Writing jokes is fine art. You think it's easy to craft an hour and a half of material, never mind making it funny? It ain't. Lord knows it ain't. It often takes years for comics to develop their material.
Ivan Decker knows all about it.
"There's this assumption when you're first starting out or first start watching comedy," he says, "that everything a comedian says, if he has a joke on a big topic, that he did everything like that at once. It's not necessarily true. You have more and more little ideas and eventually they all sort of fit together and you get a big story," he says.
His act is always a work in progress, being tweaked and refined each time he performs on stage. Not that he has any problem getting the laughs — he's a comic's comic, channelling Louis C.K. while remaining as PG-13 as a Seinfeld routine. At 26 years old, he's done remarkably well for a Vancouver-based comedian: between guest spots on the CBC's The Debaters, he was voted Vancouver's number one comedian at the 2011 Vancouver Comedy Showdown this past summer.
In 2010, CTV aired Decker's half-hour comedy special, which had actually been filmed in 2008. It was a fortunate circumstance for Decker in some ways, since any new fans would have been turned on by older material that had been long since replaced. Catching him at a comedy club in the weeks that followed would mean seeing all new material.
"But even now I have people who are repeat guests who come to see me at the local clubs, so I have to try to switch it up as much as I can," he says. "I try to change my material, but then the problem is there's other elements too, where people get upset if they don't hear their favourite joke."
When Decker was at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal in 2007, he saw Louis C.K. perform for an hour, followed by an encore for which he took requests from the audience for their favourite jokes.
"Which is so weird. He'll start a joke and people will applaud like they just heard the opening chords of 'Hotel California' of the Eagles," Decker says.
"But I guess if a joke is good people want to hear it over and over again."
Of course, the bigger issue here is that he even performed at Just For Laughs, one of the most renowned comedy festivals in the world. This was in 2007, only two years after he had started doing stand-up, when he won a Just For Laughs Homegrown contest against virtually every other Vancouver comedian. He was then invited to compete in Montreal against the winners from every other city. He was only 21 years old.
"I was so young," he says. "It's an opportunity to meet agents and managers. I would perform and do well, then talk to managers after the show and they'd go, 'How old are you?' '21.' 'We'll see you in 10 years.'"
Decker was 13 years old, watching a Seinfeld stand up routine, when he decided on comedy as a reasonable career path.
He says, "I was just amazed that somebody could do that from the television, make a whole room full of people laugh. We were laughing super, super hard."
He started cobbling his first act together, preparing for when he was finally of legal age to perform in nightclubs — not realizing that he could have been doing comedy prior to then as long as a parent was present (see: Seth Rogan). He called Yuk Yuk's on his 19th birthday and they invited him to perform the following night. He says he did "okay," so the manager invited him back the following week. A party of surly, drunken nightclub bouncers booed Decker off after one joke.
"And I left thinking, 'That probably happens all the time,' and to this day I've never seen anyone else ever get booed off stage at that club, with the exception of me," he says.
You see? Those jokes don't always come easy.