Back in the early 1980’s, I ran the day-to-day business for Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret in Toronto, and quickly became the in-house agent for all the comedians, too, as we developed satellite clubs and cross-country tours. I’ve been privileged to witness the debut of some pretty talented local comics as well as play host to now legendary US comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Sandra Bernhardt, Steven Wright and the frighteningly brilliant Sam Kinison. The late, great Robin Williams dropped into the club shortly after Mork and Mindy finished, and he held the club ransom for laughs one night; we were all in tears from laughing so hard. He was manic and marvelous.
This was the golden era for Canadian comedy talent and I’m thrilled to say that one of the outstanding stand-ups from those days is still making people laugh…you may know him as That Canadian Guy…I know him as my Glen/Glenda “twin” – Glen Foster.
Glen has a series of comedy shows – Comedy Aces – coming up at The Pilot Tavern on Cumberland St (between Yonge & Bay) in Toronto, so I thought I’d invite him to share some stories from the comedy trenches, and I’ll post some photos later from his live show (with special guests David Merry, Simon Rakoff, Evan Carter, Simon Cotter & Derek Edwards) this Thursday. Check Glen’s website (linked below) for dates/times.
Glen, you’ve been performing since the early 1980’s – what first inspired you to get up on stage and where did you first perform?
Short answer? I wanted to meet chicks but couldn’t play guitar! Actually, I was always a comedy fan. My dad was a pretty funny guy, very likable and always telling jokes. When I was a kid, we watched a lot of comedy on TV together like the old Bob Hope comedies. Then later, we enjoyed watching sitcoms like The Bob Newhart Show, The Carol Burnett Show (a big favorite of mine), I love Lucy.
How long did it take you to get from amateur night to headlining shows and where/how did you hone your skills?
Probably took me about 6 months to a year to reach feature status from amateur night, through working regular nights to weekend spots, then headlining. It was a lot easier back then as there was way more stage time available and a lot fewer comics vying for spots. I imagine at one point, I was probably doing about 8 to 10 shows a week in an actual club. I just don’t think it’s possible to have that kind of experience or rapid career growth for comics these days.
The 80’s is considered the golden era of stand-up comedy in Canada – who were your early stand-up heroes (Cdn and/or US) and did you ever open for the big headliners?
The first time I saw Mike MacDonald was about two weeks after doing comedy. He did nearly two hours and closed with his signature air guitar bit. It was incredible. I thought to myself, “What am I doing in this business”. On the more famous side, my early heroes were Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart , Woody Allen and later Steve Martin and some of the SNL crew. There were also a lot of US comics I was exposed to at Yuk Yuk’s such as Steven Wright and Sam Kinison (pictured below)
Was it difficult to make an actual living as a comedian when you first started out or did you hold down a day job, too?
I was working in advertising as a copywriter. It wasn’t quite the Mad Men days, but it was a good job and I didn’t want to give it up. I finally did give it up when I went moved to LA in 1984 -85. This is actually my 30th year as a professional comic which I count as “thirty years without a day job”!
When you first started touring, who were your favourite comics to share a motel room with…and who weren’t?
I got to be a headliner pretty quick so I didn’t have to share very often at all. I can’t even remember if I ever did. I must have. I know the names of a few people that I wouldn’t want to share a hotel with EVER, and a few people who had a reputation for doing very nasty, gross things to hotels and condos. I never wanted to be the guy in the condo the week after they came through. Sorry no names (wink)
Any “gigs from hell” you remember and care to talk about?
Some of the Western gigs could get pretty dicey. There was a gig in a place called North Battleford, SK (if it has “Battle” in the name…..) and Fairview, AB was another hell hole. The audience generally started drinking at noon for a show that started at 9:00pm. The hotel was so disgusting that I refused to stay there and got a room in a classier (safer) hotel at my own expense, so I probably ended up making nothing on the gig because of it.
You’ve been fortunate to have your own comedy specials as well as appearing on comedy festival broadcasts – any memorable moments you’d like to share?
My very first TV show was “An Evening at The Impov” (1982). The host was Tony Curtis, yes, screen legend TONY CURTIS! I was pretty green and went waaay over time with my set. Curtis came on stage and stood behind me with his hand on my shoulder while I finished. I didn’t even realize that I f*cked up, in fact, I thought it was cool of him to do that…..Duuhh
I got to meet a number of people at the Just For Laughs festival over the years including John Candy (below), who was a really nice guy. I was also introduced on stage at one JFL gala show by William Shatner (below). He called me back briefly to centre stage after my set and I got to shake his hand. Craig Fergusson hosted the gala I did in 2008; I was really happy about my set that night because Fergusson was really funny, and you’d always rather have a real comic as MC rather than a non-comedy celebrity.
Do you currently contribute to tv or radio shows, either as a writer or performer?
I’m on with Jerry Agar on radio Newstalk 1010 for the “round table” every second Wednesday, and I’m also a contributor to TV’s Sun News Network a couple of times a week.
Your humour is considered relatively clean but with an edge – how do you describe your stand-up?
I guess it’s observational, usually topical and occasionally politically incorrect. It really bothers me that people seem to be so easily offended these days, so I try to push those buttons, but in a thought-provoking manner.
As you’re now one of the “elder statesmen” of the Canadian comedy scene, any advice for up and comers?
Stage time. Stage time. Stage time. You can take all the courses and read all the books, but it all comes down to stage time. Get on as many stages, even crappy open mics where 98% of the audience is other comedians. And try not to be too scripted – comedy should not sound rehearsed, even though it usually is.
And do you still have any career aspirations or goals not yet achieved?
I keep saying that I would like to write a movie or a sitcom….hasn’t happened yet. Other than that, I am pretty happy just doing stand up. Of course, I would like to do more of it in bigger venues for more money, but that’s about it.
Will you have any “My Canada Includes…” t-shirts for sale at your Canadian Aces shows?
Yes I will. I actually did a reprint as part of my 30th anniversary. I had to change the design slightly to include Nunavut, which did not exist when I did the original shirt. So I guess this is “My Canada 2.0”
How can people find out about your live shows & tours, tv or radio appearances?
I am the most findable guy in the world! I have two websites:
www.thatcanadianguy.com and www.comedyaces.com
My Twitter handles are: @fosterfunny or @comedyaces
My Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/pages/That-Canadian-Guy-Glen-Foster/33438953821
So watch out for That Canadian Guy, coming to a comedy club near you!