For independent comedy lovers, Darren Henwood’s show, Lowdown Comedy Night is where it’s at. The bi-monthly event just moved to a no frills cultural centre. We spoke to Henwood about Lowdown, his Scottish roots and why Bill Burr is proof that bad audiences exist.
You immigrated to Montreal three years ago. Are Canadians receptive to the comedic stylings of a Scotsman?
Yeah, but there is a little voice in the back of my brain that’s always asking, “is your material good or are they just thinking ‘I wonder what he looks like in a kilt?’”
How do you see yourself, comedy-wise?
I’m still trying to evolve.
I tell stories a lot, I tell long bits. I’m terrible for keeping time because once I get started I just keep going. I’m not very good at writing jokes, but my life translates well on stage.
And I like talking to people. But it’s hard to do that because it can be hit or miss. It’s a dangerous game but I’m learning it.
How do you get past the anxiety of going off script?
I specifically ask to host all the time, and during the day, I work in retail. I’ve worked in retail for fifteen years. I have maybe 60 conversations a day with brand new people. That’s practice.
Is there such a thing as a bad crowd?
Oh yeah. For any show where the audience doesn’t have to pay to get in, you’re taking a risk. A late show is a drunk show and you’ll be fighting hecklers.
For sure there’s bad audiences. Look up Bill Burr in Philadelphia.
Tell us about Lowdown. What’s the backstory?
When I moved to Montreal there was a show called, “Too Much!” by George Hamilton Braithwate. Morgan Oshea was the host.
George lived in an artist’s loft on Saint Laurent and every Friday night they would invite complete strangers into their home and do comedy and it was the best show in Montreal.
Then the artist decided he wanted his own personal space back and suddenly there was a huge gap in the calendar.
Everyone was trying to think of ways to get that atmosphere back and the people I was living with, my wife and my roommates, suggested that we do it.
The first show we did we used an overhead projector and lawn furniture. Most people were standing and it was fucking great.
By the third or fourth show we were getting 60 people to come to the basement and it became standing room only. You could bring your own booze and then afterwards we would kick around my house and party until 2 o’clock in the morning.
Comedians would come out even if they weren’t part of the show because we had created this atmosphere of seeing each other in a social setting. We did that for almost a year and eight months.
I’ve since moved, and an old comedian told me about a basement that is as weird as my old one. That’s where we’ve been since, at La Gruta Centre Culturel on Parc.
You mentioned that you love hosting. So with Lowdown, is that where you find your vocation?
The thing that makes it difficult to host lowdown is that the audience is so regular. I can’t speak to them on a personal level because I know all their backstories. Like, “are you guys a couple? Yeah, I came to your wedding a week ago,” you know?
So I try to get people to come on and host my show. I try to get newer people to do it because I like to promote the idea of hosting to younger comedians. It’s a real family atmosphere; at least it was back at the old place. It’s the closest thing you can have to a comedy family.
So you’ve changed the location, is the show changing much?
I’m not in any hurry to change things too fast. I need to establish a regular audience for the new place. I don’t make money off lowdown, I pass the hat – I’ve had currencies from all over the world thrown into that hat.
I just want to keep it nice and local. I want it to be the first show that everyone thinks of when they aren’t thinking of a club show. You can only grow a basement show so much before it stops being grimy.
Lowdown is now in a cultural centre where they do pottery and arts and crafts. They have a bar that’s just a bit of wood at the end where you have to go out and get more beer by helping yourself.
The first night a girl had to leave because she broke out in a rash because the basement wasn’t made for winter. It’s no frills, no name lowdown comedy. It’s what we are. And if we move away from that, then I’ve lost the battle for independent comedy.