E-Spot #15/ Rick Bronson's The Comic Strip

A seemingly endless trail of local stand-ups braved the stage at the world-class Comic Strip for 'amateur' night


(WARNING: This post contains language and subject matter that some of you may find offensive, or just plain nasty, so please proceed with caution!)

INTIMATE lighting allowed a feeble sense of security when my friend Karen and I were seated at one of the benched tables of Rick Bronson's The Comic Strip, a "high-end" comedy club in the "Bourbon Street" region of West Edmonton Mall. Afterall, who wants to be picked on or solicited by some crude comics out to highlight your flaws for the sake of a laugh?

Not me, which is why I also appreciated the safeguards of our back row seating arrangement. Now all I needed was some liquid courage, just in case I had to chit-chat with intrusive comedians about my "date" or what I do for a living, as they burrow through my stats until they found just the right joke at my expense. I ordered a dark rum and Coke, and washed it down with two or three more.

Our mutual friend Kelly Soloduka was emceeing "Hit or Miss Monday's" that night (June 14), and with a pair of free ($7, otherwise) tickets to boot, how could Karen and I turn down the chance to watch what are essentially "amateur" comics brave the spotlight to make us laugh, or at least try to?

But when it came to the roundup of talent the word "amateur" is up for interpretation. Some of the credited newbies have been doing this for many years, and have held their own for festival-sized audiences. Some have their own websites or make a part-time living at this. Others are relatively new to performing for paying crowds at top-notch venues such as this one. In other words, the term "amateur" was undoubtedly stretched for the night to accommodate the status' of this dirty dozen so-called comedic dilettantes.

But before we get to the night's entertainment, let me give you a hasty history lesson about the venue itself and who the hell this Rick Bronson guy is.

Bronson is a stand-up comedian himself, one who got his start as a magician in Montreal when he was just 12 years old. He managed to escalate his hobby into an actual thriving kids-show business in the city, until he was 16, when Bronson transferred his early showmanship into stand-up.

But he continued pilfering some of his old tricks for this new pursuit, slowly phasing it out of his act altogether, and instead banking on his sharp wit, infectious charm, and improvisational skills to win over an audience.

The rising comic began booking clubs all over North America, and even abroad, making a name for himself in this already crowded craft. In 1994 he made the move to Edmonton, where he became a father and married model Tammy MacPherson.

He's since won the C.O.C.A. (Canadian Organization of Campus Activities) Comedian of the Year honour seven times, hosted seminars for Bill Clinton, Dr. Phil, and others, created & hosted his own TV show on the Travel Channel (The Tourist), and starred in the highest-rated Comedy Now special to date.

In 2005 Bronson took advantage of the chance to give the same opportunities to other stand-ups, when he opened up the Comic Strip in the country's largest shopping centre. (He's also opened Rick Bronson's House of Comedy club in the Mall of America, in Minnesota). The venue took over from the old Yuk Yuk's, which moved over to the Century Casino in north Edmonton, and has since welcomed headliners like Brad Garrett, Damon Wayans, Kevin Nealon, Rob Schneider, Kevin Pollack, Gilbert Gottfried, Bobby Lee, Charlie Murphy, Jon Lovitz, Caroline Rhea, and D.L. Hughley.

But no movie or TV stars were present that Monday night. DIY porn stars, maybe, but when it came to comedic stardom, these were the unknowns, aspiring to one day cross that proverbial border into Hollywood immortality, perhaps. Good luck with that!

Karen and I ordered something from the 2-page menu, and soon learned that these joints aren't exactly known for their delectable fare. I was too hungry to mind that the buns of my tiny cheeseburger sliders ($15.99) were cold, and Karen quickly accepted that she had just wasted $12.99 on a plateful of "Comedy Calamari." I'm guessing the "comedy" part refers to the short order cook in the back laughing at the suckers who pay for these entrees. It went back a plateful as well.

But that's okay, because we came to laugh, not critique overpriced bar food. But we did both, really.

Soloduka started up the show shortly after 8PM, setting the stage, badgering a few innocent bystanders in between the clown-car of comics. He knows his shit when it comes to rallying laughs, or even a few tears in my case, from his audiences of devoted groupies. I threw that last part in there, about the "groupies," just because I know the guy, and I still have to see him from time to time. Besides, maybe he does have groupies, who knows?!

The night's first joke-teller was Matt Alaeddine, who had recently traded spots with Soloduka when Matt emceed his headliner gig at The Hydeaway earlier this month. Amateur, my ass!

Alaeddine must've still been on his vulgarity high from his hosting duties at the "Fuck You Comedy Show" earlier this month, charming the small crowd with tales of obesity and rape, two topics that surprisingly returned at the end of the night with headliner Kathleen "Kool-Aid" McGee (pictured bottom right). But we'll get to that later.

Then there was Paul Pringle, a self-confessed former gambling addict who's found humour in his "shame," but it almost seemed too tame for the subject matter. Pringle, who once performed at a dinner for the Canadian Mental Health Association (!), wasn't exactly on the ball tonight, but he certainly didn't crash 'n' burn either. If I was to rate his set that night I would've gave him three and a half semi-funny gambling addicts out of ten. Was that too far?

From there we were introduced to Shawn Gramiak (pictured above left), who looked like he could possibly be part of a Motorhead cover band, and who was funnier than what I had come to expect thus far. The former NAIT student and apparent "amiable dinner companion" seemed cosy onstage, and like so many stand-ups tend to do, strives in self-deprecation. But can you blame them, with assholes like me picking at their every move?!

The fourth comedian to handle the mic, J.J. Cardinal, knew that he may very well be encouraging sympathy laughs from us, subconsciously maybe. But most, I'm sure, were genuine. You see, Cardinal is limited to his wheelchair, but the Slave Lake native proves limitless when it comes to his routine, taking shots at his undeniable handicap like it was second nature to him.

Sure, he stumbled at times--not literally of course (hey! I'm just paying homage to the guy!)--but Cardinal made light of his disability, and transferred his loss into something we can all laugh at...and NOT just because anyone felt sorry for him. That was the last thing he provoked.

Looking like he just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Finch photo shoot, Chris "The Crippler" Ade (not exactly the most appropriate nickname to follow Mr. Cardinal!) dared the stage next. But the 28-year-old (pictured right) from Vernon, B.C. didn't get that moniker from his comedy gigs; no, he earned it through his battles as a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter who took the record for fastest knockout in Elite Fighting Championship history, at 11 seconds! (See the video here).

Unfortunately, his routine at the Comic Strip was not a knockout for the Edmonton-trained fighter. He wasn't bad, let me just say, but it appeared as though Ade was still pretty new to this. Just give him some time, and there's no doubt he could have a whole new career on his hands...and yes, I'm saying this partially because he can kick my ass in a matter of seconds. 11, apparently.

Cancer survivor Ken Hicks and news reporter Nathan Semenyna trailed Ade, and blame it on my incoming third or fourth rum & Coke or on the prior smoke fest finally kicking in, but for the life of me I cannot recall what their respective skits entailed, or how funny they were for that matter.

For that I apologize, so let me make myself feel better by mentioning Semenyna's hilarious local podcast Nathan's Podcast (can't imagine how you came up with that ingenious name, Nathan), which you should check out by clicking right HERE! And Hicks, he kicked cancer in the balls! What more can I say? There, that makes me feel better, so shall we move on?

Let's hope Danny Martinello puts his hip-hop aspirations to rest for the time being, and focuses his full attention on his stand-up. Martinello demanded our attention on arrival, but deservedly so. He excitedly tore through his lively set, one of the most memorable of the night, channelling a coherent Dane Cook at times. And although that might seem like a bad thing, let's remember that Cook wasn't all that annoying before we just had enough.

It didn't really matter how funny Kent Tilley's jokes were, because his ridiculously simple delivery could cloak almost any bad ones. Tilley's deep monotone veil induced the crowd's appreciation on its own, and though one might think his steady tenor would grow tiresome, they'd be wrong.

Pregnant and pissed off stood Celeste Lampa (pictured left), who gave what I thought was the night's crème de la crème of routines, engaging her instant fans with engrossing accounts of everything from carrying another human life inside of her to her boyfriend hosing down his own fecal matter with his urine hose! Wow, we've officially crossed the line, and came up with a new term for 'penis' at the same time!

Sometimes the ladies prove more heinous than their male counterparts. Often, actually. Lampa certainly didn't disappoint this observation, but rather confirmed it.

And then there were three.

When he's not doing minute-long rants that can easily double as informal history lessons as part of his bit, Drew Behm is a kindergarten teacher, but you'd never guess from his time onstage. His impressive attention span should've been a clue, but his loud and overbearing demeanor shrouded such inklings.

And just in case a heckler was on board, I could tell Behm would have that under control, after watching him bite into an unprovoking guest who apparently reminded him of Justin Beiber. And that's someone who was actually getting a kick out of Behm's set, which was surely more a "hit" than a "miss." I can't say the same for his fashion sense, though. (Soloduka taught me that night always to find the bad in someone, and then expose it to the rest of the group).

The last of the "rookies" to have his 7-minute(ish) say was Welby Santos, who's "Filipino, so you can all stop guessing." The hometown "ultra nerd" has travelled the country doing this, stopping off in the Maritimes to do the Halifax Comedy Festival, at one point.

Not bad, just like his time slot, but not so memorable that I can repeat it here for you. Man, I'm such a dick!

But there was still one final act to take to the stage that night, in our headliner Kathleen McGee, "the girl your parents warned you about."

McGee, who was named our proud town's "Funniest Person with a Day Job" in '08 (I know, a girl!) is going places. In fact, she's already gone and moved east to Toronto, where she was chosen as "Russell Peters' BFF" via some SIRIUS Satellite Radio contest. "I wanted to make sure that I found someone who made me laugh, and Kathleen made me laugh," Peters said.

But enough with the accolades, because it all comes down to the live shows themselves. McGee has that natural ability to make us lol, you could just tell as soon as she spoke into the mic. She validated my instincts with a barrage of vagina jokes, bits about her bloating dress size, and some other facets of womanhood I don't care to divulge right now.

Unfortunately, McGee wrapped the whole thing up with an awkward and confusing bit that was hard to distinguish from real or acting. Let's just say it involved her young gay(?) buddy, some shadowy voice in the distance, and a large bowl of Caesar salad. Sounds appetizing, right? Wrong!

Aside from that, McGee was all "hit," unfazed by a modest turnout (but what can you expect for an "amateur night" on a sunny Monday evening?) that seemed generally satisfied with the onslaught of accustomed amateurs. Even the exceptions weren't total misses.

Bronson's gone and done a good thing here, with the Comic Strip. Sure, there's big names that stop in from time to time, but that same stage is also allocated for the unknowns, the locals, the local unknowns that conjure up the chutzpah to get up there and try to make a roomful of paying strangers laugh, or smile at the very least. I know I couldn't do it. My place is at the computer, critiquing their chutzpah!

The Comic Strip hosts "Hit or Miss Monday's" every, wait for it, Monday at 8PM ($7). Some of their upcoming feature comics include Don Friesen (June 25-27), Roman Danylo (June 30-July 4), David Huntsberger (July 7-11), Jessi Campbell (July 14-18), Kelly Taylor (July 21-25), and Tom Simmons (July 28-August 1). For more information on these shows check out their website or call 780-483-5999.



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