Montreal’s comedians are leaving

All the comedians keep moving away! One comedian moved to Toronto and back; here’s his story of leaving Montreal.

Comedian Mike Paterson. Photo by Martin Flamand.

It seems like whenever I see a comedy show advertised these days it’s a “farewell” show. Say goodbye to So-and-so! No more Whose-its-name! Adios This-person! Every year, a flock of young Montreal comics leave for the greener pastures of Toronto, a city that truly is the entertainment capital of Canada. This year’s exodus includes Massimo, Dan Bingham, Christophe Davidson, Ali Hassan and Steve Patterson, as well as a crop of up-and-comers: Matt Michaud, Mo Aurora, Kris Bonaparte, Patrick Hakeem and Steven Spinola.

As a comedian who has moved to Toronto and back, I feel like some of these quitters might benefit from hearing my story of leaving Montreal.

The plan
The year was 1997, and Hulk Hogan had just become a bad guy. He screwed over his best friend, the Macho Man Randy Savage and joined up with the NWO. The world would never be the same again.

I worked at a bowling alley in Laval and did a lot of open-mic comedy nights. I was plateau-ing at both jobs and it was time to strike out and make it big in the TDot! My co-worker Frank and I were going to become roommates and had driven down to the megopolis and fallen in love with a bar called Crocodile Rocks, where they played classic rock and the women ignored you. We were going to steal the popcorn machine from the bar in the bowling alley and put it in our new living room. What woman could resist us then?

I told the guys in my sketch troupe YIKES that I was quitting. They understood. They were veteran comedians and were probably happy to have me free up a couple spots a month on the opposite-of-lucrative open-mic circuit. We planned my farewell show: five minutes on a Monday at the Comedy Works for zero money.

Before the show, I announced to a couple of comics that I was going to throw a drink into a random audience member’s face during my performance. I would never see any of these people again! I was moving to the big time! I wanted to turn bad, like my idol, the Hulkster. My friends at the time encouraged this behaviour.

Back at the bowling alley, Frank and I were headed to popcorn heaven. We came in after-hours, blacked out the cameras, unhooked the gargantuan machine, rolled it into the parking lot and put it in Frank’s trunk. Then we high-fived each other and took it back out of the trunk and returned it to its rightful place next to the VLTs. Nobody seemed to notice our final dry run at Grand Theft Popcorn Machine.

My bad boy past
I threw a glass of water in a stranger’s face.

Even if a small part of me is glad to have a “Bad Boy” past, the professional that I am now is really ashamed that I did that. The audience went nuts!  Some people thought he was a plant, but he wasn’t. He was a real audience member that I totally disrespected. Luckily, the guy wasn’t too mad and I didn’t get punched in the face, which was some kind of victory.

I went on with my set, launching right into my “A” material. At the time, that meant jokes about Jughead from Archie comics and my idea for an interactive Flintstones video game, Yabba Dabba YOU! I finished by telling the crowd that this was my last show in Montreal. Ever. Boy was I wrong.

Two years after I moved to Toronto, in the summer of ’99, I got into the Just for Laughs Festival! I was given the opportunity to perform at the old Club Soda on Parc Avenue with two of my idols, David Acer and Sean Keane. I went on second to last in a pricey Tommy Hilfiger shirt that I ripped off after my last joke to reveal the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin shirt underneath. I got four applause breaks, three of which I had asked for. I told the closer Rick Miller to “try and follow that!” and, with his rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” featuring 25 famous imitations, he followed just fine.

The key
After that, I got a great agent who helped me nail shows on CBC and YTV. I got to do movies with George Clooney, Katie Holmes, Stephen Dorff, and if I continue this list, the stars will get exponentially less impressive, i.e. Tom Sizemore. All these movies were shot in Montreal. I have since been privileged to participate in 13 more JFL’s and one Juste pour Rire. Moving back was the greatest thing I ever did. And, like Hulk Hogan, I became a good guy again.

I think that every young comic should move to Toronto, or to New York, or anywhere. It’s just going to make you better. It will give you something to talk about other than what you saw on TV or what video game you played or what drug you took. Perspective is the greatest weapon in a comedian’s arsenal.

But the key is: come back to Montreal. We’re going to need you when you’re fully formed. Just don’t throw drinks in peoples’ faces before you leave, because you might not be gone forever.

I love this city! Sure, the audiences are smaller, but what an audience! Heck, I’m one of ’em, a proud anglophone comedy fan. We speak enough French to get to be a part of Quebec culture and to tell off the people who don’t want to let us be a part of that culture. We’re an audience that needs to laugh at this province’s politics as we pay high taxes to a government that seems to ignore problems in favour of dividing their constituents over tired language issues. We’re an audience of grasshoppers that go to festivals all summer long. We only think about the ants that moved to Toronto when the winter sets in, and then we take a moment to ask ourselves: “Should I move too?”

I never did steal that popcorn machine. It’s one of my biggest regrets. Today I make my popcorn in an air popper like a sucker. ■

Mike Paterson is headlining the Comedy Nest (2313 Ste-Catherine W., 3rd floor) on Aug. 29, 30 and 31 as part of the Summer of Mike

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