Conversing With Clark
Comic finds success without a pre-planned trajectory
by James Brotheridge
Graham Clark’s been a stand-up comedian, a writer for television, a radio performer (most recently on an episode of CBC’s The Debaters taped in Saskatoon), a podcaster, and even an artist who paints with his beard. (That last one was for charity, but that doesn’t exclude it from his c.v.) He’s even had his stand-up recorded a few times for TV specials.
Visit graham-clark.thestandupcomedians.com, pay five bucks, and you can see Clark in action. He’s a funny man, a natural laugher, and a comic willing to follow tangents wherever they take him.
I’m a big fan of his podcast Stop Podcasting Yourself with fellow Vancouverite Dave Shumka. It’s a fantastic weekly conversation with guests like Brent Butt, loved at home and abroad.
Some comedians use podcasts as a way of discovering and workshopping material for their stand-up. That’s not the case with Clark. Together, he and Shumka have done around 220 episodes. “As soon as we’re done, it’s like whenever you’re having a really fun conversation with somebody: you remember that the conversation was fun, but you don’t remember what you talked about.
“People will refer back to things that happened on this episode or that episode, and we’ll have to say, ‘I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,’” he laughs.
Clark will be in Regina June 14-17 for the Pile O Funny Bones Comedy Festival [see sidebar]. I spoke with him by phone from Vancouver.
You’ve been doing various forms of comedy for a good number of years now. How would you describe your career to date?
Mostly, I’ve just said yes to a lot of things, without knowing whether I’ll be good at them or whether they’ll be a good thing to do. I’ll just say yes and then [decide later] whether it was a worthwhile pursuit. I think you just experience more stuff that way. If I just had a goal in mind, I think I would’ve missed a lot of things I’ve done because I don’t think a lot of them would have fallen in line with a pre-planned trajectory.
I’ve read a few profiles online, and they’ve all noted how easygoing you are.
It all goes along with being in Vancouver and always looking like someone who could not hold down a job. But yeah, I think I’m pretty easygoing. I’m probably not as easygoing as the most easygoing guy you’ve ever met. Maybe I’m close?
Does it help to be easygoing with the kind of work that you take?
It helps me. There are other people who are more tightly wound or people who are perfectionists. I’m neither of those things. If something works, then great. It doesn’t need to be perfect. There’s so many different ways to get stuff done. I think if people are tightly wound, that’s not a long-term strategy. That’s something that will probably kill you pretty fast. But, you know –– power to them. Power to the people who are high strung and get stuff done.
You’re not dead yet. You’ve survived.
Yeah, it’s true! I’ve made it this far, so just stick with the playbook, right?
Maybe there’s also a line that has to be walked? You have to be not so easygoing that nothing gets done and not so high strung that everything has to be a certain way.
That’s true, because you can be on the Lebowski end of easygoing where the world is just passing you by. If you’re too easygoing, nothing would get done, which maybe, if you can swing it, is not the worst way to live a life. There’s a real premium put on achievement, but high achieving people don’t seem that happy. Some of them, I guess, are. But if you meet a guy whose job is parking cars and he smokes pot all day, he seems pretty happy. There must be something to that.
How much stand-up are you doing in Vancouver these days?
Quite a bit, because I was gearing up to tape a special which is going to be available online. I needed to do some sets, loosen up and get the performing chops back a little bit. I was doing five or six nights a week for about two months. Now, I’ve evened off. I’ll do a couple of sets a week to keep in shape. I’m doing the Saskatchewan festival and Sled Island in Calgary, and then some stuff in England in August. There’s some stuff going on.
The inaugural Pile O Funny Bones Festival is being organized by Shawn Koch, a local stand-up who also runs the weekly Comedy Grind shows on Saturday night at Gabbo’s.
Along with Clark, fellow Vancouverites Erica Sigurdson and Dylan Rhymer will be appearing. Some local talent will be on display too, along with other stand-ups from around Saskatchewan.
The festival runs until June 17, with events at Artesian on 13th, the Artful Dodger, the SCES Club, Creekside Pub and Gabbo’s. You’ll have a bunch of opportunities to see performers at different locales.
The festival is a benefit for the Piyesiw Foundation. According to the festival’s website, it’s “a non-profit organization looking to boost the support systems made available to First Nations individuals who are battling cancer, specifically men.”
For more information go to pileofunnybones.com.