Comedians Tell Us About Their Strangest Gigs
Sex clubs, retirement homes, nudist colonies—you name it and Canadian comics have tried performing there.
Photo by IIyass Seddoug / Unsplash
This article originally appeared on VICE CA.
Maybe it’s the do-it-for-the-story ethos inherent to being a standup comedian. Or maybe it’s the competitive nature of the industry that makes any paid gig seem appealing. Whatever it is, a fair number of comics are willing to venture far beyond the glamourous brick walls of underground cell-service-free comedy clubs to accept gigs in very strange places.
From sex clubs to retirement homes to nudist colonies, these are some of the strangest venues at which Canadians comedians say they’ve performed.
It was in Ottawa, and I was there doing a week of shows at comedy clubs, and the owner of the comedy clubs was like "Do you want to do a show on Wednesday afternoon around noon," or something, and he didn’t really give me any information, he just said it has to be clean, and here’s the address.
So, I went to the address, and it was a giant senior’s home on one side, and then another smaller one, and we were in the smaller one. The average age was in the high 90s to low 100s, and it was just bizarre, because everybody had to be wheeled in, and I was on after the mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, they call him "Uncle Jim," I think, and they loved his jokes because he found really old jokes on the internet and then told them, and they loved them, and then I had to go up and do my actual standup.
The strangest part was, as I said, that everybody had to be wheeled in, and then I’m standing there on stage and the door opens, and a man walked in, and in my head I was like, “Oh, that’s the first person to actually walk in on their own strength” and then as he walked in, his pants fell down. So the only person to actually walk in was standing there completely pantless.
The swingers club was very strange.
Before you go into most of these places, there’s a space that’s not really a part of the “action” for lack of better words. And in the swingers club, you performed upstairs, and they called this "the playroom" actually, so we performed up there, and then afterwards we went into the sex dungeon. We were their early entertainment before they get fucked.
I definitely went in and watched everyone have sex because I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was in Etobicoke, and the audience was older, so you’re watching older people having sex. It was pretty gnarly, I feel bad for saying that, but it was pretty gnarly. It was a bunch of bare mattresses with sheets on top. It was wild.
In Kelowna, I was asked to perform at a special event honouring all the firefighters who saved the town. It was held in an arena so there were a lot of people there. Big stage.
The organizer asked me to wait for a minute because they had something special planned.
I said sure, because I’m a nice guy.
All of the kindergarten and Grade 1 students of the entire arena came on stage. A lot of little adorable kids. They started singing “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Not a dry eye in the place, including me. The organizer came to me when they were done. “Ready?” I was like, “No frickin way. I can’t go on after that.”
Yes, I went on but I had to wipe my eyes first. The set was great, as people were there to laugh and have fun. It was an afternoon event, which always weird for a comedian but it went off without a hitch. At the party afterwards everyone was telling me how good the show was and how hard it must’ve been to follow the kids.
I would say that probably the strangest would definitely be at the naturist resort. I have a monthly show called the Mary Janes of comedy and I decided one summer “let’s take it on the road and book some shows in different places,” so I thought, well who would have a budget for entertainment, a resort! So I call them and I was like “Hey, do you guys ever get entertainment,” and it said “clothing optional” on the thing, and they’re like “yeah, but we’re actually not a clothing optional place, it’s no option.” Even when they have entertainment their entertainment is nude.
I got a few people together to go, and we went and it was hilarious, everybody there is naked, we got naked at my jeep before we walked up, and then we had dinner there at their restaurant and everybody was naked and the servers and the guitar player and everything. It turned out to be a really good show, and a fun group of people, and since then, I actually do it once a year.
I have had women of all different body types do this show, and it has turned out to be just a super positive experience for everybody. So it was something that seemed like a crazy thing that I would never get anybody on board to join me to do, and then it turned into “Actually, this is a really neat experience!” And a lot of people wanted to do it.
My old high school—it was really really uncomfortable. It was like, some girl I went to high school with that I barely knew was doing a fundraiser because her mother had cancer, so I didn’t really want to say no to the gig. And it was in the middle of the afternoon, and so it was like a bunch of different people that I kinda knew from high school, but not really, and their families and all their kids trotting around.
I just kind of stood there and bombed for, like, 15 minutes while people ate pulled pork. I tried to riff on the fact that I used to play basketball in the gymnasium but that went very poorly.
When I first started doing comedy I was pretty blue, and my material wasn’t necessarily the cleanest of material. I did stand-up for about a year and then I left standup, and there was this women’s group, a battered women’s shelter, and they asked me if I could do one of their events. I had gone back into stand-up and it had maybe been like two months or something. I’m Filipino and they’re a Filipino group, so at 4 o’clock in the afternoon they asked me to do their show, and it was in a community centre.
The woman introducing me, she was talking to the audience and she was like “we’ve all come from different parts of the country to recount our sad stories of survival and of being abused, and we’ve shed a lot of tears, and now to lighten up the mood, let’s bring up a standup comedian!”
My parents were there, so I was telling jokes and they weren’t having it. People were just not happy that I was there. So I spent the next 12 minutes talking to my mom about whether I should do standup. I was talking to her from the stage until my time was done.
I did a show in an apartment with no furniture or appliances anywhere—just a clean, barren apartment. There was a tub of ice with alcohol in it, but that's pretty much it. They didn't have a mic or any sound equipment, so they made all of the comics hold a loose doorknob. We talked into the doorknob like it was a microphone. The host played the recorder in between sets.
I didn't know where we were going or what it looked like ahead of time—it was a lot of fun, everyone was really nice and it felt like a weird movie scene. Honestly, if I walk into a venue or a show and it's strange, I'm excited. That juices me right up—the weirder the better.
In a way, talking into that doorknob felt less awkward than addressing a large group of people with nothing in my hand—you get so used to holding a mic. Sometimes in apartment/loft shows we just speak to the group like ancient orators and it feels weird to not have that barrier of the mic. I guess I'd rather have a doorknob/magic marker/old Mars bar to talk into than be forced to speak like a normal human.
On paper, the strangest gig I ever did was at the request of the priest who baptized me as an Anglican, in the basement of a Lutheran church, for the sake of a former employee of the KGB.
Mikhail Lennikov’s family had lived for a long time in Canada, but the Harper government had suddenly ordered him deported as a former KGB agent. Lennikov took refuge for several years in a Lutheran church in East Vancouver...Donald Grayston, a childhood priest of mine and a beautiful man asked me to perform at a benefit show for Lennikov, which featured an artistically ecumenical mix of art forms much more earnest in nature than stand-up.
As I recall, I managed to talk my way into performing on the lower-profile second half of the show, downstairs—I didn’t do as poorly as I’d feared, but I distinctly remember that Lennikov did not seem overly bowled over by the hilarity of my set. Some things don’t translate.
Stories have been edited for style and clarity.
Follow Audrey on Twitter.