By Sean Davidson
Stand-up comedy has never been what you could call a "get rich quick" scheme it's usually more of a "struggle your whole life to stay lower-middle class" scheme. But there's an exception to every rule, right? And this weekend at least one local comic will score a few more dollars a wee bit faster than usual at the final round of Stand Up Sit Down Fight, Fight, Fight a battle royale of amateur cut-ups that concludes its summer-long run on Sunday, down on the beach at Sunnyside Pavilion.
There were 88 contestants when things got going back in June, now pared down to 11 who will compete joke-to-joke for a grand prize of $5,000. That's a lot of money, especially to people who are used to being paid (if at all) with beer and abuse.
"I really feel like I'm part of something big, part of a show that's not just a couple of comics in some bar somewhere," says finalist Andrew Chapman. "This is way more professional."
The 19-year-old newcomer edged out eight others on July 19, riffing on women, other comics and "what if" celebrity impersonations to the general approval of the three judges, who provide Canadian Idol-esque critiques after every set. They warned him away from his Sean Connery and Gollum bits, however. (Suddenly, everyone is doing Gollum impersonations. He's the new Christopher Walken.)
"I get that comment a lot, that they're hokey," says Chapman, laughing. "But I'm not good at a lot of things, I need everything I can do."
The feedback is the hardest part of the show according to Mike Takacs, another finalist. "I feel more awkward on stage during that than when I'm doing my material. I got lucky but sometimes you see other guys go up there and they really get blasted."
Organizers present the show as a more supportive but also more demanding alternative to the city's many open-mic venues. Each comic does about 10 minutes, after which a final three do another 10, preferably without repeating any material.
"If you really want to be in this business, 10 minutes shouldn't be that hard. Twenty minutes, 40 minutes shouldn't be hard," says organizer Mo Ozdemir, formerly of the troupe Laughter Birth. He says five-minute slots, the norm at most clubs, don't give comics enough time to build their acts or to get a feel for a crowd.
Ozdemir has no patience for comics who lack showmanship. "Everybody should be sensitive to the venue they play," he says. "A lot of comics say, 'I play the same stuff to every crowd and if they don't like it, too bad.' I say, 'You're an idiot.' You have to be considerate of other mentalities in the crowd. You should be flexible. You should be able to avoid all that 'cock, snot, dick, pussy, shit' and say it in a different way."
He's been taping the shows, and is in talks to turn Fight, Fight, Fight into a series or TV special, although nothing's been signed just yet and some comics don't like the idea of their failed sets being broadcast to a larger viewing public. Ozdemir expects that, at the very least, the contest will come out on DVD. "Or we'll sell it to Toronto 1," he says. "They'll buy anything."
Each show is held under the open sky, housed by the white, belle époque walls of Sunnyside. Kids scamper on the beach nearby, hardbodies play volleyball.
"People need to see comedy in the light," he says. "If you have to see it in the dark, if you go downstairs into a dingy club and pay six dollars for a drink and you don't hear a good joke, it's going to sour you on comics." One of Ozdemir's partners is former city councillor Chris Korwin-Kuczynski, who is attached to both the show and to the campaign to revitalize the 1920s landmark. Ozdemir and Korwin-Kuczynski also hope to also mount a sketch version of Fight, Fight, Fight, maybe this year or next.
Takacs says his set in July went better than expected some new jokes paid off, meaning he's been able to save some established A-material for the final round. "The good thing about this contest is it forces people to see how much material they actually have," he says. He's trying not to think too much about the other comics, or the prize money, joking that he'd like to finish third. "Just a modest finish, I don't want to be a glory hog."
Chapman is also thinking ahead. "The competition is really stiff. The people in the finals are fabulous so I guess I've got to pull up my socks," he says. "That, or I'll just do more Gollum."