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Still standing

Veteran Canadian comic Mike MacDonald reflects on 25 years in the biz

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Who: Mike MacDonald

Where: Buffalo Bill’s

When: Tuesday, Oct. 19

Tickets: $10

Surprise, surprise. One of Canada’s most recognizable standup comics lives in California.

"Socialized medicine is great, but socialized entertainment isn’t," Mike MacDonald quips dryly over the phone.

The 49-year-old mainstay of such Canadian comedy institutions as Just for Laughs has been down there for the last 16 years or so, although he remains fiercely loyal to his home and native land.

He’d rather fly to the other side of Canada to perform than walk across the street in California he says, a testament to the consistency of Canadian audiences, who are generally concerned more with the quality of the performer than the nature of their act.

"With American audiences it’s: ‘prove to me you’re funny,’" he grumbles. "It’s like a competition. There’s a lot of this cheerleading stuff. A lot of audiences want you to be just like them and if you’re not they don’t care about you. They don’t want to hear from you. You have five minutes to show them you’re just like them or get off the stage."

If he sounds like a gruff old veteran of standup, it’s because he is. He’s been in the biz for just over 25 years and will be the first to admit he’s no longer one of the twentysomething rock ’em sock ’em comedy set, which used to freak out the establishment, but now is mainstream fare.

Well established before society’s fixation with youthful entertainers really took hold, MacDonald has a wealth of experience to draw from and impart to those just starting out.

He’s been around long enough to know what works. This goes beyond his material to include his apparel: black jeans, black Levi’s shirt, black shoes. He’s not out to impress anyone.

"I don’t wear black to be cool," MacDonald states with a hint of the sarcasm his profession affords him. "Just straight black because it’s easy. Plus the people can concentrate on looking at my face because that’s where the laughs are, at my face. Who wants to be looking at my pants or my shoes?"

The fictional gals from Sex in the City perhaps? Obviously not the most influential part of his fan base.

Like any old-timer worth their salt he’s also got stories about what it was like "back then," in his case the non-existent comedy circuit in Ottawa circa 1978. Sure he was an anomaly at the folk and heavy metal clubs that gave him stage time, but the flipside was that his art had not yet become the commodity it is today.

He recalls being able to hit four clubs, one after the other, and log 20-minute sets in each venue, racking up an impressive 80 minutes plus in one night. That would be unheard of in today’s scene where he says common practice is to have 20 or so hopefuls in line for 10 chances at five minutes in the spotlight.

"I had a lot of stage time under my belt in the first couple of years," he reflects. "A hundred times more than anyone else starting now. It’s a lot harder now."

Over the years he’s also collected a bag full of anecdotes about the icons – like the time he and Sam Kinison once walked in and interrupted the late Rodney Dangerfield in his bathrobe bent over a table full of illicit substances.

It’s only been a day since Dangerfield has passed away at the age of 82 and MacDonald pauses to reflect. He says he’s often compared to the late comic, and he’s saddened by the loss of a master of the craft.

Style-wise, he can’t see it. MacDonald points out that he’s very animated, borrowing heavily from pantomime, whereas Dangerfield was a classic joke-teller.

But in other ways, he’s encouraged by the comparison.

"That’s the kind of guy I think I’d like to be," MacDonald says, "still doin’ it when I’m that old, but still cool."

En route to the Vancouver International Comedy Festival, Mike MacDonald is detouring up to Whistler to perform at Buffalo Bill’s standup night this Tuesday, Oct. 19. The special event will have a $10 cover.

For more information call the club at 604-932-6613.

MY Place to host Best in Canadian Standup Comedy tour

The laughs keep coming.

Next Sunday, Oct. 24, MY Place hosts the Best in Canadian Standup Comedy tour featuring a trio of headlining acts: Jeff Rothpan, Tim Rykert and Jamie Hutchinson.

The comics take the stage for two shows at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $23, available through TicketMaster.

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