Friday, November 18, 2011

Death Doesn't Take A Holiday

The phone rings at 10:15pm. I'm watching something on TV. I forgot to put the short ring on the phone, so I have to get up and answer.
It's comedian Darren Frost. He has his sombre voice on.
"You've got bad news."
"Awww Who died? Wait -- let me guess."
I go through a list of  prime candidates for an untimely passing.
"All right, who then?"
"Stewart Silver."
Disbelief floods my body. Shock is a marvellous thing. It is like Teflon coursing through the bloodstream, coating nerve endings, buffering reality. It is always the same physiological reaction. I have experienced it before with the sudden death of my father.

"Stewart Silver?"

"Yeah -- I just had lunch with him on Friday. He was moving to New York. He just got his papers ..."

Stewart Silver was a Yuk Yuks stalwart, a solid emcee and host, a career stand up, a writer, an entrepreneur. The kind of guy you take for granted. Any time I was on a show and he was hosting I knew I was in good hands. He was reliable -- not flashy, not a star. He got the job done, went on the road, worked his craft. He wrote because most comics eventually want to do that to make more money.

He could take a joke, I used to insult him, no holds barred, go after him like everyone else. That's what comics sometimes do in the green room -- it's ritual. Blow off steam on the next guy. Kibitz.

Stewart Silver was Jewish. Me, I love the Jewish guys. Jewish guys are some of my best friends. The first guy I ever went out with in Toronto was a Jew. Is a Jew -- he is still one of my closest friends 26 years later. In my experience Jewish guys treat women well. They love shikas, probably because there's no pressure to marry us. Being around Jewish guys has always made me feel special, part of an in-crowd. I grew up in Cote St. Luc Quebec, where we were one of the only Christian families for miles. I had proximity to a different culture and faith, something exotic. It could be lonely for us goyim, but it gave me a good excuse to be insular and imaginative.

There will be a Shiva in Toronto next week for Stewart. It's still hard to believe this staple of the club is gone. I wasn't close to him, but I certainly had respect and affection for him.

I haven't actively worked for Yuk Yuks in 15 years, but I still consider myself a Yuks comic, even thought I do independent shows.  My years at Yuk Yuks have trained me  for just about anything -- combat, search and rescue, counter-terrorism operations. They call comics over 40 veterans for a reason. It's only now, years later, that I realize how unique stand up comedy is. I held down a day job for three and a half years recently. I could not get used to the glacial pace. The pay was great, the people pleasant, but the routine was deadening. I need the explosions, threat and danger of the imagination, of active creativity   I need the assurance that there are others like me out there -- risk takers. There are. Stewart was a great example.

There is plenty of time to be dead. I won't do it while I'm alive.

Thanks Stewart, for living the life you wanted.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Why Halloween Sucks

I figured it out.

I now know why I have an aversion to Halloween.

It all starts with Phil from finance.

Imagine a guy who works in the financial department down the hall from the unit where you work, which we’ll say is issues management.

Phil wears a suit every day. He nods to you when you pass him in the hallway. He presses the elevator button for you when you are both heading down to grab a coffee.

Phil smiles when you joke about the Leafs, “This could be the year … they flame out again.”

Phil sometimes does not look up at you when you pass him in the hallway because he is texting away on his BlackBerry.

Phil canvasses for the United Way. He has two small children.

Then on October 31, he changes.

He shows up to work wearing a cape.

Just a cape. Over his suit.

It’s the way he laughs though, that makes you pale from embarrassment.

It’s more of a giggle, an inane yuk.
He runs up and down the hallway trying to flutter his cape.

The women from operations laugh. You – you try not to stare incredulously.

You whisper to yourself take it outside buddy.

The display of sanctioned make believe is excruciating.

But this is what Phil has to offer. And you smile. To do anything else would be cruel.

Okay – here’s the real reason Halloween sucks:

I grew up in Cote St. Luc, Quebec, a predominately jewish neighbourhood.

Halloween was not high on my neighbourhood’s celebratory occasions list. There may have been a pumpkin on a stoop once every twelve houses.

It felt strange wandering the streets in a bed sheet and top hat under a moody and dark October sky, looking for treats where few were to be had. Where were the other kids?

It's almost 5pm Halloween night here in Toronto. I hope the little kids in my neighbourhood have a fun evening.
Me, I'll do what I do every Halloween -- dinner and a movie. But at least I won't feel alone.

Happy Halloween.