Small Town vs. Big City: Interview with Tyler Morrison

“I’m moving to the big city to follow my dreams!”  This is what a lot of people do because the big cities are where all the action tends to be.  But what if you live in a small town and you have dreams?  How do you go about pursuing them and do you necessarily have to pick up and move to do it?

Tyler Morrison is a major up-and-comer in the comedy scene and he lives in Bracebridge, Ontario – an hour and a half north of Toronto.  He has lived in Toronto on a few occassions, but always seems to end up in the just-north-of-Toronto region.  But his location never seems to keep him from ruling the stand up scene like a big city heavyweight.  He tours around Ontario, Quebec and beyond, and organizes the annual Cottage Country Comedy Festival in Muskoka which has grown in success every year since its inception in 2008.  I asked Tyler some questions about being a small town comedian and here’s what he had to say.

How did you get started in comedy?

When I was in eighth grade a teacher told me I should think about writing for the Tonight Show and it just clicked that I wanted to get into comedy at an early age.  I heard about the Humber College Comedy Program I thought it would be perfect for me.

Would you consider moving to Toronto to pursue your career?

I started my career in Toronto, so being in a small town has never really been a problem for me.  I initially moved back to Bracebridge after college when I did the Boston Comedy Festival and got some American representation.  [They] wanted to bring me down to tour and do a TV show (which never ended up materializing).  When it didn’t pan out, I kind of used being out of the city as a recharge/writing holiday before I moved back to Toronto.

I don’t think I would [move back to Toronto] unless the right job came along where I had to be there every day. We just bought a house here, and now with the comedy festival Muskoka is my home base.  I’m pretty mobile from Bracebridge and Toronto is a quick in and out when necessary.

What challenges does living in a small town pose for a comedian?

The biggest challenge is the whole “out of sight out of mind” thing.  If you aren’t out there in the city rocking it you won’t get as many shows or industry attention.  But at the end of the day you have to get your own gigs and that can be done from anywhere.  And most paid gigs are outside of Toronto.  The internet has really helped change things in terms of visibility, but before Facebook and YouTube it was hard.  Creating the Cottage Country Comedy Festival has helped overcome those challenges in a big way.

I have lived in Toronto a few different times and always made sure to ram it with as much stage time as possible.  The best way to overcome the lack of stage time [in a small town] is by writing a ton and really fine tuning it so when you do get on stage you know the material is solid.  In the city you have more chances to experiment, but being in a small town you want to make every set count.

What freedoms does living in a smaller town offer?

[It] gives you the opportunity to not get run down by the wear and tear of being in bars every night.  There’s a lot of temptation to drink all the time when you are doing open mics and getting paid in beer (truth!).   When you do go to the city for a show, people are viewing you with a fresh set of eyes [because] they haven’t seen you doing the same act every night [which can] work to your advantage in terms of standing out.

How often do you hit the road for comedy tours?

In the summer months I am pretty busy with the festival but I do my best to travel and get out to different towns. [In the winter] I did a small Ontario tour, and this year is going to be my busiest year for touring of my career.  I just got back from doing a couple shows in Montreal and I’m looking at going out west to do a bunch of shows.  (Come to Vancouver!  I have a futon)

What’s the deal with this Cottage Country Comedy Festival that I have heard so much about?

The Cottage Country Comedy Festival started up in 2008.  There was a bunch of good young comedians that I started with and not a lot of opportunity, at the time, for anyone to move forward.  So I decided to start a festival to help get these guys on some bigger stages because they were ready for it.  The first year of the fest we were fortunate that some awesome comics like Jon Dore (say what!?) came up and helped spread the word in Toronto. With the help of my family, some good friends, and support of our amazing sponsors, it just evolved organically from there.


There you have it!  With the help of technology and by staying an active member of the scene, it is possible to pursue your dreams without pursuing a move. 

Catch Tyler Morrison in Toronto on October 31, November 5, 6, and 7 as part of The Dark Comedy Festival.  For more information on Tyler and the Cottage Country Comedy Festival, you can check out the festival website and follow him on Twitter.

Chavril: Canada’s Royal Wedding

Did you hear!?  Chad Kroeger and Avril Lavigne are engaged!  Big Canadian news!  I really have nothing against either of them.  I’m not a huge fan of either, but I am certainly not a hater either.  But why is it such a big deal and why do I feel so strangely about it? 


When I first read about Chavril’s engagement on Twitter, I thought “uhhgg, weird.  How did that happen?”  I was kind of grossed out at first, and for no good reason.  Then I realized it was because they are two of the biggest Canadian artists that we all just love to hate.  Maybe you’re jealous that Avril can pull off wearing boys’ underwear (when apparently that’s weird for the rest of us girls to do) or that Chad has the hair of an angel and you’re a 24 year old baldy.  Maybe you’re angry because they are two of the biggest names in Canadian music but don’t make any good music that Canadians can be proud of.  Or maybe you feel they lack talent in writing thought-provoking lyrics yet Mr. Kroeger makes enough loonies to afford a 24-karat (?!) diamond engagement ring.  (I imagine him wearing a kilt and swimming in his loonie-vault like Scrooge McDuck.)  Whatever the reason, we like to dislike them. 

And now they have found each other!  How lovely, right?  But weird.  I didn’t think sk8er gurls went for Albertan cock-rockers ten years their senior.  But then I recalled that Avril once did a cover of Metallica on stage and Nickelback is basically a poor man’s Canadian Metallica, so it makes more sense.  Poppy punk + cock-rock = POPPYCOCK!  I just love word play.  I’m probably going to marry it.  (YOU: “Where are all the song lyric puns then?”   ME: Shut up.)


The British had their Royal Wedding in April 2011 when William and Kate tied the knot. It was a real-life Cinderella story.  Now Canada gets to have its Royal Wedding: Chavril.  First of all, that name: Chavril.  We are a classy bunch, Canada.  And in case having the beaver, moose, and Mounties aren’t funny enough icons, now we’ll have plates and tins with Chavril’s wedding picture, and dolls of them (each holding a guitar).  Maybe they’ll do an album together and they’ll cover some Barenaked Ladies, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, and the Canadian national anthem.  Eat it up world!  This is what we are!  It’s actually pretty funny the more I think about it.  Why wouldn’t two big Canadian musicians join forces in holy matrimony?  Oh Canada, you’re so cute. 


Canada’s Royal Wedding will be just as pleasant as the British Royal Wedding was, only less elegant and more…..Canadian (read: practical).  Here are some of my predictions for the Chavril nuptials, using my Canadian experience and keeping in mind Chavril’s background:

– a rural setting (a lake perhaps)

– lots of devil horn hand gestures

– black and/or studded leather

– mesh-back trucker hats (top hat style?)

– beer bong

– leather wrist bands

– lawn chairs (with bows) & elegant picnic tables

– blood red roses & gothic feel

– ladies: black eye liner

– men: hair gel

– Avril in a Gwen Stefani-style dress & a black tie (half Windsor)

– Chad in sunglasses and leather suit jacket with tails

They should just hire me to plan the event because obviously I know everything about them.  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these wedding choices or the fact that these two are getting’ hitched.  Let’s just embrace our Canadian-ness, appreciate Avril Lavigne and Chad Kroeger for who they are, and be happy for them!  Because afterall, he’s just a boy and she’s just a girl.  Can I make it anymore obvious?  CONGRATULATIONS CHAVRIL!  (invite me) 

When to Stash & When to Trash

“Gahhh, I have to tell these jokes AGAIN?!”  That was me last night.  And many other nights too.  Making jokes funny doesn’t often happen the first time you tell them (not for me anyway).  You have to work on jokes and tell them over and over to different audiences and review what works and doesn’t work until you have found the ideal formula.  And it’s exhausting!  But once you have found the winning joke potion, how long do you continue to tell that joke before it’s time to retire it?  I watched a really interesting documentary/interview on YouTube called Talking Funny with Louis CK, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Ricky Gervais and got some good insight.


There are some pro comedians, like Louis CK, that throw out an entire set after one year.  Louis CK says about joke writing that “there’s a weird almost fruit-like cycle to it, because it gets ripe and then it starts rotting a little bit”.  That makes complete sense!  If you are out on the road telling these jokes for a living several times a week, after a year, you’re damn well ready to move on.  Jerry Seinfeld, on the other hand, throws out 10 or 20% of his act every year.  He’s got stuff in his act that is 10 years old and some that is less than a year old.  His act is a mix of a greatest hits as well as newer material.  If you want to go see your favourite professional comedian every time they come to town, do you want to hear the same jokes every time, or do you want to hear new material, different stuff from last time?  All the comedians in this video agree, however, that if a pro is doing the same set all the time without making significant changes, the audience will be less inclined to come back because they’re a one-trick pony.

Chris Rock mentions that he will do his material 200 times before his act is ready to be a TV special.  200 times!?!  That’s…a lot.  But it’s practise.  And like mom always said, “practise makes mediocrity.  Get a real job.”


For someone with far less experience (like me), 200+ shows is an overwhelming thought.  I asked my friend Ivan Decker, who is a local pro comedian in Vancouver, how long he tells jokes for to get some closer-to-home insight.  He says that he keeps his material until he’s bored of it and then uses it to fill out longer sets.  He also says that “a joke is never really finished.  [He’s] told jokes for years and then discovered a way to make them better even after telling them hundreds of times”.  This is so true.  Stripping down a joke you may be sick of, or working it into another part of your set may reveal some new aspects of the joke to make it funnier.

The point all of these comedic greats are trying to make, is that it’s always about the evolution of your material and your set.  Do what is working, fix what needs fixing, and don’t be afraid to toss the crap.  For someone who is less experienced, don’t worry about over-doing jokes, they’re still in the working phase.  While it may be stale to you, it’ll be new to most of the audience.  And for seasoned professionals, well, they can do whatever the hell they want.  You have to do what works for you and where you are at with your career.  The most important part is to keep practising and perfecting your material.

Comedy Courtesy

As every comedian is well aware, it’s not likely that you’ll do a show that is going to pay thousands of dollars and be in a theatre packed with avid comedy fans.  More often than not, you’re getting paid in leftover popcorn and watered-down beer to perform in the basementof a pizza place where comedy-haters who came for a quiet slice were herded downstairs by the show’s promoter.  As you can imagine, this audience can be a hard nut to crack.  If you see the audience isn’t reacting the way you would hope, there are a few key things that you can do that will keep you from falling into a pit to despair.


Firstly, try to read the audience and give them what they want.  Every audience is different and will laugh at different things.  Be aware that a group of middle-aged, wine-sipping tourists will react differently than a group of beer-bonging college kids, and be respectful of that.  It’s your job to make people laugh and in order to do that you may have to alter your set and/or delivery.

Second, commit to your jokes.  Even if the audience is sucking your will to live, stay confident.  You know you are funny and unique, so stay true to yourself.  If you normally deliver jokes as a cheerful optimist, fake that you are cheerfully optimistic and people may just believe you!  The last thing an empty/quiet/laughless room needs is negative commentary on how the night seems to be going.  The audience will remember the comic who went up there and just told their jokes in a way more positive light than the comedians who got up there and scoffed at the poor turnout and lack of laughter.

Third, keep it tight.  This particular situation may not be the time to do your seventeen minutes of new rape jokes (but then again, it never is).  Maybe you just do the tight five that you know rocks and throw in one or two new bits to test the waters.  Just try your best to give the audience what they came/were forced down there for, and that’s all you can do.

Lastly, and most importantly, don’t you DARE beg for laughter.  I can’t stand it when comedians stand up on stage and belittle an audience because they won’t laugh at their jokes.  Sometimes people aren’t laughing because the comic is just NOT FUNNY!  Pure and simple.  A comedian’s job is to entertain an audience, not scold them.  Shame on you for thinking that!  Make light of the situation and it won’t end up being such a big deal anymore.


DO                                                                             DON’T

– stay positive                                                     – lose confidence in yourself

– know your audience                                      – try to force laughter

– appreciate the audience you have          – berate the audience

– your best!                                                          – give up and admit defeat

– a tight set of good jokes                               – try 10 minutes of new material

Whatever obstacles you may run into performing, all you can do is your best and give the audience what they came for.  As long as they leave having had a positive experience, who cares how much they laughed.

Fu*k This Sh*t

True or False: Swearing always makes comedy funnier.  FALSE!  Despite the way many people think nowadays, swearing is highly unnecessary and often has the opposite effect intended.

Remember back in the day when people would speak as respectable human beings who wanted to sound intelligent and demanded respect through being respectful?  I DON’T because I was born in the 1980s.  Swearing has always bothered me because it’s so negative.  It makes me feel uncomfortable and gives off an air of hostility and ignorance that my inner old lady does not appreciate.  The quality of stand up comedy is diminished by “bad words” because it takes the emphasis off the content itself and puts it on the crass delivery.  Swear words have been around for a long, long time, but the fact that they are so tolerated in mainstream society is beyond disappointing. 

It’s true that comedy is about pushing boundaries and provoking a response from the audience.  As a result, over the last couple of decades especially, swearing has become a lot more prevalent.  I don’t have a problem with swearing in comedy, I have a problem with excessive swearing in comedy.  And there is a difference.  Far too many comedians rely on combinations of horrible words to shock their audiences.  But why, because shocking = funny?  Sometimes, but only if that person is actually making a funny point.  If they’re just swearing for the sake of being outrageous while making no point at all, who cares?!  So many amateur comedians resort to excessive swearing when they are floundering on stage, berating the audience in an attempt to make themselves seem bigger.  Jerry Seinfeld agrees that “most of the time…it’s someone who’s lost and scared and uses swearing to save their tail” and it’s generally unsuccessful.    

BUT I do believe that swearing can also enhance comedic writing if used properly.  British writer and comedian Arthur Smith says it perfectly that “a well-placed swear word is a marvellous bit of grammar.”  Go ahead and punctuate with a little swear word if it will actually compliment the material.  But if bad words are overused, they lose their effectiveness and just come across as trashy, ignorant, and offensive. 

I recently got to visit my marvellous grandparents and my Nana can’t stand modern-day stand up comedy because of the extreme amount of swearing.  Isn’t that sad?!  Personally, I like to be able to share my passions and talents with all my favourite people, without fear that they may feel alienated and uncomfortable watching.  Everyone likes to laugh which means that everyone should enjoy stand up comedy.  And comedians constantly need audiences.  So why would anyone completely chop off major demographics just because they feel that the only way to be funny is to curse like a sailor? 

Comedy doesn’t constantly need to be cruel.  With some intelligence and effort, we can all be PROUD of what we do and even invite our grannies to come watch.