn’t count the first four, because he says he got on-stage fewer than 20 times—he’s done quite well for himself.
In 2011, a year before making the move to Vancouver, he was the People’s Choice award winner at the Stand Up & Bite Me competition, netting him $5,000. The 31-year-old has since played the Northwest and Blue Bridge comedy festivals, and two weeks ago was one of the Canadians of Comedy at Bumbershoot.
His highlights, though, were opening for both Mick Foley and Doug Stanhope, “my hero from my teens and my hero from my early 20s”, he says.
The writing doesn’t come easy, however. “My process is so slow, it’s terrifying,” he says. “With some bits. And then some stuff just comes and it just opens up. And I’m frustrated because why can’t it always be that friggin’ simple?”
Those dry spells can lead to crises of confidence, something he’s been fighting since the age of 13. “It’s not always super crippling, but it can be,” he says.
But he fights through and we’re none the wiser. Pros visiting the Comedy MIX, Banner’s home club, offer both praise and encouragement. And, in turn, he learns from them.
He told Chad Daniels, “Your act is what I want my act to be one day,” he remembers, because Daniels can float back and forth between lovable and roguish while maintaining his likability.
“Most comics wouldn’t say that to somebody, but I don’t want to be cool,” he says. “Colin Quinn says comedy is the antithesis of cool, so if you see a comic who’s trying to act cool, he’s lost his way. I love that.”