Comedy

How comedy veterans paid the bills before making it big

Howie Mandel, Rick Mercer and more on what they’ve done to pay the bills while starting out in comedy.

Howie Mandel, Rick Mercer and more on what they’ve done to pay the bills while starting out in comedy.

(CBC)

Just like many students, artists, and actors, aspiring comedians usually have to work to pay the bills while they master their craft and find opportunities. 

Their jobs may not always be the best, but at least they can always turn it into a joke. Here are some of the early job stories from Canadian comedians.

Watch: Next Up - Comedians on their day jobs

Rick Mercer was a dish washer, waiter, floor-cleaner at a cafe, and he taught theatre. 

When he was 18 and working as a dish washer, Mercer pitched a group of producers dining at the restaurant on the subject of making politics funnier. It landed him a gig doing comedic commentaries for CBC Radio, which led him to develop This Hour Has 22 Minutes with fellow CODCO members.

In 2001, Rick Mercer, who was already three seasons into his CBC sitcom Made in Canada, left the show, and developed Rick Mercer Report, a multiple-award-winning series in which Mercer rants directly to the camera about a current political issue while walking through a heavily graffitied city alley.

Gavin Crawford from Because News performed singing telegrams.

When he was in the BFA Acting Program at the University of British Columbia, he would dress up in costume and make up a song for someone's birthday and bus to their house with balloons.

(Because News)

"They paid really good, but it was hideous," says Crawford.

When he was a "skinny 20-year-old" delivering balloons to a 40-year-old woman's birthday, he says, "they would act like it's a strip-o-gram. I was like, 'no ma'am, just balloon delivery. This is all staying on and you don't want to see it.'" 

Howie Mandel of America's Got Talent was fired from the Canadian National Exhibition.

(CBC)

Mandel operated a ride at the annual Toronto amusement park one summer, and was fired for telling the passengers "make sure the orange shoulder harness over your left shoulder is done up securely - I'm going upside down in five seconds." 

Spoiler alert: there was no shoulder harness and the ride didn't go upside down. 

Lauren Ash worked at a gym and as a wine taster.

"I would work a morning shift at the gym, nap, then go do a comedy show or class," says Ash, adding that it wasn't a healthy lifestyle. She then took on a wine tasting job, without knowing anything about wine. By making things up about wine, she was practicing her improvisation skills daily, says Ash. 

Darrin Rose created baby food flavours. 

When he was a brand manager at Heinz, working in baby food coming up with new flavours, while doing five shows a week. "I just sat in the office like, 'What if the packaging was different? What if we put mandarin oranges in?'"

(CBC)

Some comedians take the route of mostly taking jobs in the industry, like Full Frontal host and producer Allana Harkin worked at Shakespeare camp, or Letterkenny's Trevor K. Wilson who spent 15 years working in kitchens, but also was a cartoon character for children's birthday parties.

"Whatever you can do," says Wilson. 

K. Trevor Wilson calls himself the “Man Mountain of Comedy.” (Shawn McPherson)

This Next Up episode follows Alessandra Vite from her day job to the stage. Between getting many credits like What We Do in the Shadows, Seth Rogen-produced The Boys, Because News, and her sketch troupe, Vite talks about teaching at Second City and working at a law office.

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