Friday, December 16, 2011

My Hour With Carolyn

It finally happened.

Through a delightful confluence that only email and the internet can facilitate, I met Carolyn Bennett.

For those of you who are not Canadian and who may be reading this blog -- that is, no one -- let me explain.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. We have a parliamentary system. Our head of state is the Queen Of Great Britain. Our real head of state is the prime minister. Perhaps you've heard of him -- he plays piano and enjoys throwing parties like the G20. He likes America and is hastening Canada as a feeder league for the United States. This is nothing new, just the rapidity of it.

We send politicians to our House of Commons in Ottawa to ... uh ... to ... er ... I know -- represent our interests, to help pass or block legislation, and to fill the House of Commons for the television cameras. They are a lot like background actors. When one gets to speak they are bumped up to principal. Some are better actors than others.

There is a politician who represents the riding of St. Paul's here in Toronto named Carolyn Bennett. She is a very accomplished woman; a doctor by training, an advocate by temperament.  She is currently the Liberal critic for Aboriginal Affairs. This is an important portfolio, especially if you are aboriginal.

I am not a politician. I just so happen to have written for one, was proud to do so, but have returned to the freelance/creative life. I came, I saw, I skedaddled. Now I'm plugging away at screenplay scripts, speaking engagements and other noble pursuits.

I have been receiving emails lately inviting me to the private holiday gatherings of Liberal party members. These people aren't slouches. These people have helped run the country. I have not helped run the country. I can barely run a cell phone. As flattered as I have been, I have had to 'fess up. You have the wrong Carolyn Bennett, but really, thanks for thinking of me. If you ever need a comic to perform at one of your conventions, let me know.

So I was delighted when my email address and the good doctor's appeared together, inviting one of us to another high-powered house party.  Being the good entrepreneur and freelance hustler I am, I took the opportunity to graciously decline the invite and ingratiate myself to Dr. Bennett. I emailed her, congratulating her on all our success, wishing us well and to keep fighting the good fight.

She got back to me immediately and invited me to her holiday gathering/fundraiser the next night. Would I want to do a little bit about being mistaken for Dr. Bennett?

Yes, yes and yes.

I arrived at the party the next evening and was warmly embraced by Dr. Bennett. We chatted like old friends. Her husband, film producer Peter O'Brian, chatted with me. I did five minutes of shtick for the people gathered and they laughed, thank god. Dr. Bennett told me that she used to be mistaken for me as well, when I was a film writer for eye weekly back in the day. Nice!

Generous, hard-working, dedicated -- Carolyn Bennett is a chip off the old CB block. She really is a marvellous woman, not your stereotypical self-serving politician, but someone who genuinely cares about people.

As surreal as it was, I felt at home with her. My much better half,  my successful forebearer -- Carolyn Bennett, MP. I hope she continues upholding our good name. Somebody has to.

Merry holidays and happy Christmas one and all!

Oh yes -- be sure to listen to Todd Van Allen's Comedy Above the Pub podcast Dec 16 edition for an interview with me and good buddy Winston Spear.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Death Doesn't Take A Holiday

The phone rings at 10:15pm. I'm watching something on TV. I forgot to put the short ring on the phone, so I have to get up and answer.
It's comedian Darren Frost. He has his sombre voice on.
"You've got bad news."
"Awww Who died? Wait -- let me guess."
I go through a list of  prime candidates for an untimely passing.
"All right, who then?"
"Stewart Silver."
Disbelief floods my body. Shock is a marvellous thing. It is like Teflon coursing through the bloodstream, coating nerve endings, buffering reality. It is always the same physiological reaction. I have experienced it before with the sudden death of my father.

"Stewart Silver?"

"Yeah -- I just had lunch with him on Friday. He was moving to New York. He just got his papers ..."

Stewart Silver was a Yuk Yuks stalwart, a solid emcee and host, a career stand up, a writer, an entrepreneur. The kind of guy you take for granted. Any time I was on a show and he was hosting I knew I was in good hands. He was reliable -- not flashy, not a star. He got the job done, went on the road, worked his craft. He wrote because most comics eventually want to do that to make more money.

He could take a joke, I used to insult him, no holds barred, go after him like everyone else. That's what comics sometimes do in the green room -- it's ritual. Blow off steam on the next guy. Kibitz.

Stewart Silver was Jewish. Me, I love the Jewish guys. Jewish guys are some of my best friends. The first guy I ever went out with in Toronto was a Jew. Is a Jew -- he is still one of my closest friends 26 years later. In my experience Jewish guys treat women well. They love shikas, probably because there's no pressure to marry us. Being around Jewish guys has always made me feel special, part of an in-crowd. I grew up in Cote St. Luc Quebec, where we were one of the only Christian families for miles. I had proximity to a different culture and faith, something exotic. It could be lonely for us goyim, but it gave me a good excuse to be insular and imaginative.

There will be a Shiva in Toronto next week for Stewart. It's still hard to believe this staple of the club is gone. I wasn't close to him, but I certainly had respect and affection for him.

I haven't actively worked for Yuk Yuks in 15 years, but I still consider myself a Yuks comic, even thought I do independent shows.  My years at Yuk Yuks have trained me  for just about anything -- combat, search and rescue, counter-terrorism operations. They call comics over 40 veterans for a reason. It's only now, years later, that I realize how unique stand up comedy is. I held down a day job for three and a half years recently. I could not get used to the glacial pace. The pay was great, the people pleasant, but the routine was deadening. I need the explosions, threat and danger of the imagination, of active creativity   I need the assurance that there are others like me out there -- risk takers. There are. Stewart was a great example.

There is plenty of time to be dead. I won't do it while I'm alive.

Thanks Stewart, for living the life you wanted.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Why Halloween Sucks

I figured it out.

I now know why I have an aversion to Halloween.

It all starts with Phil from finance.

Imagine a guy who works in the financial department down the hall from the unit where you work, which we’ll say is issues management.

Phil wears a suit every day. He nods to you when you pass him in the hallway. He presses the elevator button for you when you are both heading down to grab a coffee.

Phil smiles when you joke about the Leafs, “This could be the year … they flame out again.”

Phil sometimes does not look up at you when you pass him in the hallway because he is texting away on his BlackBerry.

Phil canvasses for the United Way. He has two small children.

Then on October 31, he changes.

He shows up to work wearing a cape.

Just a cape. Over his suit.

It’s the way he laughs though, that makes you pale from embarrassment.

It’s more of a giggle, an inane yuk.
He runs up and down the hallway trying to flutter his cape.

The women from operations laugh. You – you try not to stare incredulously.

You whisper to yourself take it outside buddy.

The display of sanctioned make believe is excruciating.

But this is what Phil has to offer. And you smile. To do anything else would be cruel.

Okay – here’s the real reason Halloween sucks:

I grew up in Cote St. Luc, Quebec, a predominately jewish neighbourhood.

Halloween was not high on my neighbourhood’s celebratory occasions list. There may have been a pumpkin on a stoop once every twelve houses.

It felt strange wandering the streets in a bed sheet and top hat under a moody and dark October sky, looking for treats where few were to be had. Where were the other kids?

It's almost 5pm Halloween night here in Toronto. I hope the little kids in my neighbourhood have a fun evening.
Me, I'll do what I do every Halloween -- dinner and a movie. But at least I won't feel alone.

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Madonna and Me

Full disclosure – I do not know Madonna personally. I don’t own any of her music, have never seen any of her films, or buy any of her accoutrements. I can name maybe three or four hits. Like A Virgin, Vogue ... there, I’m drawing a blank already. I remember a slutty friend I lived with in the mid 80s introducing me to Madonna via a music video. Yes, it was the Like A Virgin music video, the one where she’s on a gondola in Venice I believe. Man, I all seems so tame now. I was indifferent then. I am a little less indifferent to Ms. Ciccone now.

You see, living in Toronto, I couldn’t help get caught up in the Madonna brouhaha at this year’s TIFF. Apparently Madonna’s people had instructed TIFF volunteers to turn their backs and face the wall when Madonna glided by on the red carpet. TIFF volunteers and the general public expressed outrage at Madonna’s gall. The comments section following online stories about the incident tore into her. Arrogant! Classless! Granted the request was a little bizarre, but I am cutting Madonna some slack, which I’m sure is of immense relief to her.

Imagine, for a moment, being Madonna. Imagine waking up every day, irrelevant, yesterday’s news, a joke to serious musicians. Imagine looking at your plastic, tapered face in the mirror every day and wondering what more you can do to stay beautiful when you never were conventionally beautiful in the first place. Now picture yourself maintaining the punishing physical training you must endure to keep your body chiseled. Then imagine picking up a newspaper (yes, how romantic of me) and stewing over that usurper Lady Gaga. Snow White and the Wicked Queen comes to mind. So to stay in the game you reinvent yourself as a filmmaker (because you can) and shop around an effort at various film festivals, being gracious while the press excoriates you.

Give me open mic night at Eton House any day.

I found the women who surrounded Madonna on the red carpet curious. One wore a novelty antennae thing on her head. Another grey-haired, frazzled woman stuck close to Madonna, ushering her by local reporters. They looked Madonna’s real age. They are Madonna’s people – a privileged position and one of enormous trust. I liked them.

Madonna tried her best to be pleasant. She had her game face on. I think she had Nicklas Lidstrom’s game face on.

I found the whole thing pitiful.

Maybe it’s because I’m approaching 50, but I’m softening toward the sex that is the same as mine. Now is the time we see who’s bought the cosmetic bill of goods – in our celebrities, in our public figures, in our own lives. Is having a Botox or surgically enhanced visage going to change anything? Man, I want to age as eccentrically as possible. We’re all ash in the end. I want to be cross-eyed in an open casket when I’m laid to rest.

Madonna –- I understand. It’s sucks to be you. I know why you commanded TIFF volunteers to not gaze at you. You are so insecure, so fragile underneath the perfect bod and sculpted face. I wouldn’t wish your life on my worst enemy. Stick to your imperfect people and find comfort and acceptance with them.

As the Ontario saying goes – it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. You didn’t have to do it. But you did.

Monday, August 01, 2011

July 27, 2011 at the Rivoli

It is August now.

August -- the fullness of summer, the stupor of the year, easy living for the rich and sweaty trudge for the rest of us.

The trudge was made manic and absurd Wednesday July 27 2011 at the Rivoli in Toronto. I saw who was on the bill and made my way down to the club.

Here's the list:

Winston Spear

Ron Sparks

Dwayne Hill

Rob Pue

Kevin MacDonald

Paul Irving

Boyd Banks

Mike Wilmot

That night an all-star cast of comics performed in front of eight paying customers.

Now lesser comics would have seen the size of the audience and refuse to go on stage. Not these intrepid performers. Perhaps it was because there were spouses and friends in the audience, but the comics put on one hell of a show. Mike Wilmot, who had just returned from a nine week tour of Australia, addressed a corner of empty chairs. I paraphrase: "I just played sold out theatres and here I am back in Toronto. Good old Toronto -- where you get off the plane and a midget punches you in the cock -- WELCOME HOME."

It's always a treat to see Boyd and Paul Irving. Their brand of truth is not for the faint of heart. At one point I was laughing and crying at the same time. Boyd is the only man alive who can grab my ass without me taking offense. I remember Boyd and his dad at the Yuks on Bay Street in the late 80s grabbing my ass and giggling away. Like father, like son. Twenty five years later Boyd grabbed my ass and I felt nostalgic. I realized my ass has sagged a bit. I felt like apologizing but didn't. We're both still alive and that's good enough for me.
Great to see veteran comics, uncompromising, acclaimed comics, riffing and givin' it like it was 1999. This is the art of standup.

Do yourself a favour and go see some live comedy. Put the remote down, step away from the internet and live.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Case of the Peculiar Har Gow

Will I ever learn?

Once again I am drawn to a food sale, this time har gow (shrimp dumplings) on sale at my local low-end megasupermarket. 70% off.
They were frozen. FROZEN. How can you go wrong with frozen food? Doesn’t the freezing kill bacteria?
You’d think.
You’d think WRONG.
Freezing works if it’s done properly.
I boiled up said edibles, thought they tasted a bit off, but ate them anyway because I thought THEY'RE FROZEN and that my taste buds were the source of corruption.
Ah Bennett. Bennett Bennett Bennett.
Two days later, I finally stopped gripping my abdomen. The stabbing pain subsided.
Defeated, I studied the package.
Made in Thailand.
If I had READ THE PACKAGE and saw that these frozen balls of gut bombs were made in Thailand, I would not have bought them.
Me, I love the har gow, but LOCAL is the way to go. The ones BESIDE them originated in Richmond Hill.
No more deeply discounted har gow from Thailand for me.
I have been turned off food for awhile now. I am tired of digesting.
Will somebody reaffirm my faith in nourishment?

FYI -- Tonight is the REVUE REVUE VARIETY SHOW. I am excited and har gow-free.

It should be great!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I'm Still Standing

It is now two weeks after the federal election a.k.a The Hangover. The Conservatives have their majority, the NDP is the official opposition, the Liberals were decimated and the Bloc almost annihilated. Oh yes – and Elizabeth May now gets to sit where no Green party member has sat before.
I see I’m still standing.

Yes, Carolyn Bennett, MP for St. Paul’s here in Toronto, has survived the bloodletting. I suppose it’s that Carolyn Bennett magic we Carolyn Bennetts cast on mortals – a combination of being almost beautiful, persistent, and wearisomely bright. Every time I saw a Carolyn Bennett sign on a lawn I smiled. You go Carolyn Bennett! Don’t let slashed tires and defacement stop you. Go back to Parliament Hill and do whatever it is you have spent many years doing, and I will piggyback on our good name.

Too bad about Michael Ignatieff. Am I the only Canadian who warmed to him? Too bad he didn’t play a musical instrument, although knowing him it would have been the cello or harpsichord. He needed eyebrow lessons from Ron MacLean. One arch of the brow and it could have been a minority.

What it is now is anyone’s guess. I’m looking forward to the NDP and Question Period.

Speaker: The honourable member from Berthier - Maskinongé.

MP: Yeah …uh … where’s the bathroom?

No, I’ll leave the debating and the politics up to Carolyn Bennett. I’m too busy doing things like looking out my window at a squirrel tearing through a bag of cheesies.

Not to be outdone by a squirrel, team Fanwackwik won Audience Choice in the 24 Hour Toronto Film Challenge. Maybe it was partially due to some of that Carolyn Bennett magic, but most definitely due to the indefatigable Kevin MacDonald. It’s weird but fun.

Here is the link:

You are welcome to have a look.

Questions? Comments? Abuse?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Today -- Special for you!

It has been brought to my attention that I don’t promote myself enough. I have been asked the questions; “Why aren’t you on Facebook?’ “Why isn’t your standup on You Tube?” “Why do you keep such a low profile?” “Why don’t we know about you?”

I’m old fashioned. I believe that work, whether it is a novel, screenplay, short story, or visual art, or any sort of endeavour, should be created FIRST and the promotion or marketing of that work should come SECOND. Creation, in my mind, is a private act, mulling and musing subterranean. Besides, I figure this is the job of an agent, but I guess I’m wrong in this crazy world we call digital all show, all the time.
I was once offered a gig to write a stage play for an actor. She had the marketing, the finances, the theatre and the dates of the performance all set. What she didn’t have was a play. I turned it down. Again, I’m hopelessly out of step.

So, in the interest of keeping you up to date on what I have on my plate, here it goes – SPECIAL FOR YOU, MY FRIEND!

1). My screenplay, “The Mac and Watson Springtime Reeferendum Show” will be in the hands of director Jim Donovan come May. I look forward to his feedback and hope to get this mother*&%ker off the ground. Making a Canadian film is sort of like, I have been told, trying to orgasm when you’re middle-aged. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I hope to firm things up in the next few months. Producer Avi Federgreen is still keen on the project, which makes me happy.

2) My novel, “Technical Difficulties” still languishes with Coteau Books in Saskatchewan. I have been encouraged to self-publish, but am undecided.

3) I will be hosting The Revue Revue Variety Show at the Revue Cinema, 400 Roncesvalles Avenue, Saturday, June 25, 9pm. Produced by myself and the inimitable Winston Spear.

4) I will be hosting the Comedy Brawl, Crown and Tiger Pub, 414 College Street May 18, 8pm.


I am part of a film team entered into the Toronto 24 Hour Film Challenge Festival. Tickets $10. We are Fanwackwik.

That’s it for now. Next month – Special for you – actual content.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Pizza of the Damned Part II

Where was I?

Right – so the troglodyte behind the counter slips a beige triangle in a bag and puts it on the counter. I pay my five bucks and take the slice home.

I slide the slice out of the bag and look at it as it lies on a flimsy paper plate. It appears plastic, like a piece of decorative fruit. I touch it. It’s tepid and spongy. Damn it though, there’s no time for second guessing, no time to even put it in the microwave. I chew hard and swallow.

Three hours later I’m back home, watching a rare Thursday night regular season hockey game on CBC. Suddenly, my intestines wobble and cramp. A pain so foreign makes me sit up. For the next twelve hours I am twitching with sickness, besieged by some thing attacking my innards.

My guess – the pizza.

How can you tell if you are given pizza of the damned?

1) The guy behind the counter tries to sell you something other than what you want

2) The guy shield his eyes from you as you pay

3) Pizza is way down on their list of specialties

4) You drop your slice and it bounces

5) It looks like that fake vomit sold at novelty stores

6) Looking at it, your mouth goes dry

7) It’s the same colour as the bags under your eyes

8) It doesn’t yield when you touch it

9) It smells like machine water

10) It looks back at you

I’m convinced now that having any fast food as the weekend draws near is risky. Here’s my theory – people are so worn out and depleted from their jobs during the week, by the time Friday rolls around they just want to get the hell home. That goes for people who work in the fast food industry. Don’t buy a car made on a Monday or Friday the thinking goes – beware the Friday gyros. Actually, beware the gyros any day of the week.

Folks -- when it doubt, throw it out.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pizza of the Damned Part I

I should have known better.

I did know better.

That’s what happens when you rush around like an idiot and you need to eat something fast – standards go out the window. Or in this case, they are expelled violently.

I got food poisoning from a slice of pizza. That’s right, a slice of pizza. A food staple. Milk, eggs, bread, pizza; that’s the order. What the hell am I going to do?

Truth be told, I don’t eat the stuff all the time. I only eat it when I’m mentally exhausted and am tired of bibibap or goat curry. I eat it when I’m in a rush.

Eating when you’re in a rush is not conducive to wholesome living. I’m big on wholesome living about 80 per cent of the time. The other 20 per cent of the time I'm bottom-feeding on scraps.

So I go into the joint and order a deluxe slice. I hadn’t been in the establishment for awhile, but on the occasions I did buy their food products, I found them unremarkable but satisfactory. Edible.

I glanced around while waiting for my slice and felt uneasy. A fat woman, red faced, sloughing, wearing her bleached orangy hair in a thick braid, fried something in front of me. What it was I still don’t know. It could have been halibut, it could have been Playdough. She dumped the fried brown mass on a plate and waited for someone to take it away somewhere.

The lad handling the pizza dough did so without wearing latex gloves. Old school I suppose. I felt a vague revulsion watching him stretch and prod the drooping paste.

Folks – I have to run now…. To be continued!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

New Year Resolutions: 1980

First of all, before I launch into my clever little list, I want to convey my heartfelt gratitude for the thoughts and prayers that have trickled in the last while. I have been overwhelmed knowing that five or maybe seven people actually read and/or stare at this blog. I thank you for your support during this trying time.

I will give you the news straight – I do not have cancer. I hope I haven’t disappointed anyone. As it turns out, I just had a nasty ol’ cyst, which apparently is quite common. If it’s any consolation, I am still in pain and will probably have more cysts soon. Rest assured I will not keep you posted.

You know it’s time to think about getting another day job when you hope you do have cancer just to get out of work.

I apologize for using this blog as a forum for my fear. Moving forward, I will just stick to my neurosis. Always move forward – that’s what the brochures and pamphlets tell us.

It’s a new year -- the year of the rabbit at that! Any year that honours Bugs Bunny is a good year in my books.

It was a new year in 1980. I found this New Year resolutions list lying around my attic and I share it with you for your edification.
New Year Resolutions: January 3, 1980

1. I will not get hammered before gym class
2. I will not go out with guys I feel sorry for.
3. I will only sniff unleaded gas.
4. I will perfect my snarl.
5. I will throw out all my old Gentle Giant albums.
6. No more triple Black Russians – ever.
7. I will learn the erhu.
8. I will pretend to listen more closely.

After that the handwriting is illegible ...
From everyone here at Bennettworld – the cleaners, security, the IT department, shipping and receiving – have a very Merry belated Christmas and a cancer-free New Year.