Comedian Jon Steinberg on debating and making brain tumours funny

Comedian Jon Steinberg, a staple of CBC Radio's The Debaters, stopped into On The Coast to talk about how boring things can be funny and what his line of good taste is. He's opening the Chutzpah! Festival in Vancouver on Feb. 18.

Steinberg opens the Chutzpah! Festival in Vancouver, Feb. 18

Comedian Jon Steinberg, a regular on CBC Radio's The Debaters, is opening the Chutzpah! Festival in Vancouver on Feb. 18. (

Fans of CBC Radio's The Debaters will be very familiar with Jon Steinberg.

The Toronto-based comedian and actor is known for his sometimes dark material and laid-back delivery, and on Feb. 18, he will be opening up the Chutzpah! Festival in Vancouver with fellow comedian Jessica Kirson.

Before that, he dropped into On The Coast for an interview with guest host Michelle Eliot.

You deal with a wide range of subject matter on The Debaters, from brains versus beauty to different types of fruit. How do you take those different subjects and find a way to make them funny?

It's difficult. The more boring a topic is for me, the easier it is to make it funny because you can take something mundane and make it into something ridiculous, whereas if something seems like it's funny off the top, then it's harder to know where to go with it.

What's the most mundane topic that you've been able to do the most with?

I've done one on the metric system. That was a good one. I generally get off-topic as quickly as possible.

And what about arguing itself? What is it about debating that's entertaining?

It's just where a lot of humour comes from, disagreements. Everyone agreeing is not funny.

In your standup, you talk about having a brain tumour as a child. Why did you want to tackle that topic?

As a comedian, it's good to have material that other comedians aren't going to steal from you. It's very hard to steal material about having a brain tumour unless you have a brain tumour. In which case, I guess you're welcome to it. Anything that's unique and about your own experience is good fodder for comedy.

It's not a funny experience, but you kinda use humour as a coping mechanism to get through those types of experiences. Even though it's not in and of itself funny, I was used to making fun of it. I find the best comedy comes from honesty and sharing. I think you use everything available to you in an experience like that. Humour was a big thing in my family in general.

Is there a line? Is there something you won't touch because it's too devastating and there's no jokes to be made of certain situations?

There are definitely things that are too sensitive to speak about. Sometimes it's a timing issue. But I think it has more to do with what the viewpoint of the joke is, what the point you're trying to make with it is, and if it's not mean-spirited then there should be a way to make it OK.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.


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