Edmonton comedian Ben Proulx is taking a different approach to booking his upcoming gigs. He’s spending the next year touring his new material at venues you wouldn’t normally expect to find comedy.
“I’m putting myself in a situation that’s making it harder on me from the get-go so I can continue to get better,” Proulx explains. “I like the idea that … it makes me better and … it’s an event and not just a show.”
This includes small town community centres, breweries, handmade furniture stores or any location allowing him to perform for a crowd. His upcoming performance at Café Blackbird follows these self-imposed rules, as it is not known for comedy events. Keeping the experience fresh for both himself and his audience is the ultimate satisfaction, he says.
Proulx performed his first amateur set at West Edmonton Mall’s Comic Strip when he was 18. Although he would never use any of that material today, it was a confidence booster to continue following his passion.
“I think people are either going to be comedians or they’re not,” Proulx says. “If you go into the industry going ‘when am I going to start making money,’ you’re not cut out for the industry. You have to deal with more rejection than you’ve ever dealt with in your life. You have to deal with being broke more than you’ve ever dealt with in your life… it’s never easy.”
He later became a regular performer at amateur nights and open mics around Edmonton. Three years after his debut, Proulx was performing three to four spots a night—averaging 20-30 minutes.
Proulx would keep what worked from a joke at the first show, and rewrite it in his head while driving to the second. After a week of continuous trial and error, he would end up with stronger jokes in his arsenal.
The constant work allowed him to move up to guest spots (five to seven minutes unpaid), then middle spots (20 minutes paid), and eventually co-headliner (45 minutes) and headliner (an hour).
Proulx decided to go all in on full-time comedy by downgrading his vehicle, moving into a desolate apartment and living off of Kraft Dinner. Comedians in the industry began to offer him work, taking him on tour throughout Western Canada.
While continuing to perform as often as he could, Proulx was thrust into headliner position after prominent local comedians had advanced their careers. This meant he needed to have an hour’s worth of material prepared—which equates to a year of work.
“It’s constantly writing and then shrinking it down,” Proulx says.
In June 2016 Proulx embarked on a six-show theatre tour, culminating at Shell Theatre in Fort Saskatchewan. At the final stop he recorded his first special “BROKEN,” consisting of material from his first complete hour.
“It was where I wanted it to be and I didn’t want to have to change it from where it was,” Proulx says of his first set. “And I went ‘OK, that means I need to stop doing it. Otherwise I’m going to be the guy 30 years from now doing jokes about Monica Lewinsky.’ No comic wants to be that guy.”
“BROKEN” was recorded with five cameras and live mics hanging above the audience. Once completed, he felt a sense a relief but realized he had to turn the page and write a new hour set. It took him seven years to record his first hour but this time he wanted to prepare it within a year.
“It started shaping into this thing where here’s my life, laugh at it.” Proulx says of the new material. “Over time it became more political and more about society. I started filtering my opinions into things because I became comfortable with being able to say: ‘I don’t care if these people disagree with me, I’m going to make them laugh either way.’”
His new hour will be toured across North America this spring and includes stops in Europe and Africa. The Café Blackbird performance will be the local premiere of his new material.
“If you buy my DVD and you come to this show, it’s two completely different shows,” Proulx says of his upcoming gig. “This is the first time I’m able to put it together as one whole thing and being able to say ‘here it is.’ For me as an artist and as a comic, really exciting.”
Thurs., Jan. 19 (7:30 pm)
Café Blackbird, $15