That Time I Bombed: Ryan Gunther gets a little too topical

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      That Time I Bombed is where the Straight asks comedians about their life-changing shows, favourite comedy albums, and, a subject that any comedian will face at some point in their career, a time that they bombed on stage.

      Who are you

      I grew up in a log cabin on an island near Prince Rupert, and walked a mile every day to a little red schoolhouse. Most people don’t know that about me, because I’ve never talked about it onstage, because I have a deep aversion to clichés and hack premises.

      I discovered standup after working in IT for far too long and after just kind of drifting through life and going with whatever’s easiest up to that point. It’s both disorienting and exhilarating to know exactly what I want to do with my life.

      I’m now able to put all those wasted years working in a corporate bureaucracy to some use, in the form of a show in the Vancouver Fringe: it’s called Leash Your Potential. It’s a business seminar that’s far too honest to give at an actual business.

      My style is usually described by other people as dry, deadpan, intelligent, and incisive. Old people like me because I don’t swear and they don’t seem to care that the actual content is often very dark.

      First standup experience

      The first show I saw live was Steven Wright, but I was already a huge fan and had printed out a canonical list of Steven Wright jokes off the internet. My friend and I were sitting in the box seats and part way through the show, he looked up at us and said, “Look, it’s the Muppets.” 

      Life-changing comedy show

      When I was single and doing online dating, a woman suggested that we go to Hecklers. To that point, I didn’t even know there was a comedy club in Victoria—I’d only ever gone to theatre shows. As it turned out, I never went with that woman but it seemed like a good date idea, so I did eventually go with the woman I’m now married to.

      Hecklers is widely regarded by comics as one of the best clubs in Canada, and the show was fantastic. Kevin Foxx headlined and I was thrilled because I’d seen him on TV.

      After the show, they announced that they were going to start doing amateur nights in a few months, and a few months after that, I got up the courage to do it myself. The rest, as they say, is too boring to itemize.

      Top three comedy specials/albums

      Stewart Lee – 41st Best Stand-Up Ever  All of his specials are fantastic, but his bit on political correctness is something I still (mis)quote to people to this day.

      Norm Macdonald – Me Doing Standup  Norm is one of those guys who can say something that wouldn’t be funny at all if anyone else said it, and make it hilarious.

      Hari Kondabolu – Waiting for 2042  Hari does the kind of comedy I want to do. Making insightful political points, but doing it through perfectly crafted jokes so it doesn’t become preachy or ranty.

      All-time favourite joke or bit

      This joke comes from Norm Macdonald. “My doctor’s trying to scare me out of smoking; he showed me a picture of a smoker’s lung. Whoa! It’s gross and disgusting! And then he shows a picture of a healthy guy’s lung. Whoa! It’s gross and disgusting! Turns out it’s just lungs.”

      This is like the quintessential Norm joke for meNorm Macdonald. I still remember it word for word after seeing it over 20 years ago on An Evening at the Improv.              

      Something you saw that made you laugh but probably shouldn’t have

      I always love it when climate change is on point, like the flooding in Calgary and the fires in Fort Mac. It’s like the world trying to pick a tick off the middle of its back that’s giving it lyme disease, so it’s a little miraculous when it scores a direct hit. Even though it would’ve been a catastrophic environmental disaster, I kind of wanted the fires to reach the oil sands and light them on fire, like a giant bunsen burner.

      That time I bombed

      I started at Hecklers, which is a great club, and Victoria generally has very supportive audiences. So for about the first six months of doing comedy, I didn’t have a bad set. This was also when the Victoria standup scene was just getting started, so I’d probably done fewer than 20 shows in those six months.

      Then I did my first charity show for a kid with brain cancer. Now I know that charity shows are not a comedy audience—they’re people who may not watch or like standup but rather, are there to support the cause. But at the time, I didn’t know that so I just did my best jokes—jokes that had worked on amateur shows and on weekend pro shows, which also happened to be entirely wrong for this audience.

      I went bullet (lingo for first comedian to go onstage) and started with a "Cops for Cancer" joke. Topical, right? Then I did about four bits where I had named things like, "Lions and Jewellery Store Flyer", but which pretty much all involved dead kids to some degree. And this was a crowd that was there because a kid was dying.

      At one point, I could see a woman shaking her head and saying, "no" in the second row. I only ever cry when somebody dies, and on the way home I cried because I had died. And it was another month before I had a good set again.

      Leash Your Potential plays at Studio 1398 (1398 Cartwright Street) as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival from September 8 to 18.

      Check out Ryan's website for full show updates and follow him on Twitter.