Arthur Simeon interview

Arthur Simeon told us about the first time he bombed at standup

“I thought, ‘This is it, I’m just going to go walk into traffic right now.’ And then I remember talking to a veteran comic — this had been my 8th or 10th show — and he was like, ‘This was the first time you bombed?’ And he started laughing and said, ‘Oh! There are so many more that are coming!'”

A regular on CBC Radio’s Laugh Out Loud and The Debaters as much as Just for Laughs, Uganda-born Toronto comic Arthur Simeon has been performing all over the world for over a decade. This year he’s performing a solo show at the festival at Place des Arts’s Claude Léveillée as well as appearing on the roster of the excellent Just for Culture club series.

Taylor Noakes: How did you get into comedy?

Arthur Simeon: I kind of stumbled into it. I used to host variety shows when I was in university. And a few people mentioned that, you know, that I should try and look into standup as something that I could do because they thought I was entertaining enough and I never really considered it until then. I went to a few comedy clubs and I kind of liked the idea of it. So I tried it and, yeah, here we are. It’s like I went to an open mic one night and then just never looked back.

TN: You were at Trent University in Peterborough before you got into comedy, right? What were you studying?

Arthur Simeon: Economics.

TN: No kidding. You’re the second person I’ve spoken to today who was studying economics or a related field in university and then decided to jump into standup comedy.

Arthur Simeon: Oh yeah, you know it’s the best kept secret that the funniest people all go into economics. Economists are clearly the funniest people on the planet. When people read economics books, there’s just humour in everything. I really hope it comes across that I’m being very sarcastic because economics is probably the driest university course a person can take.

TN: Who are your comedic influences?

Arthur Simeon: Honestly, because I never really considered it, I can’t even lie to you and say that I have any. When I first started, though, I watched pretty much every single famous comedian there was on the planet, consuming video after video after video. And when I watch my early work, I see other people’s influences, but I can’t really confidently say that they were my influences. I was just sort of like learning what it is to be on stage and do standup. So, I can’t even point one because I was watching everything from Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip to Ellen DeGeneres’s HBO special One-Night Stand to the Kings of Comedy and everything in between. And so I can’t really point to someone where I was like, “Oh, this is the one person that I want to be like.” I just watched it all and then tried to figure it out on my own after that.

Arthur Simeon plays an OFFJFL solo show on July 27

TN: Do you remember your first show?

Arthur Simeon: I remember my first open mic, seven-minute set, but technically the first time I ever did standup was in university at, like, some sort of gala event. And I did about five minutes. And I do remember it. I kind of remember the reaction of people because the room was filled with my friends who are, you know, in college. And I was terrified because, up until I got up on stage, I thought it was a good idea. And then I went out there and was like, “Oh, this is not good. I know all these people!” It’s easier to be funny when you’re sitting around at a house party or at a dinner party, but now I’m on stage in front of a mic. But it actually went a lot better than I expected.

TN: I like that — “I thought it was a great idea until I hit the stage.”

Arthur Simeon: Oh yeah, exactly. The beauty of the first open mic is that, because it was in front of strangers, I would never have to see them again. So if it went poorly, I would never have to deal with it. But the actual first show was done in front of people who… some of them are still in my life right now. So, the fact that they are still in my life is actually kind of a testament to how not bad it went out there.

TN: Do you remember the first time you bombed really bad?

Arthur Simeon: Oh yes. See, my problem was that the first few shows went really well. So I was like, “Oh, I’m a natural at this, it’s so easy.” I couldn’t believe I was hearing all these stories of people talking about bombing. And I’m like, “No, I’ve never done that because I’m a perfect comedian, I’m the perfect joke machine.” So I went to do this show, just outside of Toronto, and I was supposed to do 15 minutes. And I had about 7 minutes of material that I had been doing and it had been going really well. And I did about five minutes of that to silence. And I don’t mean like booing or talking. It was just silence. And I’m like, “What is happening right now?” And what I thought was 15 minutes was really just the 7 minutes of material that I had, and so I’m making up the rest as I go. And then I finish and it’s been complete silence the whole time.

I actually bailed around the 12-minute mark. And I thought, “This is it, I’m just going to go walk into traffic right now.” But I can’t do that because I had driven to the show with two other comedians who were part of the show. So I don’t know what to do. The show was taking place in the back of a restaurant, but the dining room was closed, so I go sit in the restaurant in a little corner, and I want to crawl up into the napkins and the folding chairs and never do this again. And there’s a guy who’s going to the bathroom, and he sees me in the farthest corner, right? Like it’s nowhere near the bathroom, nowhere near the showroom, and this guy walks all the way over to me, stands in front of me, and says “You’re not really any good at this are you?” It was a rhetorical question, he wasn’t actually waiting for a response. And I just start laughing because, to this day, it’s still the meanest thing anyone has ever said to me. But it was said so earnestly that I couldn’t even get mad at him. It was so rude, but it was also so funny because he didn’t have to walk all this way over to me. I realized how bad I was, he didn’t have to put the exclamation point on it.

TN: That’s incredible. How did you bounce back from that?

Arthur Simeon: Honestly, it was just a case of, “I want to redeem myself.” Like, if I let that be the final one, I’ll never be able to live with myself. So I’m like, “No, I’ll do a couple more.” And if I do well, then I can walk away knowing… kind of like baseball, that I’m batting at the very least 700, you know? Yeah. But up until that show, I was crushing it, so I wanted to get in one more to balance it out. And then I remember talking to a veteran comic — by this point this had been my 8th or 10th show — and he was like, “This was the first time you bombed?” And I said, “Yeah pretty much.” And he started laughing and said, “Oh! There are so many more that are coming!” And I said, “You mean I’m going to have that feeling again?” And he was like, “Yeah, it’s going to happen again.” And I remember asking myself, “Why would anyone do this?” And then, you know, cut to 15 years later, I’m like, “Yeah, it will happen again.” ■

OFFJFL presents Arthur Simeon at Place des Arts (175 Ste-Catherine W., Salle Claude-Léveillée) on Thursday, July 27, 10:30 p.m., $40.50. Just for the Culture continues at Club Soda (1225 St-Laurent) on Wednesday, July 26, 7 p.m., $58.50

For more Montreal comedy coverage, please visit the Comedy section.