Here's what I learned at a Surrey Creep Catchers fundraiser this weekend: Ryan Laforge's fans aren't just obsessed with his vigilante pedophile stings, they're also in love with his comedy stylings.
"Just keep in mind that I am part native, so this isn't racist, so I'm going to do my native voice," the president of the controversial pedophile hunting group told the crowd of about 200 at the Columbia Theatre on Friday.
By the time he got to the punchline of the definitely racist joke, the predominantly white crowd was howling and pounding the tables.
The two professional comedians who had performed earlier in the night were up against an indifferent audience who alternated between dead air and rowdy heckling, but Laforge's two jokes drew big guffaws from a rapt audience.
"What's the difference between a Surrey girl and an ice rink?"
He turned around to face the back of the stage to deliver the punchline: "An ice rink gets cleaned between periods."
It's clear that Laforge is something like a demigod to his devout supporters.
In the outside world, the pedophile-hunting vigilantes who make up the Surrey Creep Catchers make a lot of people uneasy. Two men are suing the group for defamation, the BC privacy commissioner is investigating their tactics, police condemn them, and two recent incidents where Laforge got violent with his targets haven't helped their image.
But inside the Columbia Theatre on Friday, there was only fawning devotion. And it was all aimed straight at Laforge, the group's president and admitted former drug dealer who now brands himself on Facebook as "the guy that doesn't sleep at night so ur children can sleep safe and sound."
As one of the only outsiders at the fundraiser, even I would have to admit that Laforge does play the role of "charismatic leader" well.
Friday's theatrics kicked off when Laforge's Facebook profile suddenly flashed onto the screen as "Iron Man" started to pump out of the speakers.
And soon he was there, live on video.
"I see we've got [Surrey Creep Catchers] supporters in the building," he said as the camera panned to his red shower sandals.
Naturally, Laforge started the show with two separate live stings, taking on a couple of "goofs" (prison slang for child molesters) who'd allegedly arranged to meet up with 13-year-old girls.
What a showman.
The first target was a runner. He was waiting, in Laforge's words, at a "goddamn fucking Tim fucking Hortons" just down the street from the theatre, and sprinted away as soon as he understood what was happening.
The crew followed him for nearly 10 minutes, a chase that saw Laforge trip over his floppy sandals, before giving up and moving on to meet the second target in a nearby dollar store. The 23-year-old man didn't try to run or hide—he actually thanked the Surrey Creep Catchers for what they do. He argued that he was only "trying to be an older brother" to the 13-year-old he thought he was meeting.
After a quick lecture, Laforge added another dramatic touch, telling the crowd waiting for him at the theatre that he wouldn't be able to attend the fundraiser because he had to do yet another "catch" downtown.
"Fine, we're leaving," someone shouted.
It was meant as a fake-out, I guess, but a volunteer reassured the audience that Laforge was on his way.
While everyone waited for their hero to show, there were raffle tickets to buy. The grand prize for the night was a custom neon sign reading #SCC4LIFE, but guests could also try for about a dozen different iPhone accessories or, inexplicably, one Three Stooges DVD.
When Laforge and his crew finally appeared, trailed by a security guard in an armoured vest, there was a line of fans in pink or black Creep Catchers hoodies waiting to take photos with the man himself.
Onstage, he seemed to be channelling Vin Diesel in the Fast and the Furious movies, repeatedly referring to his team members as his family.
"Every single of these guys, for nothing every day, go out there, put their heart and soul into exposing these guys, trust me with their lives, I guess—so the police would say," he said.
And that's when it became clear that Laforge and everyone else in the room saw this as an us-against-the-world struggle. The police, the media, the government were all out to sabotage a noble effort to protect children, and would stop at nothing to take the Creep Catchers down.
"Because our government's fucked, right?" Laforge said, as people shouted out words like "traitors" and "goofs."
"Our government's goofed out. We'll just keep pushing on until they clip me and then hopefully one of these guys will replace me."
Laforge's devotees are clearly wary of outsiders, and can be particularly hostile to members of the media. When I introduced myself to one woman, she demanded to see my ticket to the show, then asked if I was a supporter.
I hesitated and she mocked me: "Um, um, um. Go away."
An older woman with short purple hair just pressed her lips together and shook her head at me.
One of the biggest questions I wanted answered was where all the money was going.
Tickets for the show were $20 each, and there was a $10 after-party at the MagnetiQ nightclub across the street. About 200 people were in the audience, shelling out even more cash for 50-50 tickets, raffle entries and swag.
When the comedian who opened the show made the mistake of asking the audience how the funds would be spent, Laforge cupped his hands around his mouth and booed. A woman at centre stage shouted something like "Are you with the media?" and the crowd jeered.
But Laforge was a bit more direct with the Peace Arch News.
"If it's legal fees. If it's a new laptop. If it's to pay a phone bill. If it's to take my team on a well deserved dinner. That's what we'll do," he told the local paper. "We have some road trips planned. Motels, rental cars, etc."
I couldn't get any further clarification.
When I approached him after the show, Laforge said it wasn't a good time to answer my questions and I should hit him up on Facebook. I reached out the next day, and he said no to my request for an interview.
No matter, he still got my $20.
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