‘On average, before a joke is good for me, is about 15 times,” Sterling Scott admits, a sly grin arriving on the comedian’s face as he reaches the number. Fifteen tellings of a joke until it finds its form, after tweaking structure, word use, delivery and punchline—that may seem like a lot of revision, but for stand-up comedy, it’s necessary and, given the nature of the form, only really possible in front of a live audience. You have to have the fortitude to put a joke with potential through the necessary paces—including watching it crash and burn—to hopefully arrive at a pristine version that consistently draws laughter from any audience.
“‘A joke’s got legs’—that’s what we say if it’s funny, but it’s not ready yet,” Scott quips. “Change a few words here, change and ending there, until it finally becomes that refined, yes, got it.”
But that’s when comedy is in a development phase: the comic bits, quips and stories that Scott is pouring into Jokeaholic, the special he’s taping this weekend at the Citadel, have been told a crib-game’s worth of 15s over the past few years. These aren’t the ones that have potential: these are the ones that have delivered time and time again, a culmination of an incredible couple of years for the local comedian. He proved a finalist in both San Francisco and Seattle’s Comedy Competitions, two of the largest in North America. He’s done two overseas tours to entertain troops in Iraq and Kuwait. And he’s flat-out won comedy competitions in Edmonton and Calgary—the latter being where he was seen by Peter McBain, executive director of This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Scott’s since ended up both writing and performing on the show.
Getting here has been an almost-decade-long journey for Scott. After starting in the open-mic circuit, he pushed hard into comedy, analyzing, cultivating and eventually yielding his first special, I’ve Been Chocolate My Whole Life, back in 2012. His comedy is playful and energetic: early riffs ran on anything from Axe Body Spray to taking his son to Chuck E Cheese, where he discovered that A) they serve pints of beer, and B) the place looks like a club after a few drinks.
Jokeaholic’s a culmination of his best material of the past few years, but it’s also a sense of who Scott is right now.
“I put it together in a way to tell my story: Why do I feel these ways, and how I am?” he says. “At the end of the show, you’ll have not only laughed your ass off, but you’re going to know me. You’re going to know who I am. You’re going to know what I like, how I feel about things—it’s like a tiny little bio of who I am as a person. Jokeaholic is not just stand-up comedy, but who I am as a person.”
When Scott was starting out, there wasn’t the same wealth of open-mic nights in the city that there are today: he only performed 12 times during his first year, whereas now, he notes: “If you hustle, you could get onstage four times a week.”
Scott himself runs two rooms: Comedy Groove on Wednesday nights at Rouge Lounge, and Leave ’em Laughing Thursdays at Dreams Lounge. He notes the differences in audience expectations between the two: Comedy Groove’s regular crowd seems more focused on writing, while Leave ’em Laughing demands a more magnetic onstage performance. Being able to work with those sorts of differing audiences, he notes, is key to honing humour.
“Every room has its own vibe, just like every city has its own thing,” he says. “The way to get universally good is to travel. So, by having two different rooms, with two different energies and two different vibes, you’ve got to learn to move and shift and change. And eventually, you’ll write jokes that will crush in all the rooms. And then when you’ve done that, then you’ve got to travel.
“The minimum I perform per week is four times,” Scott continues. “Comedy’s like a knife: with constant sharpening, you can always stay on point. But if you don’t, it can get dull, it can fall off. You’ve got to keep writing—and it takes a long time.”
Sun, Jan 17 (8 pm)
Citadel Theatre (Zeidler Hall), $25