“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.