thursday, february 19, 2015
Even Ron James isn’t sure how his mind processes his standup act when he’s on stage.
“It’s a mystery to me how it works but it works,” the Canadian comedian says. “Your brain, when you’re on the stage, is cutting and pasting on the fly. It’s moving things around, cells are sliding into the chamber left and right. You’re constantly gauging the shifting terrain, at least in my act. You’re making these nanosecond decisions ‘OK, I’m going to go over here at this point and that’s going to work.’”
James returns to the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on March 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $42.86.
The Glace Bay, N.S., product, who has lived in Toronto for most of the last 35 years, says he feels a heightened sense of awareness during his shows.
“It is an intoxicant. It’s the life force in full throttle.”
His work ethic suggests that he keeps his foot on the gas pedal a lot.
He wrote and starred in Blackfly from 2001-02, creating 26 episodes in two seasons. The Ron James Show had a five-year, 57-episode run between 2009-14.
He also wrote seven 90-minute standup specials.
His upcoming 12-show, three-week-long Pedal To The Metal tour brings him through Western Canada next month. He plays a major concert at Massey Hall in Toronto on April 23.
He is currently writing a book and also does charity work for the Global Poverty Project.
James says he comes by his work ethic honestly.
“I’m a working man. I work. Writing is work,” he says. “My father got out there every morning and worked for the telephone company. My uncles worked at the dockyards. My other uncles were in the merchant marines, some were fishermen, some were coal miners. They worked. You have to get behind the mule and plow.”
James says he is fortunate that he put the time in when the comedy industry was wide open in Canada, performing in what he calls a “trapline” of soft-seat theatres from coast to coast.
When the recession hit in the U.S., American comedians rediscovered Canada, regularly playing the major cities.
“The job of a comedian is to get on stage and work and make people laugh so it doesn’t matter where you’re doing it, as long as you’re doing it,” James says. “Luckily I was able to pour a solid foundation before the marketplace got as busy as it is today.”
Even if James was able to maintain his tours as the U.S. acts played here, he’s resigned to the fact that they remain the industry standard.
“The great American comedians will always be the litmus test for success and Canadians will always be compared to them,” James said. “I like to think that the ones who have sustained themselves over time in this country have worked just as hard. We didn’t make as much money but we worked just as hard.”
James did chase the dream south of the border, spending three years in L.A. in early ’90s. He returned in 1993 after deciding that he wanted to raise his children -- the first of his two kids had just been born -- at home in Canada.
“I’ve got no mojo to chase the American dream anymore,” he says.
Instead, James has concentrated on his TV shows and tours in Canada. He prefers extended runs, although he also does the occasional corporate gig and now plays some casinos too.
James says his show is tightly crafted, although he will riff within the context of his written material. It’s an interesting decision for the graduate of The Second City troupe in Toronto, which is known for its improvisational skills.
But he says he owes the preparation to his fans.
“If people have stepped out of their house in a snowstorm or inclement weather and got a babysitter and all those things you have to do in order to see somebody live, they can’t see me working on a bit when I’m up there,” James says. “It has to be solid.”
He is a big proponent of spending as much time performing as possible, saying his stage confidence came over time and allowed his act to slow down.
He also enjoys the moment more. James says that early in his career he approached his sets “like a Mexican welterweight going 13 rounds.”
After his first TV special he was told to lighten up and enjoy himself; he now chuckles along with the audience, delighting in the moment and occasionally taking quiet pride in material he comes up with on the fly.
He says a comedian doesn’t hit stride until they’ve been at it 10 or 15 years.
“It’s a trade,” James says. “You have to hit your thumb with the hammer a few times before you know what you’re doing.”
He says he’s matured as a person as well, losing the constant intensity he had as a younger man.
“Somebody who’s on all the time probably isn’t on all the time when they’re on stage,” James says. “Comedy is a very introspective calling. I was a far more frenetic personality in my younger years. I felt that I had to be on all the time.”
Twenty years ago he toured with Brent Butt and Jeremy Hotz for Just For Laughs. He remains a huge fan of Hotz, who still works as a full-time standup comedian.
“I’ve never seen a more bulletproof act in my life. He’s great.”
James also appreciates Prince Albert comedian Kelly Taylor, who he worked with at a benefit in Winnipeg.
“He’s a good cat,” James says.
James chuckles when he says that once you get the life you want, you’ll never have a life. Even the TV shows had a nonstop cycle of writing, acting and promoting.
“I was lucky but I worked for it too. Nobody handed it to me,” he says. “And they still don’t. You never really get a chance to sit back and watch the river run. It’s all about work.”
James says he hopes that when the audience leaves the theatre, that they’ll feel like he carried their load for a while by making them laugh.
It’s part of the motivation that keeps him writing new material. He suggests the road takes no prisoners and that comedy doesn’t suffer fools kindly.
“You always have to be feeding the machine,” he says. “You can’t keep coming on the road with the same act you’ve been dragging for the past 15 years. You have to change it up. All it takes is one bad set for the word to get around that you’re not putting your heart into it.”
James says that fame has become perverse in its validity in the age of reality TV stars and Internet sensations. While he jokes that fame in Canada means drinking for free north of the tree line, his take on celebrity isn’t of the 15-minute variety.
“Longevity is what matters. Seeing people in a theatre laughing, that’s what matters. That’s fame.”
thursday, january 15, 2015
ron james joins the 2015 victoria film festival's 'in conversation with...' on february 7th, 11:30am at the vic theatre. cHECK OUT THE ARTICLE IN THE TIMES COLONIST:
VICTORIA FILM FESTIVAL OPENING GALA EVOKES 1940s CLUB
Michael D. Reid / Times Colonist
January 13, 2015 03:03 PM
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2014
From Fallsview Casino
‘The Big Picture’
Airing New Year’s Eve
Wednesday, December 31, 2014 – 9:00 pm (9:30 pm NT) on CBC-TV
The 'Big Picture' finds RON JAMES delivering his poetically charged brand of funny as he continues his search for sanity in these days of constant, dizzying change on our rapidly spinning planet.
Observations on the ‘everyday' from stocking up for the ‘end times’ at Costco and twits on Twitter to the whiplash-inducing Orwellian 'double speak' of corporate spin, that has Big Oil selling 'spills' as an economic boon and trendy juice bars selling goji berry kale smoothies as a short cut to immortality!
Ron will weigh in on the fall of Mike Duffy, the rise of Netflix, and the sequel no one saw coming, 'Iraq 2: The Redeployment'. He’ll also talk about the new super-villain at the table – sugar, hockey vs. soccer, and his own well-meaning but doomed attempts to 'take time for mindfulness' while keeping half a dozen plates in the air at the daily circus of multi-tasking.
With our privacy on the endangered list and most people thinking 'Big Brother' is just a show about horny twenty-something fame junkies holed up in a condo, Ron looks at our ‘text you later’ culture where someone with 2000 Facebook ‘friends’ can still be alone on a Saturday night, and authentic human contact is becoming rare as unicorn milk.
In this age of technology, with our digital existence quickly outpacing our analog lives, Ron wonders if we've become so focused on the small screen in the palm of our hand, that we're missing the 'big picture' all around us. Then he shares his realization – discovered while stranded in ‘middle of nowhere’ Montana on a summertime road-trip - that sometimes the journey you get isn’t always the one you went looking for.
Jill Spitz, JillSpitz@rogers.com (416) 482-1370
Christine Liber, Christine@LibertyInk.ca (416) 651-4722 x 1
Friday, December 26, 2014
Ron James: Back on TV And Wildly Funny * by james bawden
I usually get to interview Ron James once a year when his TV series comes back on CBC.
And once is enough for me --the guy is wickedly funny and once my ribs hurt a bit after a nonstop telephone chat filled with his joking.
This year it's different.
James's well liked series is gone from CBC-TV because a new administration is trying to remake the schedule to its own liking.
So the only opportunity you'll have to catch him is in a New Year's eve special on CBC-TV Wednesday night at 9 p.m.
I just watched a preview and it plays like one of the funniest hours I've seen on TV in quite awhile.
Yes, I did like his series which ran five seasons although it was moved all over the dial and fans continually groused they never knew where to find him..
I think it took James some time to find the right metier for his skits which really rocked in his final season.
At the beginning he was trying to integrate them into one seamless half hour but later on spent time honing them and retaping bits until he was satisfied and only then would he edit them into each show.
But the stand up hour format works even better for James.
The guy must be the most traveled Canadian comic out there.
It really all came together in his first big hour Up And Down In Shaky Town which garnered huge ratings and the recognition here was authentic Canadian humor that spoke to every one of us watching.
I think the new one coming up is just as startling good --From Fallsview Casino --Ron James --The Big Picture.
James knows how to trap an audience in his stories, draw them into his unique take on anything and everything and then let them explode in laughter.
"This one was taped in October," he tells me on the phone. Meaning the jokes could be topical but not too topical. There's some distancing because it comes on two months later."
James says on the phone that from the first time he played Fallsview "they treated me so fine. And the theater is so welcoming, it's huge but the audience isn't that far from you either. It's perfect to tell my stories, test the waters, let the audience get involved with me. I got a such a great feeling from that crowd, I think it shows."
Great camera work makes the hour seem to fairly rush by --the camera operators seem to be almost running at James for some super camera angles that induce a feeling of momentum.
"But if the audience isn't with you it's all over," he says. "And they really wanted me to say some of that stuff."
I'm not going to step on Ron's lines which he carefully crafted with assistance from Paul Pogue and Scott Montgomery (Lynn Harvey co-executive produced).
But as James admits "Yeah, I do go after Harper and he deserves it and the audience gets right into it. Same with the CBC. They get a bit of a licking, too. And they deserve it."
James says he remembers a decade ago when the Harper band wagon was building "and I'd say something and the audience would make a kind of whooshing sound. Like they were a bit ticked off. No longer. I give my two cents and they were laughing heartily.
Also talking a verbal licking: Burger King, Mike Duffy, Gwyneth Paltrow, oil spills, you name it.
With James's show gone and RCAF down to a special a year the great Canadian CBC tradition ok sketch comedy seems about to disappear.
Only the venerable This Hour Has 22 Minutes still holds down the foor while 4 On The Floor and Kids In The Hall are but dim memories.
"Oh, there's so much to satirize these days,"laughs James. "The oil spills, the crazy TV reality shows, texting. It's a never ending source. And I find audiences are generally just as fed up as I am ."
Says James "This was the year we had two Fords running for mayor. Who could have seen what would eventually happen? Now we're back bombing Iraq again. I couldn't have asked for more pungent material."
James thinks this hour is right up there with Shaky Town as among the best he's ever delivered.
"Then I'll' go back on the road, reminding Canadians of all the ups and downs of this great country country we live in."
RON JAMES: THE BIG PICTURE PREMIERES NEW YEAR'S EVE WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 31 AT 9 P.M. ON CBC-TV.
MY RATING: ***1/2.
thursDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2014
Ron James takes on Canada and the world * by Chris Ryall
Ron James may not be a towering figure in height but when it comes to comedic talent and astute observations on people and society very few can touch him. His comedy whether live on stage or on his eponymous CBC show, James pulls no punches while delivering both hilarious and wry comments and observations. No one or any institution from the federal government to the local Canadian Tire store is immune from his rapid-fire and witty delivery.
James, 58, was born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. His Maritime roots and his parents, both now 83 years old and who he describes as “still hilarious,” have influenced his take on the world. James cherishes his two daughters, Cayley (26) and Gracie (20), and they keep him grounded — no gargantuan ego for this guy.
James, a Second City veteran, has acted and performed all over and lived in Los Angeles for a spell but that city was not for him. Based in Toronto, James says Canada will always be home. When not touring James has an adventurous streak and loves to go on journeys testing his mental and physical capabilities.
James is at his best performing on stage and TV viewers can get a taste of his show during a one-hour New Year’s Eve special called “The Big Picture” (CBC, 9:30 pm in Newfoundland & Labrador, 9 pm in all other time zones). Facebook culture, rabid real-estate markets, corporate spin, mobile devices, texting, Rob Ford and multitasking are only a smattering of subjects James puts on trial with his form of poetic and comedic justice.
Ron James Talks Travel and New Year’s Eve
Vacay.ca caught up with James earlier this month for his comments on his career, comedy idols, conquering his fear of heights and travelling the world.
Vacay.ca: You have a New Year’s Eve special coming up. Were you the type to party or have a quiet evening at home?
James: My days of partying ’til the wee hours are long gone. That being said, in an earlier incarnation, I have greeted that dawn on more than one occasion. Trust me, it’s overrated. I’d rather wake sober on January 1st than be awake and still drunk!
Vacay.ca: Tell me about your New Year’s Eve special? What can viewers expect to see?
James: It is a search for the authentic in a world of constant connection. The set is very cool and we shot it at Fallsview Casino (in Niagara Falls) in front of a sold out audience over two nights. I’m back to the “big canvas” of my earlier specials and it’s not regionally themed like they were. Although there is a substantial amount of Canadian content, it does look at our role in the world and the effect of rapid technological change on daily life.
Vacay.ca: You were born and grew up in Nova Scotia? Do you think growing up in the Maritimes helped shape your comedic talents?
James: Definitely! But like anyone who was surrounded by a family who appreciated a good story well told and liked to laugh, not to mention colourful relations and a pantheon of personalities crossing our threshold, it couldn’t help but influence me. The same can be said for someone raised in the Bronx, or East London. If you’re engaged, you can’t help but assimilate the world you’re being raised in.
Vacay.ca: Who were your comedic idols when you were first starting out and today?
James: Coming of age in the ’70s, I liked [George] Carlin and [Richard] Pryor. Monty Python were huge! Later on Steve Martin and Robin Williams. I don’t watch a lot of stand-up today but you can’t help but admire Louis CK.
Vacay.ca: How would you brand your style of comedy?
James: Never spent much time trying to brand it because creating content is challenge enough! But I did describe my television show as “affable subversion.” It is our job to tip the apple cart without losing the room.
Vacay.ca: You lived in LA but returned to Canada? Any desire to move back?
James: No. Every now and then you think about the place when February’s hammer is laying the land low but truth be told, I really dig the change of seasons in Canada. I love a really cold prairie day, or an Ontariofall. Spring in Toronto. A Nova Scotia summer. I also have no interest to run the gauntlet in that carnivore’s arena of LA showbiz. The place is littered with “the fallen, failed and forgotten” and no matter what people have, there seems to be malignant discontent it’s not enough. Truth be told, I make a great living here. I’ve built a home, raised two beautiful daughters and put them through university.
Vacay.ca: What was the best crowd you ever recall performing for? The worst?
James: They’re all good! But the worst had to be Edinburgh Fringe Festival about 18 years ago. I took my one man show over there for a run in a small study hall at the University of Edinburgh. Last time the doors were open John Locke was writing a mid-term! It held 75 people and two showed up. One was asleep and the other wasn’t paying attention!
Vacay.ca: Who would you love to work with?
James: It would be great to work with Atom Egoyan. He enjoys a good broad comedy.
Vacay.ca: What would be the ultimate for you as a comedian?
James: For Russians to think I’m funny. They’re a pretty sour lot! Lighten up! Stalingrad’s over. You won!
Vacay.ca: Let’s talk travel. What’s your favourite city or town in Canada?
Vacay.ca: What are the three things you like and three things that bug you about Canada?
James: Our empathy. Our seasons. Our natural environment. Bug me? Our insistence Tim Hortons is a national icon. It’s coffee! Our lack of a rebel soul. Our current government.
Vacay.ca: What are your favourite places to travel outside of Canada?
James: I haven’t done a lot of that but am starting. Hiking in Patagonia this winter will be cool. I really dig the jungles of Belize and the Mayan ruins.
Vacay.ca: What would be a dream destination? Where you have always wanted to go?
James: I have always wanted to go to Zanzibar. Even the name is cool!
Vacay.ca: When you travel — are you a beach bum or active adventure seeker?
James: Active adventure. I get bored shitless in no time … plus I burn in the sun. I have the Celtic skin of a leprechaun! A great vacation for me is a full day of hiking, cycling or snowshoeing, then a great meal with a shared bottle of wine back at the cabin in front of a crackling fire.
Vacay.ca: What is your travel pet peeve? What don’t you like about travelling?
James: Not knowing what to pack. Other than going to the tropics, climate change has so rattled the planet you have to pack for four seasons whether you’re travelling in February or July!
Vacay.ca: What’s the most memorable and favourite trip you have had?
James: I have been on some great trips but the best had to be my mountain climbing trip in BC’s Purcell Range with Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH). I did the Via Ferrata, that’s Italian for “Iron Way.” Italian soldiers in WW1 carried supplies on their backs at night over the Alps to their fellow troops fighting on the Austro Hungarian front. CMH mimics this experience (sans the nocturnal climb and live sniper rounds) with metal rungs drilled into a cliff face and a “metal rope” running to a height of 9,000 feet. Novice climbers carbine their way to the summit, crossing two foot bridges over bottomless gorges, straddle a mountain peak and finally, be rappelled down 7,500 feet of mountain to a waiting helicopter. My lifetime fear of heights was tested to the max, where I fuelled my courage by singing hymns forgotten and embracing a Tourette’s-driven level of profanity with relish.
Vacay.ca: What’s a bizarre thing that has happened to you when on a trip?
James: I went to visit Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras and had to drive three hours south to the eco-lodge I was staying. Unbeknownst to me, the highway I had to travel to get there is known as “La Ruta Narco,” it being the direct conduit for all the Colombian cocaine headed to America … with the full sanction of a corrupt and very criminal Honduran government. Prior to leaving, I had no idea the nation’s capital city, San Pedro Sula, was voted the “most dangerous city” in the world. Outside magazine failed to mention that fact in their article on the “World’s Best Eco-Lodges!” We hit a traffic jam at 3 in the afternoon in La Sienna, a town an hour from my destination. An almost festive atmosphere prevailed, with curious locals craning to see the blown-out windows of a Toyota pickup truck and its owner’s bullet-riddled corpse in the middle of main street. There were no police to be seen. When I asked my driver why there were none around he said: ’There is no law in Honduras unless you buy the law.” Note to self: Check yearly body counts of the country you’ll be travelling to before booking the room!
Vacay.ca: Favourite souvenir?
James: I’ve got a varnished walking stick made of mesquite wood with turquoise inlay up the shaft and compass on the top I purchased in Sedona years ago.
Vacay.ca: Favourite restaurant in Canada?
James: The Bison in Banff is by far my favourite.
Vacay.ca: Favourite hotel in Canada? Internationally?
Vacay.ca: Must-have travel item you take always?
James: I must always have a good book.
Vacay.ca: Do you prefer to travel alone or with family or friends?
James: Not many people I know enjoy adventure vacations so I do those alone. I’ve taken my daughters on several trips.
Vacay.ca: What do you do to relax? Have you ever visited a spa?
James: Exercise. Read. Cook. Yes, I have visited a spa and they bore me. Spa music is what I imagine you hear on your way to heaven and I’m far from ready to take that trip!
Vacay.ca: What’s next for Ron James?
James: I’m going to write a book!