Derek Edwards talks about his notebooks and political jokes
COMEDY by Emmet Matheson
With his just-slightly-skewed everyman’s take on the world, Derek Edwards has been a mainstay on the Canadian comedy scene for almost 30 years. He’s appeared at the Just For Laughs Festival five times, he’s headlined tours from coast-to-coast, and he makes frequent appearances on TV and radio. Edwards is bringing his latest show, Baloney and Wine, to Saskatchewan. Prairie Dog spoke with Edwards via cellular phone on Nov. 12.
You’ve been across the country many times. Can you tell anything from your audiences about the economy or the national mood?
The mood in the room at the time becomes evident quickly. The reasons for the mood at the time are not always apparent. But that’s the thing — if you’re coming into a town you should research it a bit. I like to know what’s going on, local news, talk to a few people, see what’s the word on the street. That helps me figure things out more or less.
Do you change your act at all depending on where in the country you find yourself?
To be sure, it’s a different sensibility working in the Maritimes to Vancouver. There’s certain things that are going to run a little more smoothly depending on where you try ’em. The ideal for me is being, um, relatable, so people kind of know where you’re coming from. They say, “oh, I’ve met hosers like this before.” Then when you launch into something that’s more self-centred, they’ll say ”oh, I get it, I know where he’s coming from.” That really helps break down the fences.
Are there any examples of what kind of jokes might go over better in the Maritimes than on the prairies?
I suppose any references to the Atlantic are going to be better received out East, heh heh. Having driven across the country, I find the whole horizon out there on the prairies to be so mind-numbingly cool. Even the sky itself is so vast. I drove across Saskatchewan one time and I saw a train, going alongside the TransCanada, from the engine right to the caboose in one glance. I’d never experienced that. It sounds so trivial, but there’s always buildings, trees, something blocking the view. It opens the mind being out there. It is a different perspective. It’s a different world with different concerns. I like to find out what those are, zero in on them, and try to get a few cheap laughs out of it all.
You don’t have a huge online presence. You’re not on Twitter, you don’t do a podcast…
You know, I’ve been thinking about that, though. I was invited to do one in Winnipeg. A buddy of mine does one: you’re on a stage, they do it live. The whole thing’s kind of, ah, it’s not hugely attended, but it goes out on the web. It’s very civilized. It moves fast — boom, you’re done in about 15 minutes. I guess there’s a lot of merit to it and it can drum up a different audience that you haven’t really gone to before. I’m awful slow to this kind of thing, but it’s in the offing, it’s coming along.
Are you resistant to technology?
Oh yeah, me and machines just never got along. The first time my wife got me a computer, geez, it just wouldn’t work for me. You know, many a time it ended up in the recycling bin. She’d have to go get it, dust it off, get it working again. Maybe I don’t have the patience.
Do you use a computer to write your material or do you use longhand?
Oh, no, I like using pen and paper. As a matter of fact, I took a step even farther back. I went to some store and they had those Hilroy notebooks, with “subject” and “name” and whatever on the cover.
And the map of Canada? Bless the fine people at Hilroy. They know when they’ve got a good thing.
Oh yeah, I think you get more of a feel of what you’re writing. Scratching something out, putting arrows all over it… I find that a lot easier to do with just a pen and paper. You’re always changing your mind and tweaking as you go.
I find pen to paper is much better for getting a sense of rhythm when you’re writing than keying it in on a computer. So much of comedy is about rhythm.
Yeah, yeah, the rhythm thing. When you write, y’know, you’re a writer — do you go right to the keyboard or do you scratch out by hand?
Switching gears here, you’re not an overly political comic but current events creep into your act. Do you think our new prime minister will be good for jokes?
I don’t know. There are some political people who are good for jokes. I’m from Toronto and we’ve had a series of different mayors and they were so good for jokes they were really walking material. When it gets up to the prime minister, though, let this guy have a chance to do his job for a while before we start slagging on him. Some of the papers have been a bit quick to jump against him but let’s see what’s he got up his sleeve, right?
I’ve talked to a couple of folks out in Alberta for this tour and they seem kind of overwhelmed — how the hell did this NDP thing happen? They don’t know who to blame! Somebody snuck in and changed all the ballots apparently. Hardly nobody’s admitting to voting for them.
It’s like Nickelback. Everybody hates them, but they sell millions of albums.
Right. But the thing is, in your day-to-day life, whoever thinks of the premier? You’re stuck in traffic, you’re paying the rent, you’re at Tim Hortons — “how come they don’t have more people working the counter?” You’ve got an internal monologue: “I’ve gotta do some sit-ups. I’ve gotta eat better. Am I a nice person?” Who thinks of their premier? I just don’t know how much it affects Canucks on a day-to-day level.