An Oral History of 10 years of Comedy Records, home to K. Trevor Wilson, Arthur Simeon and more!
"Canada's known for comedy around the world. It's one of our national treasures," said Taylor.
"We want to contribute and do whatever we can to help elevate the talent that is in this country."
Comedy Records has been doing just that for the past decade as the country's first record label dedicated to standup and sketch comedy and the only one pressing comedy albums on vinyl.
Established in Toronto by Taylor and co-founder Tim Golden in 2010, Comedy Records has released dozens of solo and compilation albums. They also produced several releases that topped the Apple Music/iTunes Comedy and Google Play charts, and have received multiple Juno nominations.
"The anniversary album is really special. It has an incredible roster of comedians," said Claire Belford.
"It's really cool to see myself on the cover of the album alongside people I revere. Comedians that I would just be happy to watch perform. To be alongside them is really special."
CBC Comedy interviewed Taylor, Golden, Belford, and a number of the label's comedians for a look back at the first 10 years of Comedy Records. They shared the story of the label's beginning, how the team works together, and why it's important for Canadians to support homegrown artists.
Note: All interviews were adjusted for context, clarity and flow.
The beginnings Of Comedy Records
K. Trevor Wilson (Sorry! (A Canadian Album)): I met Barry when he started doing standup while he was working at 102.1 the Edge. We all sort of knew Barry because we listened to his show. When they cleaned house at the Edge and Barry found himself not working radio anymore, he came up with the idea to start a record label as there wasn't one in Canada at the time.
BT: Comedy Records began as a promotional idea. We would put out an album with 11 comedians which like myself were all just starting and didn't have agents or anything. The idea was to work together and use this album as a marketing tool and do some shows with all the comics on it. We put it together and it was great. But when I looked for somewhere to release it, there was no one in Canada putting out comedy albums. And so naively I was like, "I'll start a label". And there's a lot to it but we're still going for 10 years and it's been great.
KTW: Barry approached a bunch of us to see if we wanted to put together an album with the idea to invest in the production and then we all get something we can take on the road and sell as merch. Something that not only boosts ourselves but boosts others. It sounded like a good deal as I didn't have any recordings out there at the time. I liked Barry and I liked the group. So it seemed like a good fit, we signed on, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Tim Golden (co-founder): Barry was the one who really organized a lot right from the start. It was this collective of comics who had a lot of respect for each other, but much credit to Barry who took it to the next level. He talked about what can we do together, taking a professional approach to albums, and seeking out other people through Comedy Records rather than being insular. He really perfected an expertise in recording and editing, plus tirelessly promoting and putting on shows. Those are the bricks that started it in particular.
BT: Tim and I crossed paths at open mics, and he's just hilarious. I think he's one of the funniest people in comedy, but he's also very humble and very reserved. We have a lot of similar interests and tastes in comedy. He's a good buddy and has so much respect in the community.
Clare Belford (Underdog Comedy Show Live): I met Barry when he and a few other comedians came out to Edmonton and fell in love with a show at The Black Dog called Underdog Comedy. Barry wanted to record a live album there, so he reached out to the producers Simon Gorsak and Brett McCrindle to help pick a lineup of comedians. I was one of them and Barry and I had an opportunity to build a rapport that way. When he came out to tour again, I opened for him on the road
Arthur Simeon (The Blackest Panther): Becoming part of Comedy Records was a very gradual process. I met Barry while we were doing open mics in Toronto and developed a friendship before he started Comedy Records. One day he asked to formally meet with me and he said, "I'm starting this label and I'm thinking that you're one of the people that I would like to be a part of it." To be honest, at the beginning I didn't fully understand what he was talking about. Such a label did not exist before, and I never really thought of doing albums. I think at that point everyone was still very focused on the visual side of stand up like doing a TV special.
The journey to the 10th Anniversary
BT: The goal with Comedy Records was to take the indie music label template and apply it to comedy. Using the label itself as a brand to work on an album and then build shows and tours around it. For the first few years, we really focused on that and putting out albums with comedians we wanted to work with. Then we realized there's money that can be made through digital streaming revenues. That was not really known by many people at the time, so when we found that out, we're like, "Oh, wow, we can actually make some money from these albums and use that to further promotion of these artists." So that was definitely a game changer. It lit a fire with more people putting out albums and more labels popping up, which is great. More the merrier.
TG: This blossomed alongside satellite radio and also SoundExchange suddenly becoming a thing. That's when Barry and I went full bloom in terms of business plans. We expanded to the US, getting hooked up through recordings and SiriusXM. We also worked on sponsorship of visas for comedians and connected to associations with lots of different venues up and down the east coast. It all worked in a symbiotic relationship.
BT: Comedy Records Presents 10 Year showcases everyone that's on our roster right now. We're really proud of the comedians we work with. We released the album exclusively on SiriusXM because they have been amazing with their support. Ben Miner (Host and Programmer) and Joe Thistel (Director, Programming) at SiriusXM here in Canada were literally on board since day one supporting us. We've been fortunate to be able to work with their channels in America too. So we wanted to do something with them that showed our appreciation. And they have a massive reach that helps artists be heard.
TG: I think the future for comedy is in audio. The punchline hits in audio just allows you to take that journey. With more people listening independently, whether in their car or on headphones, audio allows comedy to really be in people's lives.
BT: Though Comedy Records Presents 10 Year is exclusively on SiruisXM, it should also be coming out on vinyl in the fall. We're the only ones in Canada doing vinyl records. I love vinyl and it's also a good marketing tool. It's something tactile for fans of comedy. Although everything is digital nowadays, there are still moments for actual materials.
How Comedy Records helps comedians
KTW: I get messages from fans in Florida and Texas and the middle of nowhere in the United States. They're familiar with our comedy and they know our jokes. Every week I get about a half dozen pictures of Captain Crunch boxes sent to me from people in the United States who have heard my bit on the radio and it was in no small part due to having someone creating Canadian content and putting it out there.
CB: I've been a part of Comedy Records for two years and they have been so integral to me. When I initially talked to Barry about joining, he said, "I just want you to focus on being a comedian and I will take care of everything else." And they really did. I feel very taken care of. Barry has a really great photographer. They built my website. They started getting me my first real work out here in Toronto, which is a lot more competitive than Edmonton. It also boosted my credibility within the community.
AS: I really enjoy the experience of making my albums with Comedy Records because Barry makes it very easy for me. He said I just needed to worry about performing, which for a comedian is great to hear. There's a lot of things that go into making an album and they help immensely.
AS: Comedy Records is like a one-stop-shop. They help me with my bookings. They keep track of the album. Keep track of social media and promotion. They help with ticketing when I produce my own shows. It's made my life so much easier as a performer because I don't have to worry a lot about the stuff outside of it. Comedy Records is a partner and a lifesaver.
DJ: They really think outside of the box. They think big picture and do whatever they can to help us, which I'm very appreciative of. Pitch us to late-night shows, share all of our stuff online, that sort of thing.
CB: Every show I do with Comedy Records is just a blast. I worked with Comedy Records for a different recording just before I signed with them and I remember I left that show thinking that's exactly what I want comedy to be like. That's exactly what I want a show to be like. So I wrote a note to myself saying I want to be part of the Comedy Records family and how do I make this happen? Then a couple of months later Barry called me and asked if I was interested in talking about becoming part of the roster.
TG: It's so much more exciting when you're doing it for comedians that you really value and you really want to get their work out there.
Why supporting Canadian comedians is so important
AS: Comedy Records has been such a pioneer in supporting Canadian comedy. When Barry first sat me down, he was very adamant that Canada should be celebrated globally as a comedy country, and also have local people enjoying local talent. In whatever city you live in, find the local comedy community. Support their shows and help the artists grow because that's the only way they get better. The only way they get known is if you celebrate them and allow them to prosper.
BT: For whatever reason, we don't necessarily celebrate or support comedy as much as other things here, which I've never really quite understood. CBC, Just For Laughs, SiriusXM and different outlets are trying to help. I think it's something about our Canadian conscience that's so humble to a fault. Canada just has so many talented comedians, and I know this because, in New York or Los Angeles or cities where people have no idea who our comedians are, they just destroy and be amazing.
KTW: Canadians have always had this sort of defeatist attitude about our own entertainment that we put out. With the success of Letterkenny. I've had a lot of people tell me that they initially dismissed the show entirely because it was Canadian. Their track record with trusting Canadian comedy has let them down. So there's always been this idea that if you're so good, why are you still here? We're starting to now see more pride in what we put out. Shows like Schitt's Creek and Letterkenny have helped us on the TV front, and Comedy Records has also helped increase the ability for Canadian Comics to reach far and wide. Raw Dog Radio on SiriusXM and other satellite stations beyond Just for Laughs radio here in Canada have started playing more Canadian artists due to their relationship with Comedy Records.
BT: We've been really fortunate. We are really grateful to work with so many amazing comedians. Tim and I were very confident that these comics would blow up. Someone like K. Trevor Wilson for instance. He was this guy that we were doing shows with and all of a sudden he's one of the biggest comedians in Canada because of Letterkenny. Seeing that happen naturally and the way he's remained the same guy, with no ego and no change, that's been really cool.
DJ: There's a lot of Canadian artists here that I don't feel have gotten their moment yet and that's just because things are a lot smaller here than say the US or overseas in the UK. And so by working with a collective like we do with Comedy Records and having that kind of access, there's just more of a chance for us to be seen.
KTW: The more Canadians support our artists, the more they can grow at home and not have to run off to other countries to seek fame and fortune. They can thrive here. The more you invest the more you get in return.
CB: When good Canadian comics are out and about, people take notice. We have really good talent.
DJ: There's such amazing talent here in Canada, and Canadians shouldn't have to move away to pursue their dreams. There's been lots of discussion around whether or not there's a star system in Canada. You look at names like Jim Carrey or Russell Peters, names that always come up but who have had to leave and go somewhere else. I would love to see our talent being celebrated here, and there are people working very strongly in this community to make sure that happens.
Looking back and looking forward for Comedy Records
TG: It all goes back to the standup and those relationships that really laid the foundation. My experiences in comedy have become one of the most valuable in my life outside of my family. Thank you to all comedians that we work with and that I've known through Comedy Records. Everyone who really built this so strongly and allowed Comedy Records to expand that umbrella and provide more things to the Toronto comedy community initially, but then more broadly the North American comedy community.
BT: I'm very grateful to be able to do this. It's been challenging for sure, but anything worth doing is. To have the support of our family and friends and others that enjoy comedy. I would say thank you to anyone who's ever supported us. It's pretty surreal to be able to do this as a job. It's awesome.
DJ: I'm very grateful to Barry and Tim for the opportunities they've provided to us. I know the rest of the team is too. Congratulations to them. Ten years is a huge milestone.