Tag Archives: Louis CK

Canadian comedian Graham Clark – the man who takes on the Olympic Games

Graham Clark is not worried by the toughest gig in London

When I chatted to Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner recently, he mentioned that Canadian comic Graham Clark was coming over to the UK to play one show only for one night only at the Comedy Cafe and it is this Friday.

I had tea with Graham yesterday afternoon, admirably and surprisingly not just awake but lively after flying over from Vancouver.

“You have the worst possible date for a gig,” I told him. “Clashing with the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games on TV.”

“Yeah,” he laughed. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I had a gig the night the Vancouver Winter Olympics started in 2010.”

“So you’ve already experienced what London’s next few weeks are going to be like?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I know what a nightmare it becomes. The rich people are really excited about it, because they’re the ones who’re gonna see lots of things and then everybody else gets screwed because the traffic’s messed up. They sell it as the brotherhood of man and a great coming-together of the world, but it’s really just a good time for rich people and everybody else has to put up with it. Getting everywhere in Vancouver was a nightmare and all the comedy clubs were kaput.”

“There’s no comedy ‘circuit’ in Canada, is there?” I asked.

“Not like there is here in Britain,” Graham explained. “Because it’s such a gigantic country. There’s mini-circuits within the Provinces, but it’s not like here or the US because you would spend so much money going from city to city on a plane – or driving – that you’d never make any real money. There’s a small fringe festival circuit, but not like here.”

“Have you thought about playing the Edinburgh Fringe over here?” I asked.

“Sometimes,” Graham said, “But you just hear stories that it costs a fortune.”

“A couple of hours ago,” I said, “someone told me one of the major agencies this year was unusually honest to a new act they manage. They told her that, if she sells out every seat at every performance of her show at the Fringe this year, she will end up only owing them £9,000.”

Graham laughed.

“So what’s it like being a comedian in Canada?” I asked. “You’re a second rate American.”

“It’s tough,” Graham said. “Really tough.”

“And do the audiences react to material the same in the States and Canada?” I asked.

“In the States, the crowds are more lively,” Graham said. “They go nuts. They clap and shout and hoot and holler. And, as a comedian, that’s great. Even the best Canadian audiences are very sedate. The worst American audiences are still more lively than the best Canadian audiences.”

“American comics,” I said, “sometimes complain that British audiences sit there thinking That’s very funny but don’t laugh.”

“It’s the same in Canada,” said Graham.

“Did you start your weekly podcast to break into a wider market?” I asked. “You saw it as a pilot for a radio show?”

“No,” said Graham. “There isn’t really a place for that in Canada. We pitched it loosely to CBC; but maybe it’s too much in its infancy.”

“And you continue the podcast because…?”

“Because, in Canada, everyone does everything,” Graham explained. “There are people in Britain who just do stand-up. It blows my mind that you could just be one thing. In Canada, you have to be doing stand-up, writing on a TV show or, if something comes up, you act in something or you produce your own shows or do podcasts – and that’s just to make the rent. That’s not piling up riches.

“In Canada, there’s not even that much money in TV. In the last couple of years, I’ve worked on a couple of sitcoms and a panel show and a daily news humour show: but none of them paid very well. There’s only one Canadian comic I know who can fill auditoriums – Russell Peters.”

“So you are exploring all avenues,” I said.

“Yeah,” Graham agreed. “I put a DVD directly online, because that’s the new…

“What Louis C.K. does,” I said.

“Yeah. But it works surprisingly well, even in a smaller microcosm like Canada; it’s easier for people to access.”

“So do you reckon comics have to leave Canada to make it big at all?”

“Yeah. And the whole time you’re working in Canada, that’s hanging over your head. Everybody moves to the States or to Britain.”

“So you, too, have to move?” I suggested.

“Yeah. It’s possible.”

“You thinking about it?”

“Every time I pay the rent,” Graham laughed.

“To the States or Britain?” I asked.

“It costs a lot more to move to the States,” he said, “and I have an Irish passport – my family’s from Antrim – so that makes it very easy to work over here.”

“Would you describe your act as more gag-based or story-based?” I asked.

“More story-based, I guess,” Graham replied, then paused. “I’ve written gags for other people but, for myself, doing lots of one-liners never works: it always comes out sounding too ‘finished’. I don’t have that Jimmy Carr type of delivery where you do accept from him that he is performing written one-liners. People want my delivery to be like it just fell out of my head. If it seems too polished, people don’t accept it from me, which is weird.

“When Jimmy Carr goes on stage, you kinda know he is the character ‘Jimmy Carr’. It’s the same thing in America with Rodney Dangerfield or Steven Wright.

“You identify them as a specific character, so they can talk in one-liners; it doesn’t bother you. But some people – like Louis C.K. – talk naturally in paragraphs or in stories. I don’t know if I would accept Louis C.K delivering one-liners, even though that’s what he used to do: shorter jokes.”

“So,” I said, “in your own audience’s view, you just come onstage and chat to them.”

“Yeah,” Graham mused, “I’ve tried a bunch of ways but that’s the way that flows the best for me: to have an idea and push it out on stage.”

“People have to believe it’s…” I started.

“…organic,” Graham said. “Yeah. With me, if it’s too ‘written’, it’s gonna sound that way. I’ve tried different styles of jokes – linked and stories and short and one-liners and dirty and clean – and the one thing that seems to work the best with me is when it just seems to be running off the top of my head.”

“Traditional comics with strings of short gags,” I suggested, “seem to be a dying breed. It’s mostly stories at the Edinburgh Fringe now.”

“Though, oddly, I feel my jokes are getting shorter,” Graham told me. “When I started out, they tended to be longer and have more detail, but now maybe I’m better at editing and want to get to the point faster. The British comics we see who come over to Canada have big, long stories.”

“Does that go down well?”

“It does,” said Graham, “but you could never develop that in Canada because, in the clubs, you need to turn over the laughs faster because nobody’s paying attention.

“In Britain, a whole 5-minute routine can be one story. You’d really have to be very confident to do that in Canada, because people don’t have the attention. They want jokes every 30 seconds. If you’re not delivering that on a Friday night, then they’re gonna drift. We have to be more gag-based than the British.”

As Graham and I parted – he was off to do a radio interview to publicise his show – he said to me: “That was a good interview you did with Noel Faulkner.”

“Well,” I said. “Noel’s like me: he’s got to that age where he doesn’t care – He’ll just say what he thinks.”

“I wish I could get to that stage,” Graham said. “I still worry.”

Twenty minutes later, I got a text message from Neale at the Comedy Cafe, telling me that Graham’s show on Friday – up against the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games on TV – had sold out.

Maybe Graham Clark does not need to worry.

4 Comments

Filed under Canada, Comedy, Humor, Humour, London, Olympics, Performance, UK

It’s the $1 million day Comedy experienced its Radiohead moment

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Yesterday was a special day. Not because it was Christmas Eve, but because I had a cup of tea with jockey-turned-rock manager-turned-comedian Bob Slayer.

Any day when Bob Slayer has a cup of tea instead of 15 pints of beer is a special day.

The American comedian Louis CK had reportedly just made over a million dollars from his concert video. He did not release as a DVD through the normal channels. Instead, he released it by himself as a download. The result?

Over $1 million of income from $5 downloads in 12 days.

He bypassed the big DVD distributors, wholesalers and retailers and sold direct to his audience via the internet.

It cost him $250,000 to record the show, set up the website and pay banking fees to handle the transactions. But he grossed over $1 million in 12 days.

“It’s the day Comedy experienced its Radiohead Moment,” Bob Slayer said to me.

“Are you sure you haven’t had a few pints?” I asked.

“It’s a great headline, though, isn’t it?” he laughed.

Bob knows the independent music scene. From 2003 to 2009, he was full-time manager of Japanese rock band Electric Eel Shock, whom he constantly calls “EES” – I think because it is difficult to pronounce “Electric Eel Shock” after downing 15 pints of beer.

When they had been in previous bands, the members of Electric Eel Shock had released tracks and albums on major labels in Japan and not enjoyed the experience. Hardened by this, they became fiercely independent and – who knows why? – they let Bob Slayer manage them. Strangely, they got on well with the anarchic yet experienced Bob and his sometimes unconventional, often lateral-thinking ideas.

“In a way,” says Bob. “I was lucky. They were – and still are – an amazing live band. So good that, over several years, I toured them in over 30 countries around the world and they are still conquering new countries all the time.”

One of Bob’s bright entrepreneurial ideas was to sell one hundred fans “EES guest list for life” passes at £100 each. This created £10,000 in cash and helped the band get out of a label deal with a man called Eric. They then went for another of Bob’s bright ideas – to finance their recordings by asking fans to buy the albums in advance – before they had recorded them.

“They raised over $50,000 to record their last album,” Bob tells me. “We used to rub shoulders with other bands following similar DIY routes but we all knew that we were on the fringes of the music industry. We were looked down on a little.

“But then, in 2006, DIY went almost mainstream. Lilly Allen and the Arctic Monkeys were marketed as coming from an independent/MySpace scene… although the irony was that major labels spent millions of pounds telling us just how independent these act were.

“That was like a phony start, but it showed the promise…

“Then, in 2007, it all changed for real. Radiohead got out of their contract with EMI and released In Rainbows as a digital download. They asked their fans to pay whatever they liked for it – it is like the Free Fringe and Free Festival shows in Edinburgh, where punters pay what they like on the way out.

“The band were selling direct to their audience and cutting out the middle men. Not only did they get the cash, just as Louis CK has done, but they overnight created a huge database of fan contacts.

“Radiohead proved that ‘Independent’ could be done on a grand scale and, since then, huge parts of the music industry have turned themselves inside-out. Artists are much more central to the whole process and music is all the more healthy for it.

“My pal, who ‘found’ The Darkness and got them picked up by Warners after selling-out the Astoria as an unsigned band, did something similar but vitally different with a band called Enter Shikari a couple of years later… They sold out the Astoria (just before it was pulled down), they milked the press coverage by turning down the major labels’ offers and then they released the album themselves.

“OK, so they only sold half a million records compared to the Darkness’ five million, but they made up to £5 per CD as opposed to less than £1 and importantly – although you haven’t heard of them – they still have a huge hardcore audience several albums later.

“The comedy business has always trailed behind the music business a bit. Alternative comedy arrived maybe five years after punk had imploded.

“Here we are in 2011. Bo Burnham in 2010 could be seen as the Arctic Monkeys of comedy. And Louis CK could be seen as the equivalent of Radiohead.”

I have been thinking of releasing a couple of books as downloads – one of them comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

It would avoid the publishers, wholesalers and retailers and the royalties would be around 80% instead of 7.5%.

So Bob’s enthusiasm for a new method of selling music and comedy recordings to the public interests me.

“So what happens next?” I asked him.

“Well, with any luck,” he told me, “we have an independent comedy revolution and it gets a lot more interesting again… I think I fancy a beer…”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Internet, Marketing, Music