Studio Béluga is a non-profit nomadic artist collective, stretching across Canada (members are based in Montreal, Toronto, Brandon and Vancouver). Its goal is to form a “self-pedagogical creative community.”
On Friday, August 24, the comedy showcase that took place in its Plateau venue taught me to expect the unexpected. Sadly, the venue has just shut its doors. But don’t worry, the comedy lives on.
Doors opened at 8:30 and the show started nearly an hour late. With five acts including a host, I assumed we’d be there for awhile. I assumed I’d be bored. I assumed the plastic lawn chair seating would start feeling mighty plastic-y mighty soon.
So I slapped down four dollars, helped myself to a Sleeman out of the cooler, and sank into a front row seat. The place was small. A mere thirty people, young and (surprisingly) old, plus a few stragglers filled up the sparsely decorated gallery.
The show opened with nervous host Keith Waterfield who’d imbibed to ease the performance anxiety. The skinny young gent accosted the audience for a good while before admitting he’d never hosted before. He’s a stand up comic who gravitates towards darker material. Putting a tiny crowd of strangers at ease is not his specialty.
He assumed the role of anti-host all night. The crowd was never berated but was made to feel uncomfortably awkward. The delivery was slurred, bombastic and bouts of strung out silence increased the tension. “My sister fucked me when I was nine!” is something I might have imagined him to say. He didn’t.
But hell if he didn’t give us an excuse to laugh if only to break the god-awful tension. Reverse comedic psychology if I ever saw it. Even if it wasn’t intentional, it worked.
After Waterfield came Darren Henwood (who produced the show with Waterfield). Despite appearing better suited for a scene from Gangs of New York, the moustachioed Scotsman brought some warmth to the jumpy crowd.
Pot jokes, provincial election jokes and pregnancy jokes were standouts. What made him special, though, was the way he worked the crowd. He welcomed – neigh, sought out – the hecklers. It was like listening to your favourite uncle tease his favourite nephew. Witty. Lovely.
Then came Gerard Harris, a Brit who’s better known as storyteller extraordinaire for Confabulation. He confessed he hadn’t done stand-up in awhile. So he hunkered down, he tells us, and scribbled out some Mitch Hedberg type one-liners. He pulled those scraps out of his pockets one by one and dished them out to the audience like a sous-chef unsure of his creations. Whatever. The jokes tasted good.
Next up was Jason Hatrick, as white as a baby beluga and not a titch less innocent, he dropped his jokes like flies – as in dead on arrival. Perhaps it was the nerves that tend to be none too pleased about being forced to please an audience after five dragged out jittery minutes with a none-too-sober host that got in his way.
Lucky for us, the man eventually hit his stride. And he did it with the best rebuttal of the Chic-Fil-A debacle that I’ve heard. He’s out on the West Islandand and well worth the visit.
And finally, to the Toronto-based show-stopping main act. And what a stopper it was. Not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. David Heti limped on stage donning the classic poor-boy look. Ragged canvas shoes paired with a shaggy head of hair. Glasses. Thin. Exceptionally quiet.
Despite a tiny audience in a space smaller than some bedrooms, the stage was equipped with a mic and speaker. Heti needed that mic. My gut tells me he keeps his delivery hushed on purpose. His are not diatribe jokes, they are not sound-effect jokes and they certainly do not require the added oomph of heightened decibels.
His are not jokes so much as they are the lonely musings of a clinically neurotic insomniac. Picture Woody Allen without the international success. He would be pessimistic. The world would look grey to him: He would fear it.
He would be seduced by thespians who announce the mediocrity of civil obedience and rejoice in the death of store-bought altruism. For him, societal norms are a bitter poison. They reek of deadened stupid souls. They have the stank of week-old bananas, blackened and mushy at the bottom of a lunch bag.
Being edgy and being downright abusive is a line comedians love to straddle, leap over, re-draw and straddle again. David Heti is one in a long line of such comedians.
Ali Hassan, the famous Montreal comedian once said that it’s both unfair and rude to dismiss a comedian based on one set. And for all the pain his performance caused, David Heti’s is worth watching again, if only for another chance to wrap your head around what he’s attempting to pull off.
The show wrapped up with the host drunkenly stumbling on stage and delivering what might easily be mistaken as a eulogy for the evening. The gregarious and warm-hearted Scot was forced to jump on stage to quell the misery. Waterfield limped off in defeat.
Happily, a mattress was laid on the floor and the beleaguered host reclined with his lover while the rest of us – audience and performers – descended on the remaining beer and cheap wine.
The show began an hour late and was set in a post-apocalyptic art-space. When it finally did start, the host was too drunk to perform. The audience was too tiny to participate anonymously, while the acts were frightened, unpractised and downright offensive.
In a word, it was the best stand-up evening I have seen in a very, very long time.
To find out when and where the next show will be, follow @kfwaterfield. Who knows? This may be the start of a very unhappy relationship.