Comedy·FEATURE

Jason Allen: An honest day's laugh

How a career that began at a detox centre has lead to a promising new EP from Comedy Records.

Jason Allen began his career in comedy while working at a detox centre in London, Ontario, at the beginning of the opioid crisis. Where he would tell one liners at the beginning of support groups. 

"Working in social services really developed my sense of humour. There were people from all walks of life with different situations, and I knew that if I could make them laugh after what they've been through, that was a good joke – that was a joke you keep."

While Allen has since moved away from the one-liner format, he says the impact of his early work can still be seen in the way he compiles his material.

"I will always have love for the [one-liner] style and maybe one day I'll put out an album of all one-liners," says Allen. 

"I used to write, like, 50 of them a day – but I never really liked being known as the one-liner guy, even when that's all I did."

For Allen, the catalyst for his style departure arose out of an unfortunate accident.

"I was on my way to a garbage gig – they didn't even have an amp! So I had to bring one from home. It was an ice storm in London, and I slipped and went down hard on my elbow. I was in a tonne of pain and after the show the other comics said 'It looks like you have a staircase down the back of your arm,'" recalls Allen.

"I had broken my elbow. I had a theatre show in three days, the next week was my first middle spot at a major club – there was a lot of stuff going on. I had to get on stage with my arm in a sling and felt the need to address it.

"I would tell the story, and gradually just started talking more about my life on stage and I found it resonated with an audience more.

"I couldn't write jokes the same way, I couldn't hold the mic the same way. It was a total style change that was forced upon me and I just happened to fall in love with it."

I would tell the story, and gradually just started talking more about my life on stage and I found it resonated with an audience more.​​​​​- Jason Allen

Three years later the elbow has long healed and Allen was left with a 30-minute set that was deeply personal, well-crafted and a good representation of where his comedy was at. Allen decided to record the set in front of a lively Saturday night crowd at Showtime Comedy club in St. Catharines. 

Allen sent the recording to Comedy Records president Barry Taylor, unsure if it was a stand-alone release or the beginnings of an hour-long album. 

Taylor made the decision to release the material—with almost no changes—on the label's EP series. 

According to Taylor, Comedy Records created the EP series for comedians who were really talented, but didn't want to release a full headline set. It allows for shorter sets to be released to promote and preview artists to new audiences.

"Jason has quickly developed into a great comic," says Taylor. 

"He's very likable and his writing is great. The EP format is perfect for him because it provides comedy fans with a preview of his material and persona while not showcasing all of the material that he has."

Allen is part of an exciting emerging group of comedians from the city of Hamilton and Taylor really wanted that to be represented on the label.

The Hamilton scene has a very DIY attitude which reflects the overall tone of the city.- Barry Taylor, Comedy Records president

"Hamilton has a great comedy scene. There's a lot of talent mixed with independent rooms that allows the artists to develop their craft outside of Toronto. The Hamilton scene has a very DIY attitude which reflects the overall tone of the city," says Taylor.

Allen agrees that Hamilton has been essential to forming his comedic voice and the bonds he has formed there run deep. 

"Audiences don't give it up to you right away, and that feels like a very Hamilton thing. It's like, 'You think you are funny? Well... prove it and we'll let you know.'" 

"Manolis Zontanos is a close friend – I hang out with him a lot and he always snaps me out of any anger or entitlement we can fall into sometimes. Gavin Stephens has always been really cool to me. If anything he will tell me stuff I don't want to hear but I need to hear. And our whole scene needs to really give it up for Patrick Coppolino. He kept a club here and that's huge." 

(Marty Younge)

Seniority in comedy

While Allen is quick to praise his fellow members of the comedy community, he does have some insight on where he believes it can be found lacking.

"Our scene needs to have more respect for those who have come before us – not just in Hamilton, but in general. There's no star system in Canada and Canadian comics complain about that – how Canadian citizens don't view them as stars. But even Canadian comics don't always acknowledge that experience these people have put in the work. We have to have a little more respect." 

Allen attributes his high regard for those who have come before him is because he considers stand up to be his life's passion. 

As for Allen's future in comedy, his approach remains steadfast on writing, and believes the rest will take care of itself.  

All my goals in the beginning had to do with writing and how much good material I could gather. It's way more important—especially in the beginning—to have those kinds of goals.- Jason Allen

"All my goals in the beginning had to do with writing and how much good material I could gather. It's way more important—especially in the beginning—to have those kinds of goals."

"Tapings and festivals are cool, exciting things, but they weren't a goal of mine. It was all about writing. It was all about jokes. Sometimes I will notice myself being like, 'I haven't headlined this club,' or been asked to open for whoever, and I remind myself to just focus on the jokes."

And with that attitude, audiences can be assured that Allen will continue to infuse his earnest approach into every facet of his career, including the new EP release. 

"These jokes mean so much to me... I hope people give it a chance."

About the Author

Marty Younge is a Toronto based arts and culture writer / digital creator covering all things in the world of comedy from Canada and beyond. She has covered Just for Laughs, SXSW and JFL42 and can be found on Instagram at @youngemodernlaughs.