Pete Hill takes the stage at a comedy club. Regularly a troupe performer, Hill performs sketch comedy. He has performed several times before as part of a troupe, but this time, he decided to do stand-up – an act he rarely does. Nervously, he walks to the microphone. Performing stand-up comedy for five minutes, he receives exactly three laughs from the audience. The five minutes have seemed like hours.
As he exits, Hill is red in the face. He tries recalling the last time he felt this humility.
Making people laugh isn’t as easy as you might have thought.
Hill is part of the comedy troupe Approximately Three Peters, along with Peter Gal and Ian MacIntyre. In almost two years, the troupe has performed in several comedy clubs throughout Toronto.
“You’re going to bomb more often than you’re going to succeed, early on, no matter what you do,” said Hill. “You can take all the comedy classes in the world, but until you start logging stage time, or you’re actually reacting to the energy and responses of the audience, and actually playing in that environment with other players – it’s how you start to learn your performer relationships, how to manage those and how to write to an audience as well.”
Part of the game
The learning process of becoming a comedian involves taking your lumps.
Taking comedy classes is often a process that many people are intimidated of. Although workshops promise to offer inviting atmospheres, many people are afraid to sign up because they fear it may be an intimidating environment.
At the end of September, Approximately Three Peters performed at the Bad Dog Theatre, one of Toronto’s renowned theatre companies. The theatre’s artistic director said he was once nervous about learning his craft, too.
“Many people are scared and apprehensive. I know I was [scared] in my first class many years ago,” said Griffin. “But generally by half way through the first class everyone is relaxed and chatty and feeling very comfortable with one another. That’s the nature of improv – it’s a very supportive and collaborative atmosphere.”
Griffin also finds that many students come to love the classes at Bad Dog Theatre and have a lot of fun.
The drama of comedy is difficult to learn, but can also a fun learning process.
Ian MacIntyre, like his Approximately Three Peters troupe partners the two Peters, went to comedy classes to prepare to be a comedian.
But making comedy a career was a process he began nearly 10 years ago. After beginning comedy in high school, he continued with comedy at Second City, Bad Dog Theatre and the Impatient Theatre. Heralded as Second City’s Next Comedy Legend, MacIntyre drew his fair share of attention. But it’s difficult to know where you’ll end up, he discovered.
“If you want to try and do comedy professionally, it’s such a vague career,” said MacIntyre. “If I go to dental school and I want to be a dentist, I get a job working for a dentist and I become my own dentist. But with comedy, it’s so up in the air.”
But sometimes, it’s everything you’ve been waiting for.
Comedy is something that can be learned from an early age. But not all comedy is the same. And not everyone sticks to sketch comedy or improv.
Carly Jones has been involved in comedy for 16 years. After performing sketch and improv at 14 years of age in a theatre at a country-club kind of restaurant, she recently performed in Evil Dead, The Musical, and has been in several performances since.
Jones has also performed with a troupe and at Second City. She hasn’t had difficulty getting ahead because she’s a woman, she noted, because female comedians are in the minority and therefore in demand.
She says the most difficult obstacle is that some rooms don’t really want to hear funny jokes.
“They want to hear you swear and talk about your genitalia, which is something I don’t find particularly funny,” said Jones. “We’re in the age of shock entertainment, where it isn’t worthwhile to watch unless someone eats a bug or shows their crotch or hurts themselves. That sucks.”
What is also frustrating is the misapprehension that improve comedy is the same as stand-up – which, according to Griffin, is not the case. Improv actors are not comedians, they are performers. And crowds often tend to overlook their special talents.
It’s been a pleasure
A lot of practice is required to make your way to the top. As with any skill, your comedy chops can get rusty after a while.
But the upsides are worth it, and Jones insists she loves it.
“Cheers are always wonderful. When I was performing in Evil Dead the Musical, the audience treated us like rock stars,” Jones said.
Being a comedian may have its ups and downs. But after years of practice and learning the field, Toronto comedians seem to keep coming back for more.
“Every time we play [at Radio Vault], their crowd really responds well to us,” said Hill. “So it’s fun to play that room because it’s people that are happy to see you, like old friends. And getting to see them play is always a treat, too.”
Though he experienced a silent audience before, Peter Gal says the hardest part of being a comedian is hearing a room full of silence during a show. But the success that his troupe has made has been moving along in a structure that helps them move forward.
“We’re sort of moving in an upward direction, or we have been ever since we started,” said Gal.
“As long as that upward direction keeps going, I don’t see us breaking up any time soon.”