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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dec. 29: Harry Doupe

It's Harry Doupe time again, boys and girls! What a great way to finish off another fine calendar year. I'll do the tallying up and list of guests in 2013 in the next day or two, but I think we'll clock in at 35, which is low for us but still a respectable number. Tonight, though, we'll catch up with Harry, who's moved back home after years and years and years (we'll find out just how many). We'll also find out how his Calgary baby, the YYComedy Festival, is going. And no doubt Harry will have some choice words about the industry he's been a part of for the past 30-odd years, as he always does. For years he gave the annual "Statelessness of the Industry" address at the Canadian Comedy Awards. He doesn't anymore, so this is his chance to get stuff off his chest!

So tune in tonight to CFRO, Vancouver Co-op Radio 100.5 FM at 11pm. That's Vancouver time, natch. Those of you cursed with living outside Metro Vancouver, you can always livestream us at It's the next best thing to being here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Episode 335ish: Marion Grodin

Two in one week! We're out of control. Yes, here's yet another podcast episode of What's So Funny? This one features Marion Grodin. The New York standup thinks I have an accent, not her! Now that's funny! While admiring my red shoes in her hotel suite, she told us all about her troubled youth filled with drugs and alcohol. We also hear some cool stories about her hanging out on the sets of some very famous movies her dad, Charles, starred in. Oh, and in case you don't pick up on this during the interview, she's written a book: Standing Up: A Memoir of a Funny (Not Always) Life.

So have a listen. As I mentioned in the last post, we're back up and running on iTunes (although this episode isn't yet up there as I write unless you subscribe to the show). We're also available on Stitcher. And PodcastLand. And right here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Podcast episode 334ish: Ed Hill

Good news, people: We're back on iTunes. Did you miss us? Of course, iTunes being iTunes, our latest episode isn't there yet -- it usually takes a day or two so be patient. What you'll eventually get there (and what you can get right now below) is our episode with Ed Hill. It was his first visit to What's So Funny?, and Ed told us his story of emigrating to Canada from Taiwan, wrecking cars, travelling the world performing comedy, taking the infamous comedy seminar with Kyle Cease and Louie Anderson, and a bunch more.

As I say, have a listen here. Another immediate option is PodcastLand. Or go check it out on iTunes or Stitcher within the next day or two.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dec. 15: Marion Grodin

Tonight on radio we've got the only guest, so far as I know, who was told to get into standup by none other than Robert DeNiro. Not sure any other guest we've had can claim that. Or anyone else, period. Marion Grodin was in town in support of her book Standing Up: A Memoir of a Funny (Not Always) Life, where she talks about overcoming such hurdles as drug addiction, divorce, cancer, growing into her own person, and growing up the daughter of a celebrity. Okay, that last one was pretty sweet as her dad is the great actor, and hilarious dude, Charles Grodin. With a father like him, it's no wonder she got into standup comedy. We'll cover all those topics tonight.

It all starts at 11 pm PT on CFRO, Vancouver Co-op Radio 100.5 FM. If you're outside the city, you can livestream us at Or you can simply wait a week and download the podcast when it comes out (and good news: we're back on iTunes!).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Dec. 8: Ed Hill

The listeners have been clamouring for a live in-studio guest and tonight they get their wish. Okay, one listener called in and asked when we'd have a live guest again, but I'm sure he represented thousands of other listeners. Checking the records, I see our last live one was September 22 when Ryan Hamilton paid us a visit. Tonight we've got a local boy making his first ever What's So Funny? appearance. Local by way of Taiwan, actually, but it's been 18 years so we're safe in saying he's from Vancouver. He is, as his website tells us, "100% Canasian." Ed Hill has a new CD out and we'll play a track or two from it tonight. And we'll find out all there is to know about the man. For instance, I didn't know until right now that Ed has performed in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, San Francisco, Chapel Hill (North Carolina), and Boston. I'm sure I'll find out more tonight. As will you.

We're on the air at 11 pm PT on CFRO, Vancouver Co-op Radio 100.5 FM. Livestream us at Go ahead, I dare you.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Podcast episode 333ish: Alex Nussbaum

Alex Nussbaum made his What's So Funny? debut last week. In case you missed it, or if you just wanted to download it for posterity, here's the podcast version. We talked about being shamefully unilingual, Hebrew school vs public school, growing up a nerd in the traditional sense of the word, why Los Angeles beats out Toronto, making silly voices for a living, and how he just can't quit standup. Lots more, too.

We still haven't resolved the iTunes conundrum so don't look for us there yet. But we're on Stitcher now, if that helps (give us a rating, too. That also helps). Also I just found it on And, of course, our host is where you'll find all past episodes.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Eddie Izzard interview

Mr. Eddie Izzard is playing his second of two nights in town tonight. And I won't be seeing him. But that's okay because I've seen him lots over the years. And interviewed him lots over the years. Three times, to be exact, which counts as lots in my book. Never met the man, though. But he seems totally cool and chill over the phone. Here, see for yourself. Our conversation from a couple weeks ago. We talk about his Canadian roots (of a sort), playing arenas, and performing in different languages, among other things:

Eddie Izzard
Nov. 14, 2013
"It’s also a pissing contest between us and rock’n’roll. I mean, why should rock’n’roll be able to play not only arenas but stadiums whenever they want to and we have to ask permission if we’re allowed to play arenas? It’s all kind of odd." – Eddie Izzard

Eddie Izzard: Hello?

Guy MacPherson: Hello, Mr. Izzard.
EI: Hi, how are you?

GM: Good. Finally we connect.
EI: Yes.

GM: I’ve interviewed you a couple of times. I hear your name pronounced ‘IZ-ARD’ and ‘IZ-erd’. I’ve always said ‘IZ-erd.’ Which is correct?
EI: Most people in North America find it easier to say ‘IZ-erd’ but my father, when he picks up the phone, says, ‘IZ-ARD speaking.’ That’s exactly what he says. Not ‘Iz-ARD’ because a lot of people in North America want to hit the second syllable really hard, but ‘IZ-ARD’ hitting the first syllable. But I don’t really give a monkey’s between that one and ‘IZ-erd.’

GM: Okay. Got it. I’ve talked to you twice before and this is the first time I’ve learned, reading the notes, that you spent time as a teen in Canada. Why didn’t you ever mention that to me before?
EI: I’ve mentioned it to everyone I could. I thought it was getting a bit long in the tooth. It’s not like every time I talk to someone I’ve got to mention this. It revolves around I almost died in Lake Ontario. A woman called Alex – she was Alex Christmas back then and she now lives in New Brunswick. I was hoping she was going to come and see me when I was in Halifax, but I realized it was quite a long way away. But anyway, yes, they’re coming to the gig on Friday night. Ralph and Sally and Val Christmas. They have this crazy family. But yeah, two months when I was nine I was a Canadian kid. And that was long enough that by the end of it to feel like you’re Canadian. I mean, I was playing baseball and doing paper rounds, and swimming in the loch and fishing. The only time I’ve ever done fishing in my entire life and I got really into it. It sort of started from nowhere and stopped after two months.

GM: What brought you over?
EI: Two of my dad’s school friends emigrated to Ontario; one to Toronto, and Val and John Christmas had moved to Cambleford, just north of Belleville. They had six kids and they were up for taking on two more. Dad was working for BP and had to be in Montreal for a month. So it was a big summer holiday. He worked out this thing that he would go to Montreal for a month and we would live with the family for a month, just on our own with them, and then he’d turn up and it would be him and us with the entire family for the second month. It was just a wonderful, wonderful time.

GM: Who knew?! You’re one of us!
EI: Yes, I have this strong link to Canada. Normally British people get known in Canada quite well and they struggle to get known in America. And I’m playing Madison Square Gardens and the Hollywood Bowl in America and I’m still having to hack my way up the mountain in Canada. So it’s slightly back to front. But it’s good. I’m touring and I’m playing four nights at Massey Hall in Toronto. It’s getting there. I’d like to play everywhere so people go, ‘Yeah, that English guy. Yeah, we know him.’

GM: I find that surprising, because we’ve always embraced British culture. I think we watched Monty Python before the Americans fully embraced it. But you’re playing big theatres here, let’s not kid ourselves.
EI: I know what the difference is. It’s that Monty Python was on television so people could get it, they could watch it, and it would come around the next week and they’d pick it up. And in America my real breakthrough was when HBO endlessly played Dressed to Kill to death. And it got two Emmys and that kind of stuff. That sort of kicked me through it, that one thing. And I’ve never really pushed it on television again. I didn’t want to because I wanted to do drama roles, like I’m now doing Hannibal Lecter, also filming in Canada, here in Toronto. The position I’ve got where I can do a dramatic role and then go and do a surreal comedy tour, one right next to the other, is because I haven’t pushed the comedy on television. I never had the big TV series. So in Canada, that’s my problem. It’s like an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time.

GM: You’re playing Hannibal Lecter?
EI: No, I’m in the TV series playing Dr. Gideon. Dr. Abel Gideon, who is the pretender to the throne of Hannibal Lecter.

GM: I see. And it’s a TV series for who?
EI: It’s NBC. It’s playing on a Canadian channel at the moment. It’s Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy and Laurence Fishburne and a bunch of really good people.

GM: And it’s already on, you say?
EI: Yeah, it’s in its second season. We’re filming the second season now. I just filmed another two episodes of season two.

GM: Wow, I should watch more TV.
EI: Yes. It’s dark and twisted. It’s just called Hannibal.

GM: You mentioned Madison Square Gardens and the Hollywood Bowl. Those are huge. I’ve seen a couple shows in arenas: I saw Dane Cook and Russell Peters. You’re on that level now where you can play those kinds of venues. Does it just become a big pissing contest among comedians as to who can play the biggest venue?
EI: Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. I mean, it’s got ego in there. But it’s also a pissing contest between us and rock’n’roll. I mean, why should rock’n’roll be able to play not only arenas but stadiums whenever they want to and we have to ask permission if we’re allowed to play arenas? It’s all kind of odd. And if you look at it, Russell Peters plays arenas, Dane Cook does – I’m not sure if he’s done a recent arena tour – I do. There’s about ten comedians in Britain doing it but there’s not many more in America doing it. There’s quite a number that could but they choose not to. And getting good at doing arenas, you have to do a whole bunch of them so that you can really have a sense of what the trick is to play it: how to play it so that you’re filling that space as opposed to just looking like you’re swimming around in it. I like playing really small venues. Like, after this tour, which is in theatres, I’m going to go to Germany and do standup in German in a 100-200 seater.

GM: In German?
EI: In German.

GM: I guess every type of venue has its pluses and minuses.
EI: Yup, that is true. The bigger venues you do have to arrive and have a presence. Smaller venues are like a speedboat and bigger venues are like an ocean liner. You have to sort of wait for the laughs; your timing has to be slightly different. But you can get in a speedboat and then get out of that and get into an ocean liner and do that. You can do both. I love the ability to do both. Because I don’t have a television series. Some people go, ‘Who is this guy? Is that toilet cleaner, Eddie Izzard? I don’t know what that does.’ But if you say I’m doing Madison Square Garden and Hollywood Bowl, they go, ‘Oh!’

GM: ‘He must be somebody.’
EI: That’s a nice little counter to put out because I’m not doing X Factor, Y Factor, this thing on telly, that reality show. I have to really bat above my weight and playing arenas is kind of handy for that.

GM: You mentioned rock bands. They have this wall of sound. You’re just one voice and one person.
EI: Yes, they do have the wall of sound. But really good sound people and the screen take everything to the back. At Hollywood Bowl, the best place to watch is from the back. It actually looks amazing from the back. I use regression of technology. If you’ve been to any rock concerts in arenas and especially stadiums, they do a lot of editing and vision mixing. They cut to the guitar, they’ll cut to Keith Richards, they’ll cut to this and cut to that. In the end, you might be essentially watching television in a big field. And what I do I call regression of technology: We take two cameras, one which is essentially a backup for the first one. So in essence it’s just the one camera and it shoots a full shot that is placed in the centre of the big vertical screen. So there’s a small me and a big version of me standing behind, just like in the iconic Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane shot. And on either side there are two half-versions of me. And the camera just stays with you and pans with you. So you choose what you’re editing. It never zooms in, it never zooms out. It doesn’t get wide, it doesn’t cut to the people in the audience or anything. It just shoots it. So if you’re at the back or the front, you see the same gig. And that way, you’re the editor.

GM: I see. But you don’t have that on this tour because it’s theatres.
EI: No, people don’t need to worry about that. In the end, I’d like to play arenas all around the world but I have to keep building it up in different countries where I’m known. So like in Germany, I’m hardly known, whereas in Canada I’m quite well known and in America I’m very well known, in Britain I’m well known, and Scandinavia I’m fairly well known. So it’s all different countries at different levels. So I just have to keep building it up.

GM: When a lot of British comics visit other countries, it’s usually to ex-pat audiences. But you’re going to Germany and performing in German so it’s not going to be for the ex-pats.
EI: No, I refuse to play ex-pats. I don’t mind if ex-pats come but it’s got to have a majority indigenous people. So I’m going to be playing Shanghai next year and Tokyo, Japan, Kathmandu, India… I don’t mind if some Brits or English speakers come along, like Americans or Canadians or Irish or Australians, but as long as the majority are locals, then that’s working. I mean, English is this lingua franca. It’s no longer our language that we own; it’s the language that we sort of started off with and then it’s been given to the world as the gift of the most simple communication that we can work out on its basic level. That’s great. It’s for everyone to play with and everyone to do business with and hopefully to make friends with. I’m already touring France in French and I’m playing Montreal in French.

GM: When you’re playing, say Japan or Shanghai, that it is a lot of locals in attendance? How can you control that when when you’re not performing in Mandarin or Japanese?
EI: It’s a little difficult up front. I played Russia – St. Petersburg – and that was about 100% Russians. We talk to the guys and say, ‘How much English is spoken out there?’ Because we want to be there. And they’d already had an Irish comedian, Dylan Moran, who’d played out there. So they already knew that the Russians were going to show up. So there were about a thousand people in St. Petersburg, 1500 in Moscow. So in Shanghai, what we do is we look for promoters, we see what’s going on on the ground. Like I know in Tokyo they’ve already got a lot of Japanese standups. And I was talking to a Japanese woman who was doing my nails yesterday, so she was, as I am a transvestite and I get my nails done. I said, ‘Do the kids speak English in Tokyo?’ I just ask people who I meet. I said, ‘What about in Tokyo University?’ ‘Oh, yes, they speak more English there.’ So that’s the first place you head; you head to the university. Or you find a promoter who says, ‘Yeah, I’m already doing that. And we estimate you can do this and you can do that.’ So we take their advice and then we go and do a look-see. Like, I was in Dubai and I went and saw a friend who was playing there, Al Murray, a British comedian, and it was 100% Brits there. 100%. And I thought I don’t want to do Dubai under that. Because I was born in Yemen. I wish to learn Arabic and play Cairo and then play Lebanon and then build it up from there: Morocco – Marrakesh – would be a good place to play. And if I learned the Cairo Egyptian Arabic, that’s the best one to learn because apparently they use it in the films. So I’m constantly meeting people, I bump into them in the street and I say, ‘What’s the situation? Can I do it in English? Will the locals come, if I go to the university, does that work?’ Because any university, the kids are just going to be grabbing English by the handful. They’re going to be ambitious – they wouldn’t have got to university if they weren’t ambitious. And they’re going to realize that English is the first language to learn as a backup and it can widen their horizons. So it’s just logic. You put it in there. The big thing is I know that comedy is international and not national. That’s my big theory. And I think I’ve proved this correct. The mainstream Canadian comedy will talk about Rob Ford, will talk about the mayors of Montreal and what’s going on politically and with the sports stars; the mainstream British guy would do the equivalent, and the American would do the equivalent. But the alternatives like us will talk about dinosaurs and God and squirrels with guns and helicopters that can play banjo or whatever it is. And you go to Russia and they go, ‘Yeah, this is stupid. Yeah, we understand it. We’ve got dinosaurs.’

GM: You talk about Star Wars but that’s universal now. But you’re also talking about Greek mythology and chaos theory. You just need to be a human to understand it. I also like that you don’t talk down to people who might not even know what chaos theory is or anything about Greek mythology. Obviously you make it palatable. Some comics have strong interests in some topics but think they can’t do it on stage because no one would get it. But you make it so they get it, or can at least enjoy it.
EI: Well, I assume the intelligence of the audience. And there was a logical self-policing of the public. And Python smashed the doors open around the world. And I’ve checked around the world. As I was playing Eastern Europe, I said, ‘You guys have Python?’ And they’d say, ‘Yay!’ And I was phoning Michael Palin and Terry Jones and saying, ‘They’re screaming for you guys.’ I mean, I’m in Zagreb, I’m in Belgrade. That’s it: Assume the intelligence of the audience and the bright ones, or anyone who’s autodidactic or been to university or whatever, and they like this kind of stuff and they’re progressive in politics, they will dig it. And they’ll say, ‘Freddy, you gotta come. Siobhan, you’ll love this.’ And they drag others to it. And that’s how it works. Wheras right wing extremists are gonna go, ‘That guy’s a liberal and he likes people; we like killing people. Let’s not go to that show. Let’s go to the I Want To Kill People show.’

GM: And the politics you’re talking about are not at a local or national level; it’s more sort of issues relating to any human.
EI: Yeah, exactly. Because in the end, we were 30,000 people, 10,000 people two-hundred thousand years ago. And now we’re seven billion. We’re all the bloody same. And just right wing press separates us out into separate things. But we’re all the bloody same.

GM: Did I read you wanted to be mayor?
EI: Yup. Not like the Toronto mayor. More in a different style.

GM: You’d get in your own trouble, though.
EI: (laughs) Well, they’ll say, ‘Aren’t you a transvestite?’ and I’ll go, ‘Yes’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s fine.’

GM: Yeah, as long as you own it, I guess.
EI: Well, that’s it but I think that’s what Rob Ford is trying to do in retrospect, saying, ‘Yeah, I smoke crack. And I’ll be in work tomorrow.’ And you go, ‘Well, hang on, no, you gotta do something else.’ So yeah, I’ll tell them I’m a transvestite and what else? There’s nothing else, really, to come out after that. I like running marathons and I’ll paint my nails and I can do things out of the box, I’m ambitious and I want everyone else to be ambitious if they want to and I’m a radical centrist. And they’ve already done polling on it, which is a great thing. The Evening-Standard in Britain put me into a poll with other Labour candidates and I came out pretty good.

GM: Is it going to happen?
EI: Yeah, I’m running in 2020. I’ve already stated this. For Member of Parliament or Mayor of London in 2020. But there’s an election in 2016 for the mayor and I’ve been put into that poll and I’d do pretty good if I run in 2016. And there’s a general election in 2015. So I’ll be an activist up to that point then I’ll go for election.

GM: I know you’re involved with Unicef. You’re a funny guy and you think absurdly and at times you want to be serious. Does that ever cause confusion among people?
EI: I think as soon as I told everyone I was a transvestite, that’s so bloody serious. Some people think British men always want to throw on a dress, which isn’t very true. Transgendered people get beaten up as in any other country. But we do have this pantomime thing, that I think in Canada you have as well. But as soon as I started telling people I was a transvestite, it was so serious, it was so crossing the line. I mean, Boy George didn’t say he was gay for ages.  But I was saying straight off the bat I’m a transvestite and I don’t look terribly girly, either, so it’s a bit of a struggle. So they could realize it was all kinda serious. And it wasn’t part of the comedy, either. I wasn’t doing transvestite comedy; I was just doing surreal comedy and I happened to be wearing a dress or whatever. So that helped me get a serious platform. And then I started talking about European politics, which is the hardest thing to talk about in the United Kingdom. It’s like an American going up and saying socialism is an interesting thing to have a look at. And I don’t know what the equivalent is in Canada. I suppose it’s like the French part separating or something weird. It’s such a difficult touchstone. So transvestite and then I started talking about Europe and that was a lot of seriousness in there. And I’ve been campaigning in elections since 2008 quite actively. So it’s only four different election cycles I’ve been through. So everyone knows I’m serious and that’s okay. They’ve allowed me to do that, along with running marathons. I’ve always stuck to my guns. I haven’t gone, ‘Hey, I’m into this! No, I’m actually into cheese now! No, free everything for everyone!’ And I don’t say I hate politicians; I think we’ve got to have politicians. There’s a lot of politicians trying to do some good stuff. So I’m trying to put a practical thing on it and see what I can practically do to try and help.

GM: Russell Brand will say don’t vote.
EI: I know Russell’s into that. And that’s cool for Russell to do that. And it’s good for him to have his say. I’m saying do vote. I’m trying to be practical on the thing. I don’t feel we get anywhere by everyone not voting. And I don’t feel all politicians are all trying to do terrible. I don’t think all businessmen are trying to do terrible things. So I’m trying to encourage ethical business and ethical politics. And try not to smoke crack.

GM: Good luck with that.
EI: Yeah, I know. He seems to be a barrel of laughs. Anyway.

GM: Once you get involved in politics, the crack is next.
EI: Yeah, I know. I was thinking to go into politics and I always had in my mind probably not a good idea to smoke crack.

GM: On your Twitter account, you say you think like an American. How does an American think?
EI: Well, if I analyze that down, what I was trying to say was I think like an economic migrant. I think America has a distillation of that. Canada could be the same. Australia could be the same. New Zealand… a number of countries. Well, maybe those three. But America really crystalized it in this, ‘Come, you can go for it. Anyone can go for it. Let’s go! Let’s build it! Let’s think out of the box.’ And that’s what I mean by it. But I also wanted to associate myself with Democratic Americans, as opposed to Republican Americans or, I suppose, the Tea Party Americans. So I put it down. I was thinking I should change it to ‘like an economic migrant’, someone who wants to go build it. Because I’m touring in France now in French and that is so huge because it’s 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo and a thousand years since William the Conqueror. And I’m touring France! I just think it’s so beautiful. It’s politics with an open hand; you reach out with an open hand. And the French are going, ‘This is really groovy! This guy’s doing it in our language.’ And again, it’s self-policing, self-promoting because the cool people are saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to come and see this English guy. He’s doing it in French. It’s not brilliant French but it’s pretty damn good and he’s making people laugh.’ And my video is available online for $5 or €5. I loved it. And German’s going to be great, too, because of all the history: Second World War, First World War, all that stuff. German’s are now doing it in English. French have now started doing it in English. The Russians are doing it in English. And the Italians as well.  It’s all changing and it’s all happening in the UK at the moment, these language jumps. It’s amazing. It’s stunning. I just think it’s wonderful and such a positive human thing. The Russians are doing it in English! And the French! Less so for the Germans to do it in English, but for the French to do it in English. It’s just going to be beautiful.

GM: Do you know Sugar Sammy?
EI: No, I don’t know.

GM: He’s a Canadian comic. He’s Indo-Canadian, born and raised in Montreal, so he speaks and performs in English, Punjabi and French.
EI: Yeah, I think I have heard of him, actually. And he does standup in three languages?

GM: For different audiences, yeah.
EI: That’s excellent. That’s really good. Some people are bilingual or trilingual, and that’s good to a certain extent, but it’s even better if people hack their way into a language and not be a natural speaker because then you can really feel the sweat and you can feel the journey they’ve taken.

GM: You perform just in those three languages or are there more?
EI: No. At the moment it’s just English, I’m pretty good at French now so I’m touring in that, German I’m just beginning. January and February will be the German ones. Then once I get German, I’ll do Spanish. Once I’ve got Spanish, I’ll do Russian. Once I’ve got Russian, I’ll do Arabic.

GM: I read your biographical chapters on your website. Is this going to be a book?
EI: No, I think that was from a book. There was a touring book when I toured America big time in 1998, so I think that’s from 1998. So there is one book out, which is supposed to be a tour book and I think the book company turned it into an autobiography and I said, ‘No, no, that wasn’t how I planned it.’ And I talked to this really good journalist but then he took himself out of it and then it became like this autobiography. So it was a little bit weird but anyway that’s what that is. A real autobiography will come at the end of my days.

GM: You don’t know when that’s going to be, though.
EI: I know, but I’m going to do a US Grant at the end of it. I’ll do it right at the end.

GM: I read in there you have an older brother. What did he do?
EI: He teaches me the languages. He’s going to be there with me in Germany. He’s my tutor in French and German and Spanish, as he speaks those three. And then I’m going to drag him into Russian. We’re going to learn Russian together. And then we’re both, as we were both born in Yemen, we will learn Arabic in Cairo. It’s a beautiful journey to do with your brother.

GM: What did he do for work?
EI: Languages is his thing. A translator.

GM: So your family always got a kick out of watching you perform through the years and get famous?
EI: Not hugely. I mean, initially there was a distinct resistance. My dad was always kind of cool on it. My step-mother was less into it. And I was doing accounting and financial management so, ‘Do that, don’t do this. It’s crazy.’ And it wasn’t working, either. But once it started working, then everything’s been fine. And dad was always saying, ‘As long as you’re happy.’ And now my step-mother’s happy about it as well.

GM: You travel all over the world. Do you get to spend any quality time anywhere or is it all hotel rooms and onto the next place?
EI: It’s a little bit of hotel rooms and stuff, but we do try and do things in different towns and cities and look first at the history. I’m a big history buff so I do like looking into big chunks of history lying about the place. In Boston we were doing tours of Lexington and Concord. I was just saying to my promoter in America I’d like to play Gettysburg. He said, ‘I’ll look into it. I’ll find a venue.’ So that would be great. And we visited Shiloh when we were going down past Nashville. So I like looking around. The Eastern European countries are great to visit because there’s so much of that, hundreds of years of history.

GM: Not as much history in Vancouver. But you’ve got two nights here so you’ve got to get out at some point.
EI: Yes, I have to get in that speed boat and go up the river and visit those places that you can do. You’ve got speed boats.

GM: You did that in the ‘90s here, didn’t you?
EI: Yes, I know. I like doing it. It’s like the thing I do because I just can’t believe that you can say, ‘Yeah, I can drive a speed boat.’ ‘Okay, get in. Off you go.’ It just seems so weird. Because we have rowing boats in England and you have to say, ‘Can you row a rowing boat? Yes, I can. Alright.’ ‘Pedalo. Can you do a pedalo? Yeah, I can do that. Alright, you can go in that duck pond.’ Whereas in Vancouver you can say yes you can go in this huge river.

GM: It’s the ocean.
EI: Yeah, the one I went up was a river.

GM: Well don’t fall in like you did in Lake Ontario.
EI: No. Well, that was more just the rip tide pulling me back out. I was dragged out of the water. I screamed help. And initially I was thinking I can’t say help because of British embarrassment. It’s too embarrassing to say help. And then I was like, ‘Nope. Fucking help!’

GM: Yeah, it’s too hack to yell help.
EI: Now I think it’s funny. Not funny, but it was true. I was not in a good place and I was dragged out of the water.

GM: Did you keep in contact with that girl through the years?

EI: With the family. There was a gap and then I came back and started playing Canada and filming in Canada. And I’ve been in touch with them ever since. Me and my brother went back I think it was two years ago. We went back to the house up in Cambleford north of Belleville and we all hung out there. My brother brought his kids. So it was great. And they’re coming to the show on Friday.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dec. 1: Alex Nussbaum

Wow, December already? Seems like it happens every year around this time. Crazy. Tonight we've got a first-timer but a comic I've seen a few times over the years. He always makes me laugh. Toronto standup Alex Nussbaum took some time off performing live in favour or doing voice-over work and writing on kid shows. But he's back doing what he should be doing. He lived for a few years down in LA before having to come home, but he's trying to get back down to Hollywood where he feels he belongs. Alex was headlining Yuk Yuk's last week and I sat down with him in his hotel room for this episode. He did not impersonate a goose so your ears are safe.

We start at 11 pm on CFRO, Vancouver Co-op Radio, 100.5 FM. You can livestream us at, too, if you like. Or wait a week to get the podcast.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Marion Grodin interview

I did a phoner with standup comic/author Marion Grodin a couple weeks ago. And I sat down with her in person a couple days ago for a future episode of What's So Funny? As you'll read here, she was here in support of her book Standing Up: A Memoir of a Funny (Not Always) Life. Here's the transcript of our telephone conversation.

Marion Grodin
November 13, 2013

"I still run into that – ‘Oh, she’s Charles Grodin’s daughter – and I’m 53 now. It’s like, well, I am and I’m very proud of it and I’m very proud of him but it’s kind of like after that it should be … but mostly she’s her own person." – Marion Grodin

Guy MacPherson: Where are you off to?
Marion Grodin: Oh, who knows, Guy? At this point, I just go where they tell me. It’s been such a hectic and great tour. I actually wake up in one state, I fly to some other state, often with multiple connections and different time zones. It’s been crazy but it’s awesome. All the events have been phenomenal, I have to say. We Jews are a fabulous lot.

GM: Are they all Jewish-related events?
MG: I’m on a Jewish book tour for the Jewish Book Council. Obviously the book is for everybody completely, but I got this book tour through the Jewish Book Council that meets in New York City I guess annually at the Hebrew College. A lot of them talk about very heavy subject matter, and while I have very deep stuff in my book, I’m a comic. So I got up and in my two minutes allotted just crushed. So I got a lot of bookings.

GM: Tell me a bit about what we can expect when you come here to Vancouver. You’ll obviously be talking about the book but will you be doing standup?
MG: I do standup. It’s not heavy-handed at all; it’s comedy. I think what’s amazing is, I’m doing a solid 30, 40 minutes of standup comedy and I’m a headlining comedian so I think they’re getting something that’s extremely unusual and phenomenal. People are having a great time. Basically I get up and I walk the room and do standup. I talk about the book and I do a very extensive Q&A so that it can be inclusive of the more substantive stuff in the book. You know, I’ve been through a lot of stuff, I’m a breast cancer survivor for ten years, I’m sober 25 years, gone through divorce and a bunch of stuff that people and women and people in general are relating with. So there’s more opportunity to get into that after the standup when I talk about the book and open it up to Q&A.

GM: So that’s what you’ll be doing here in Vancouver?
MG: Correct, yes. So people should come out and have a lot of laughs. I mean, I can’t even believe I’m going to Vancouver. It’s so amazing.

GM: Did you know we had Jews here?
MG: No, I didn’t! Not until I got booked. I’m hoping for more than one or two. That’s what I’m saying: Please tell the Jews in your article that I’m a New York City Jew. Where aren’t we? We’re everywhere. So I need Vancouver to have a really good showing to show this New York City Jew that Vancouver represents.

GM: You know Seth Rogan is a Vancouver Jew?
MG: I did not know that! I didn’t know that.

GM: Yeah. In fact, maybe his parents will be at your show.
MG: Well, I would love that. I would love to meet Mr. And Mrs. Rogan. In fact, maybe we can invite them in the article. But yeah, it’s going to be an awesome time. I’ll rock the house. We’ll have big, big laughs. And then I’ll also talk briefly about the book and open it up to Q&A, like I said where there’s more of an individual personal opportunity. A lot of people when we do the Q&A will say, you know, ‘I was just diagnosed with breast cancer,’ ‘I’m going through divorce.’ It’s an opportunity for a lot of wonderful connection and people to share about their own experiences with some of what’s in the book. There’s something for everybody.

GM: Or maybe ‘I am the child of a celebrity, too.’
MG: That hardly ever happens. It hasn’t happened but I would welcome it because there’s also that aspect of the book where I talk about growing up with a ridiculously charismatic, larger-than-life famous father who I didn’t grow up living with so it created a whole bunch of stuff, like longing for the parent who wasn’t there. It probably set up a lot of unrequitedness so I didn’t always make the best choices with men. I say in my talks that when you grow up with a famous parent, as a child there’s a very strange phenomenon where you feel like you’re famous, too. And it’s kind of a wildly rude awakening to discover that you’re not. And that you have to discover your own specialness and then go ahead and put that into the world. And so I write about that, I think very poignantly. There’s a line in the book where I got to the point where I realized even if my coat was raggedy, I had to rely on my own coat rather than be on someone else’s coat tails no matter how sparkly theirs were. By the way, just to say, I don’t think it’s unique to famous kids. I mean, I think there is a phenomenon with celebrity parents but I also think that’s universal for a lot of us. For whatever reason, having to grow up and understand that you really have to rely on yourself. For some people it’s the parents, for some people it’s their spouse. But I don’t think it’s a completely unique thing to celebrity children.

GM: Sure. Everyone’s parents are larger than life and a celebrity to the kid.
MG: That’s right.

GM: So they have to get out from under that shadow.
MG: And there’s also a lot in the book, just piggy-backing on what you just said, about co-dependancy. For a lot of us, I think this is very universal, the process of evolving into your own identity and feeling your own sense of mattering, your own sense of specialness, and trusting that instead of affixing to someone else’s. Just to get referred to your whole life, and I still run into that – ‘Oh, she’s Charles Grodin’s daughter – and I’m 53 now. It’s like, well, I am and I’m very proud of it and I’m very proud of him but it’s kind of like after that it should be dot, dot, dot… but mostly she’s her own person.

GM: I’m interested in your start in standup comedy in New York and when that was and who you came up with.
MG: Absolutely. When I was in my 20s, I hit a very, very severe bottom with drugs and alcohol. I got sobered up and my mother died. It was just a horrendous time in my life. I ended up getting sober and after I got sober, I met my husband, I got married and I knew I was a comic but I was terrified to, as the title says, stand up. I was terrified to stand up in my own life. I was very enmeshed with my father. I was very enmeshed with my husband. There’s the whole journey of my marriage in the book, which is very much about co-dependency. There was a lot of love but severe, severe co-dependency that really wrecked the marriage in a lot of ways ultimately. So after a few years of living in my father’s shadow – I was working on his show on MSNBC and I was a producer and I was mostly behind the scenes. Sometimes he’d have me on the show but mostly not. I mean, he wanted to, just, you know, if he had Seinfeld on as a guest, I wasn’t going to pop in and make an appearance. And after a few years of this, I was very depressed. I realized that I had this job and I had health insurance and I had a husband, but I realized I was depressed because my own light wasn’t really shining. And I was sitting in the studio one day and I was watching my father interview Sarah Jessica Parker, who was very much shining in her own light. She was so talented and so sparkly charismatic and just living in the joy of her immense talent and success. And there I was sitting in the dark audience, just me and a few other people. We’d go down to the studio at MSNBC, we’d tape, and we’d provide a little audience, and I thought, ‘Why am I cheering on everybody else’s business and neglecting and abandoning my own?’ So I quit the show, which was fairly radical because I didn’t have another job, and I went down the street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan twenty-plus years ago to Stand-up New York, which is still one of my home base clubs on 78th and Broadway. And in order to get up, you had to bring people. So I made my husband and my two best friends come down. You get five minutes. And I killed. I mean, I got huge laughs. I found it to be extraordinarily nerve-wracking, upsetting experience because I’m very self-revealing and it left me just feeling incredibly vulnerable and weird and naked. My father was waiting by the phone. After the thing everybody was, ‘Great, great, great.’ I was in like an altered state. And I went outside and called my dad. He went, ‘How did it go?’ I said, ‘Well, I got a lot of laughs but I sure hope my experience changes.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, I thought like I was going to shit and have a heart attack but aside from that it was great.’ I mean, don’t quote the ‘shit’ part. That’s kind of raw. I mean, say whatever you want; I don’t care. I don’t care. I mean, that is how I felt. And I had to just keep getting up in order to get over feeling shell-shocked. Even though I was a huge performer in life, it was another thing to get on stage. And that experience left me and I’ve been doing it ever since. I think what really changes is your confidence and your comfort. When you’ve been doing it a long time, it just evolves to a place where sometimes you’re more comfortable on stage than off.

GM: So that feeling of panic left shortly after that?
MG: It didn’t leave quick enough. Definitely the first year of doing standup or even longer than that it’s pretty nerve-jangling. I think part of what changed was also in order to get up in New York City and perform, you had to do bringers. You had to bring people. That was the way the club would make money. Why would they put you, an amateur, on stage? No one’s coming to see you. So after doing bringers for a while, I thought this is just shit. I have to, like, everybody I’ve ever met. I have to join a cult. Where am I supposed to get these people from? I instituted my own show at the Duplex, which is an iconic spot in the Village where Joan Rivers and all these amazing people used to get up, and still get up, on Christopher Street and 7th Avenue South. I started my own show. We had to flyer to get an audience. Everybody who was on that show went on and did very well. It was a very hot group of people. People who’ve gone on to write books and had shows. In that group was the phenomenal Jessica Kirson, she’s amazing. Karen Bergreen, who went on to write a couple books. Demetri Martin, of course, who went on to have his own show. My friend Danny Cohen. Some people you’ve heard of, some people you haven’t. But everybody was really talented and we got amazing guests to come down. Great New York comics like Ted Alexandro, Judy Gold. And I basically, through having to get up, my friend that I co-ran the show with, Becky Donahue, the first night she saw me have to take care of myself on stage with a heckler and come out from behind the dialogue, she said, ‘Oh my God.’ I was like, ‘What?’ That basically gave birth to my style on stage, which is that I love improv. As with most things in life, it came about from a difficult experience because I was getting heckled and I had to defend myself.

GM: The street fighter came out in you.
MG: Completely. I mean, I’m a Jewish girl who went to public school. That survivor came up in me that was like, ‘Fuck you!’ It was this Spanish woman and she was like, ‘Why you talking to me? You don’t even have jokes? I have to write your jokes for you?’ And then she started attacking what I was wearing. She was like, ‘Slut, your clothes is crinkly. You couldn’t even iron?’ And after that night, something in me snapped and I was like, I will never let that happen again. And I haven’t. I love improv. And Judy Gold said, and she’s right, ‘You have to know two things when you’re a comic, and especially as a woman: You have to know who you are on stage, and you have to let them know that you are in control.’

GM: It’s amazing that exchange you had with that woman stays with you after all these years.
MG: Well, yeah. Because it was such a shift. Up to then I had been doing written material and it would go great or well enough, but I discovered I had this power which I’d been doing my whole life, which is why everybody in my life always thought I was so hilarious, just riffing. Just being in a situation and just riffing. Just going off whatever they were giving me. And that’s what I do on the book tour and people love it. I definitely do material but I also go into the audience and have fun with them, which they love because it’s immediate and it’s happening in real time, they’re involved. I can’t wait. I’ve never been there and everyone says how beautiful it is.

GM: You’ve got this brash style yet your dad was pretty subdued in his humour.
MG: Right, dry and understated. I have that, too. When you watch me do longer time. I am very edgy. I call what I do ‘edgy affection.’ Because I’m very affectionate with the audience but it’s comedy so irreverent is ground zero. I mean, of course you’re going to be irreverent. But people say this all the time when they see me live, I’m a lot like him. First of all, I look a lot like him. I also have a very dry, acerbic thing that I do and I look so much like him and I have mannerism like him. In fact yesterday I was in Virginia doing the JCC there and I was rounding the corner and a man who worked there stopped dead in his tracks and he looked at me and went, ‘Woah!’ I had no idea what he was going to say. And I’d never had this happen. He said it’s unbelievable. I was like, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘You look exactly like your father.’ I’m my version, he’s his version. But you’ll see. Hopefully you’re coming to the show. Are you coming to the show?

GM: I hope so.
MG: That’d be great. I’d love to meet you.

GM: Your dad was a serious actor first then did some comedies. But I first really noticed his comedy chops on Carson.
MG: He was under contract with Carson. That character was so impactful that Johnny Carson had my dad under contract to him, which was a huge compliment after he did The Heartbreak Kid. That whole acerbic sort of antagonistic, eccentric personality that he also became famous for on Letterman. People were just floored by it. It’s interesting because there’s a similarity between he and I because ultimately of course he has a good heart but he’s doing this thing where he’s completely giving you shit and that’s sort of similar to my thing on stage, too. So there is similarity there. I suspect if he were a comic, there’d be a lot of similarity because the whole thing he got famous for was being difficult. In essence when I’m on stage I’m giving the audience a hard time. I’m being difficult except that’s my job.

GM: Yeah, that persona isn’t foreign to comedy clubs but nobody had seen people act that way toward Carson before.
MG: I can’t even think of anyone who did or has. He was so ballsy. I can’t to this day even think of anyone who would come on and look at these iconic and beloved comic talk show hosts and say things like, ‘You don’t care about whether or not I have children. Why are you asking me that?’ It was so explosively funny. Talk about challenging authority to say that to somebody like Johnny Carson.

GM: I guess some people might have thought he was serious, but we saw what he was doing and there was respect and admiration there.
MG: I would go to school and he was so convincing. I’m getting high and smoking pot as a young teenager and I go to school and there was this one kid, Jesse, who was constantly challenging me, saying, ‘Why is your father so hateful to Johnny Carson?’ Or ‘Why did your father give Mia Farrow back to the devil in Rosemary’s Baby.’ Or ‘Why did your father leave his Jewish wife on their honeymoon for a shiksa?’ I’m like, ‘What is wrong with you? He’s not a documentary film maker.’ They’re crazy. He went on Carson talking about washing his cheese because he’s germophobic. I mean, no more than I am or most people. But he was joking. And Carson said, ‘You wash your cheese?’ The two of them, their timing and delivery were so impeccable it was so phenomenal, the next day everybody single person couldn’t wait to ask me if he washed his cheese. I couldn’t get over it. I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s washing his gouda. He’s home laundering his cheese.’ But it’s funny because I’m such a germophobe that I’m more likely to wash my cheese.

GM: I don’t know if it’s because I’m not Jewish and live on the west coast of Canada, but I never even knew Charles Grodin was Jewish.
MG: People don’t think he looks Jewish. And in the most stereotypical way he does not. And I don’t either. But we’re Ashkenazi. My grandmother, who was so Jewish, you wouldn’t know it until she opened her mouth and then you could not know it. She had blond hair and light skin and blue eyes. But it’s like anywhere. You can go to Italy and see people that look like that and you think they don’t look Italian. One of my favourite chapters in the book, which I’m dying for you to read, is I’m trying to lose weight, I’m fasting and I fly to Texas and it turns out I have landed inadvertently in a little pocket of anti-Semitism. And one of the things that happens is I get confronted by a woman at one point who said, ‘We didn’t know you were Jewish. You don’t look Jewish.’ And that really happened. It’s so offensive. I understand that, but to actually say that to somebody… I mean, are you going to say to a light-skinned black person, ‘You don’t look black’? I mean, it’s ridiculous. But I don’t mind you saying it but they were anti-Semites. But the minute I open my mouth, everybody knows I’m Jewish.

GM: I can’t believe his MSNBC show was twenty years ago.
MG: It’s crazy. Yeah, it was. Because I was newly with my husband and fairly newly sober. People loved it because it was super left to the left to the left. It was amazing. I was the field producer and I’d do these man-on-the-street interviews. I’d go out on the street during the OJ trial and all I had to do was constantly go up to black and white people and ask the if they thought OJ did it. It was ridiculous and not what I wanted to be doing. But it also helped me become a comic because I just thought I can’t ask one more person if they think OJ did it or I’ll kill myself. I didn’t give a shit if they thought OJ did it. It was like, what about my life? I wasn’t standing up in my own life. I was off to the side of my own life. And it felt bad, especially if you’re an artist and you’re not really pursuing your art. It feels lousy because you know you’re in the wrong life. You’re supposed to be painting and you’re not painting, you’re whatever, cleaning toilets. Nothing against cleaning toilets but it’s very depressing because you know your light isn’t shining.

GM: When did you write the book?
MG: I wrote the book a little over two years ago. I got a book deal because I was headlining Gotham Comedy Club and my publicist at the time invited columnist Cyndi Adams, who was blown away by me and devoted her entire column to telling people this girl should have a show, she’s unbelievable and blah, blah, blah. But she brought her very dear friend, who’s a huge literary agent and she took me on as a client and said, ‘That girl should write a book.’ I went into her office the next day, I performed my entire story in about 45 minutes. Everybody laughed and cried and at the end of it she said, ‘Where do I send the contract?’ The rest is history.

GM: What was the process?
MG: The process was excruciating and laborious and arduous and challenging on levels I had never experienced, as well as exhilarating and thrilling and gratifying and nourishing. It was just the most monumental, mighty process because the book is outstanding for it to be at the level it’s at, it took so much writing and rewriting and oftentimes having to hang in there with material that was really difficult. I led a monastic existence. I didn’t have a social life. I had to stop every form of how I earned money because I just needed the time to write. I couldn’t take a road gig and be gone for four days because that was valuable writing time. It was just an enormous opportunity and it had to be fantastic. And it is. I basically wrote in Starbucks and this cool vegan restaurant near my house. There was just a lot of writing and rewriting. The first draft of the book was twice as long. I have a really great editor. We worked meticulously. I’m just thrilled with what it yielded. The book is fantastic. I really just devoted myself to it and frankly, given more time I would have taken more time. I wouldn’t have needed it but it’s hard if you’re a perfectionist. At a certain point it’s diminishing returns. You’re not even making anything better; you just can’t leave it alone. It’s miraculous that at some point it’s done and it goes to print and it’s out there. And people are just loving it. I mean, deeply loving it.

GM: And is your dad? I read the funny quote he had on it.
MG: Yeah, he thinks it’s amazing. Interestingly, and uncommonly, my father is and has always been my biggest champion. He sees my talent completely, believes in my talent completely. He’s just proud of me. He thinks I’m a fantastic writer and all of that. I mean, he comes off great in the book. A friend of mine at one point actually referred to it as a tell-all, and I was like, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ It’s just not who I am. I confess so much about myself in this book but in terms of other people’s stuff, which everyone has, I’m not going to divulge that, about my ex-husband or my father. That’s not mine to do.

GM: It’s not a Daddy Dearest.
MG: No! You sell more books and then your father never speaks to you again. I’m not in touch with my ex-husband so it wouldn’t be a matter of him not speaking to me – we’re not in touch, not contentiously; we’re just not in touch – but I certainly wouldn’t want him to read it and feel like, ‘Oh my God, I wish she hadn’t said that or revealed that about me to the world.’ I mean, if I want to reveal stuff about myself, I can. And you draw your own conclusions. I mean, I don’t have to say that it was fucking horrible that he left after 16 years while I was still going through breast cancer treatment. I don’t have to say those words. You’re gonna read it and draw your own conclusion. The problem is if you vilify someone or you state the obvious… I don’t know. It felt base to me. I just didn’t want to do it. And things are complicated. I just told the truth in this book. I didn’t really make a lot of determinations or judgments, quote-unquote. I just really told the truth. My therapist gave me a very big compliment. She said, ‘the thing I like most about this book is it’s so frank.’ Like, it’s just no bullshit. But it’s also deeply funny and moving.

GM: Sounds like a winner.
MG: It’s a winner. It is! (laughs) I can’t wait to meet you.

GM: Likewise. What’s your dad doing now?
MG: He’s doing great. For the last chunk of years he’s been very devoted to working with things like the Innocence Project and is trying to and succeeding in getting people out of jail and in particular women of colour who shouldn’t be there or not as long as they are. He’s actually succeeded in getting a number of women out of prison, which is unbelievable. He does a lot of philanthropic work. He’s always writing, he’s always got a book. He had a book come out recently, I don’t even know the title of it. He’s very prolific so I don’t know the title of this one. But he’s also back in movies, which I think is fantastic because he’s so beloved by his fans. He’s actually coming out playing Al Pacino’s agent in the new Barry Levinson movie, so I’m sure that’ll be hilarious. He’s also playing Ben Stiller’s father-in-law in the new Ben Stiller film. He plays Naomi Watts’ father. And he’s also Michael J. Fox’s father on the Michael J. Fox show and will be seen on the Thanksgiving episode. So he’s definitely back. So that’s great. People love him and they miss him. He just did a Law & Order: SVU, which is very weird because he’s a comedic actor. But he’s a great dramatic actor. He’s playing a very serious role. But yeah, he’s on CBS radio multiple times a day and he also does an online article. He’s devoted one to my book, which is really really nice. He’s done a couple of things for the book.

GM: That’s great to hear. I didn’t know all that. I gotta get a copy of your book.
MG: You most definitely do. And you have to come to the show so I can sign it for you and thank you so much for your time.

GM: Definitely. Thank you very much.
MG: I wasn’t ending the phone call. I mean, if we’re ending it, it’s fine but I meant thank you for your time in the book.

GM: No, I think I got lots here. And we have to save some for the radio/podcast.
MG: Oh, believe me, there’s more where that came from. I never run out of stuff.

GM: Excellent.

MG: Okay, honey, thank you.