Canada laughs at James - one kilometre at a time

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BY JEREMY APPEL ON NOVEMBER 30, 2017

Canadian standup comic Ron James has a lot to say.

“You’ve gotta have an opinion. You’ve gotta have content. You’ve gotta have a point of view,” James told the News. “All the great comedians did.”

Still, he seeks to appeal to the widest audience possible.

“You have to strike a balance between your own artistic needs and the expectations of the audience,” James said.

“I like to stretch a pretty eclectic buffet in my standup act.”

James is performing at the Esplanade on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

The Toronto-based comedian and actor recently finished filming his ninth CBC special, but he said that taking his show on the road is his specialty.

“I wrote the first five specials myself, and then I had my series for five years, and now this is my fourth big major theatre special that I do each season, where I take a comedic but critical look at the world and Canada at the end of the year,” said James.

“These tours that I do across the country — I’m sneaking up on my 19th year — that’s really where I poured my foundation before the CBC even knew I existed.”

He’s been “in the game” for 38 years, beginning his comedic career at the Second City in Toronto, then went to Los Angeles for a few years before returning to Canada in 1993.

He kicked off his standup career in 1995 and has been touring since 1999.

“I wanted to have control over my own words, rather than (being) an actor,” James said of his decision to move towards standup. “I got tired of waiting for the phone to ring with news of an audition.”

When he returned from L.A., James put on a one-man show called “Up and Down in Shaky Town: One Man’s Journey Through a California Dream,” which he described as “a Canadian hitting the hard wall of reality chasing the American Dream.

“Ironically, an American Dream eluding me led to me discovering a Canadian one, which was to build a career in Canada touring the country … one kilometre at a time.”

His do-it-yourself approach is a reflection of his view that Canadian comedy is inadequately promoted both inside and outside the country.

James is particularly critical of Just for Laughs, the marquee Canadian comedy festival that he said doesn’t do nearly enough to promote Canadian comics.

“They have all this federal and provincial sponsorship, but they’re more interested in providing Canadians with American and British acts than they are introducing Canadians to an American market,” he said.

“I knew at the end of the day I could do much better on my own … I could be my own act.”