At a glance, the stand-up comedian appears to be a living, breathing paradox. The solitary and often thankless practice of the comedic profession is, taken from one angle, that of a lone individual, the writer of clever witticisms or cheap gags, a philosopher of sorts. In short, the image reveals an introvert spending countless cruel hours honing the craft of capturing a bit of humour. Compare that to the aspect of the stand-up comedian as a performer, an entertainer who transforms the material into a coherent act. Alone on stage, the comedian is a vulnerable agent working an audience for the immediate albeit elusive feedback of laughter. To call the profession vicious and competitive would be a gross understatement. Yet for many, the thrill alone trumps the threat of intimidation or failure.
For Graham Kay, the Toronto-based stand-up comic, whose humble origins can be traced back to the stages of Ottawa, the greatest thrill came in the form of support from the mouth of his idol, the enigmatic comedian Dave Chappelle, with whom Kay was sharing the bill. In reference to Kay’s set, Chappelle told the audience: “I hung out with Chris Rock at Eddie Murphy’s house and it takes me a lot to laugh that hard.” No comedian could ask for a stronger reference.
Kay has been making people laugh since childhood. His earliest audience consisted of his classmates. “I was always drawn to the idea of being funny,” he says. “I took pride in being the class clown and coming up with more original jokes than the contender in my class.” Laughter is catching. However, for Kay, it was an old cassette of a particular performer that made him realize that being funny could be a profession: “One day my dad rented a Bill Cosby VHS of him doing stand-up. I was blown away. From then on I knew that, given my druthers, I would like to do stand-up.”
A comic, like anyone else, needs a break. “Howard Wagman at Yuk Yuk’s is a very nurturing dude,” says Kay of the Ottawa comedy club owner. “He is the first guy to ever put me on stage. He is also the first guy to let me do half an hour only two years into comedy.” Kay credits Wagman as the key figure in his professional development. “I owe Ottawa Yuk Yuk’s and its system of bringing people up.”
Kay spent his formative years working various Ottawa comedy clubs, ultimately turning his passion into a profession. However, the tedious hours offstage are, as Kay puts it, like office work. “Being a professional stand-up is like being a part-time comedian and a full-time small business owner. The comedy part is easy.”
What characterizes the self-described “edgy but not offensive” comedian is his commitment to presenting original and seemingly spontaneous material in his sardonic style. His particular sense of humor – which tackles a broad range of topics from mid-life crises to deodorant to questionable love advice – has garnered a lot of attention from audiences and comics alike. Kay has performed on stages across Canada, the United States and Scotland. He recorded an hour-long performance entitled Comedy by the Graham which is available on iTunes. The album is aptly described as “a stand-up comedy album for people who would like to listen to a stand-up comedy album.”
Recently, Kay won the Just for Laughs 2013 Homegrown Comic Competition in Montreal, an award he credits for his recent boon. “Winning the Just For Laugh’s Homegrown was a great experience and helped me get represented by Gersh L.A., one of the top five agents in the world,” he says. “The same as my idol Dave Chappelle. The fact that we have the same agent blows my freaking mind.” Kay will be moving to Los Angeles in early 2014.
As for his thoughts on the future, Kay remains humble: “I hope to always be a draw without sacrificing the respect of my peers.”
Be sure to catch our local hero before he departs for the City of Angels. Kay is nominated for Best Breakout Artist at the 14th Annual Canadian Comedy Awards Festival to be held in Ottawa from October 3rd to the 6th. He will perform at the Elgin Street Yuk Yuk’s on October 3rd and at Centrepointe Theatre on October 5th alongside Ottawa comic luminaries Tom Green, Jon Dore, Mike MacDonald, Rebecca Kohler and Jeremy Hotz. Part of the proceeds will go towards “Mike MacDonald’s Comeback Fund.” Festival information can be found at http://www.canadiancomedy.ca/
For more information on Graham Kay, visit http://comedybythegraham.com/