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’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a sister, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a… Oh wait, you mean me personally? Oh, my bad.
So, I’m James Kennedy. I’m a headlining comedian for Yuk Yuk's. I’ve performed on some festivals, like JFL NorthWest, Pemberton Music Festival, and the Calgary Comedy Festival. I’ve performed in comedy clubs across Canada, and when I was a groomsmen in my buddy's wedding, everybody said my speech was the best.
First standup experience
In high school, some of my friends and I went and saw a Just For Laughs show in Vancouver. I remember it was the hardest I had ever laughed at anything up to that point—so many great jokes. But the thing that stays with me the most was when Harland Williams was hosting. He had one of the most awkward exchanges with an audience member I’ve ever seen.
He asked if anybody had flown lately. One woman enthusiastically responded “I have!”, only to reveal the reason she had flown was to attend her father’s funeral. Already in a hole, Harland asked “How did he die?” and the woman said, “Cancer.” It was a sad, uncomfortable moment for everybody and it brought the show to a screeching halt.
But somehow, before we even had a chance to digest what had just happened, Harland turned the exchange into hilarity and left a theatre full of people (including the woman) collectively thinking “Oh, he’s good.”
Life-changing comedy show
A few years after high school, I went on a date to a pro-am night at Yuk Yuk's (back when it was on Burrard.) I remember being blown away that local comedians in Vancouver could be that funny. Both Ivan Decker and Sunee Dhaliwal were on that show and I remember that, up until seeing them, I was thinking, “Maybe I could be a comedian.”
But then when they went on and revealed they were both younger than me I thought, “It’s too late for you, James. These guys are already way funnier than you’ll ever be.”
From then on, I attended those shows fairly regularly and became familiar with not only the Vancouver comedy scene, but also the process of joke writing. Watching material develop over time made me appreciate the craft.
Years later, I finally decided to give standup a go. And while I may still never be as funny as Ivan or Sunee, it’s pretty cool to be able to say they’re both my peers and friends.
Top three comedy specials/albums
Chris Rock – Bigger & Blacker This is one of the first DVDs I ever owned and I would watch it almost every other day. I know it almost by heart. It’s one of the greatest ever—my favourite comedian at his very best. He makes taking on tough topics look so easy it makes want to both quit comedy and work harder every time I watch it. And even though so much of his material was based on current events at the time, it’s somehow timeless. In fact, many of the bits—like his stuff on gun control—seem to become more poignant as they get older.
Patrice O’Neal – Elephant in the Room Not a week goes by where I don’t hear about something in the news and think to myself, “Man, I wish I could hear what Patrice would have had to say about this.” He had such an uncanny ability to make you agree with things you didn’t want to. Just hearing him laugh makes me smile.
I truly believe if he wasn’t taken from us so early, and instead, had a chance to release a couple more hours, he would have been considered the undisputed greatest of our generation. He was fearless, brash, and brutally honest. Patrice is the only comedian that can make me laugh out loud at jokes I’ve heard a dozen times before when I’m by myself.
Any recording of him talking about anything anywhere is better than 90 percent of the comedy you will ever hear. But this special is Mr. P at his best.
Maclean & Maclean – Bitter Reality Maclean & Maclean were a 1970s Canadian musical comedy duo with flair for the filthy. Their albums, Toilet Rock, and more importantly, Bitter Reality, were my first real exposure to live comedy. When I was in elementary school, I would go over to my friend Brian’s house after baseball practice. His dad was our coach and a big-time Harley enthusiast.
When left alone, Brian and I would sneak into his father’s room and watch copies of his Easyriders magazine videos. Once we finished viewing the entire collection of motorcycle-rally, boob-flashing scenes, we would put on his copy of this album and laugh hysterically at jokes that I don't think we even got at the time.
Later in high school, when I bought turntables and started deejaying, I tracked down a copy of this album and it still made me laugh. Recently, I listened to an interview with Canadian comedy legend Kenny Robinson where he spoke about underappreciated Canadian comedians that paved the way for future generations and Maclean & Maclean was near the top of his list.
All-time favourite joke or bit
It’s so hard to pick one, but if I had to, I would probably go with Mitch Hedberg’s joke about Fed-Ex: “I love my Fed-Ex guy because he’s a drug dealer and he doesn’t even know it... and he’s always on time.”
In hindsight, it’s actually a really dark joke given that Mitch died of a heroin overdose. But when I imagine him on the road or home in his isolated cabin receiving a package of drugs and subsequently writing this joke, I can’t help but laugh. The truth is funny that way.
Something you saw that made you laugh but probably shouldn’t have
My bank statement.
That time I bombed
It was a Friday night at the legendary and now defunct Sin Bin Sports Grill in Olympic Village. The show in the backroom was about be cancelled on account there was next to no audience when the host—local killer Gavin Matts—managed to convince a group of about eight men in the bar out front to come check out the show in the back.
Six comedians had performed and all the comics were grateful for the men’s presence. They were laughing and clapping and genuinely enjoying the show that would have not happened if it were not for them.
That would all change once I hit the stage.
I was still fairly new to comedy, so I started safe with my trusty dick jokes and was having, by my standards at the time, a great set. Then, five minutes into my set, I jumped into a new bit that I thought was edgy, but was really just very anti-police. The laughs were immediately replaced by crickets. I’ve since abandoned the bit, but at the time I couldn’t understand why these men were suddenly so unresponsive.
I hit the first couple punchlines to deafening silence and tried to muscle through, but it was clear that the mood had shifted. Rather than switch directions, I turned on them and said, “Wow, you guys really don’t like these jokes. What are you? Cops?” As soon as I asked the question, it dawned on me that these eight men all fit the profile of police officers and that I was performing in a neighbourhood bar barely a block away from the VPD station on Cambie.
Before I could say anything more, the biggest member of their group responded, “Finish the fucking joke!” By that point it was too late for me to abandon the bit and start something new so I continued with two minutes of “jokes” that were essentially attacking every member of the audience.
As soon as I got the light telling me my time was up, I left the stage, venue, neighbourhood as quickly as possible. I was foolishly hoping that these men, who were professionally trained to remember minor details, hadn’t got a good look at my face during the 10 minutes I was there under the spotlight.
It was a tough set, but it made me realize that if you have a joke about a certain group of people and don’t feel comfortable saying it in front of that group of people, it’s probably not funny.
Catch James at Yuk Yuk's Vancouver Comedy Club (2837 Cambie Street) on April 7 and 8, and at his bi-weekly show Full Pint Comedy that he co-produces every other Tuesday at the Taproom at Granville Island Brewing (1441 Cartwright Street). You can also follow him on Twitter.