The comedy of Mike McDonald
Photo by Paul Couvrette One of Canada's great stand-up comedians, Mike McDonald, sat down for an exclusive interview with Rick Wharton for the Daily Observer. He performs at Festival Hall this Sunday.
Rick Wharton (Actor, Comedian, Radio host, Space TV's Conspiracy Guy, and Festival Hall director) brings The Daily Observer readers exclusive interviews with some of the big name acts coming to Festival Hall. Instead of traditional story format, these pieces will be brought to you in the question and answer format in the same way the interviews took place. So let’s be a fly on the wall and see what Mike McDonald one of Canada's finest standups, had to say during his ‘10 minutes with Rick’.
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Rick – Mike, congrats on fighting the good fight.
Mike – Thanks. The good fight I like.
Rick – Maybe you could tell our readers who don't know what you have been dealing with in life the past while what's been going on?
Mike – Well, briefly, I just passed through a sixth month recovery period from a liver transplant and the Toronto doctors are pleased with my medical progress. However, getting to this point wasn’t easy due to an adverse reaction to the anti-rejection drugs which triggered a severe bipolar, manic depressive response that I'm still struggling to completely come to terms with. On the funny side, I lost 50 pounds without having to do any annoying exercise or go on a nauseating diet. But it’s not a weight loss program I would enthusiastically recommend.
Rick – When did you know you wanted to be a stand-up ?
Mike – Right after my very first time on stage and I got laughs. Actually, technically speaking, I knew I wanted to be a stand-up about 10 minutes after I got off stage and finished puking my guts out in the bathroom.
Rick – Who inspired you?
Mike – Tons of people. Growing up it was everybody from all the funny people on Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Laugh-In, etc. In high school especially Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Monty Python. The list goes on and on. But my life in comedy could not have happened without that first subversive influence that let me know that life didn’t have to be taken so seriously – Bugs Bunny. After watching him I had very little choice of what to do with the rest of my life. I blame it all on Bugs Bunny. Rick – You have done so much for Canada as an ambassador of 'funny.'
Mike – I don’t know what that means but it sounds good.
Rick – What is it like personally playing the small rooms when you started out and then doing big halls?
Mike – It’s interesting to me that since my last professional show back in January that just in the last two weeks I’ve performed four times. Thank God the new stuff is working, so it’s really like starting over and I’m back in the ‘small’ rooms. When I’m on stage doing my act and it’s working, people are laughing. I can hear a pin drop in between the pauses, when I know the audience is in the right mind set and rhythm. It’s like Carnegie Hall every time.
Rick – The Funniest Person in the Valley has been a huge success. We have great talent here not only in the valley but in Canada. Who is making you laugh these days?
Mike – Again, the list goes on and on. The only difference is how into their craft certain comedians are. Every time I watch someone there’s something that will make me laugh right out loud or at minimum make me wish I had written the joke myself. As far as just Canadians let’s say if I were a coach and I could hand pick the Canadian team to go to the Comedy Olympics we’d have a damn good shot at the gold medal.
Rick – Your wife is amazing. She has stood by you through the highs and lows of a performer's life and your health issues. This is no joke or blowing smoke. It's inspiring.
Mike – Simply put, my wife Bonnie is the best reason, if not the only reason, I’m still here in any sense of the word. I’m fortunate to be committed to three things that sustain me in life and that’s my wife, humour, and music.
Rick – Could you share a little of what a standup comedian has to do to find their 'voice?'
Mike – I’ve always had a problem with the 'voice thing.' The stuff I talk about is just things that make me laugh and I can’t wait to try it out in front of a crowd. The material I like the most is when I can combine the laugh with revealing,‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’.
Rick – Any cool moments with people you have met on the road where you got the goosebumps or was a thrill?
Mike – Again a long list there. Just recently when I watched the Emmys and Robin Williams did a tribute to Johnathan Winters I remembered back in the early nineties when I first met him. I got to spend three full days with Jonathan Winters working on some variety cable TV special. Three days of listening to unrelenting, hilarious, wild stories – and he didn’t repeat a word. He was beyond amazing. Three days of non-stop, thrilling goosebumps...
Rick – Did you like making a transition going from standup live performance to television?
Mike – From time to time I still like it but for the most part it’s a time restrictive, ‘final exam’ kind of thing for me. Every time I go on TV I’m thinking, “I hope they think this is funny, hope I pass!” Live, it’s a lot less stressful.
Rick – Looking forward to you performing on Sunday night. Twelve aspiring funny valley comics are on the bill. What can we expect for those who don't know your standup work?
Mike – You can expect something funny, especially if you’ve liked or agreed with anything I’ve said so far.
Rick – I want to thank you for blazing the field for young Canadian comics.
Mike – Blazing? I’d like to think I was really good at keeping the door open but thanks for the intention of the compliment.
Rick – Any advice for them?
Mike – Yeah. Don’t believe the hype and when you’re trying to come up with stuff for your act, never throw anything out that at one time you even thought could be funny. Nine times out of 10 your first instinct was right. You may not have the skills to flush it out yet but if you apply yourself later on you could figure out the proper presentation of the idea. Also never start with a blank page. I believe we don’t write the jokes we find them. Perfect example, Taylor Williamson from AGT had this great joke about how his great-great-great-grandparents were first cousins and it was strange at the wedding to see the whole family sitting on one side of the aisle. Ever since the very first premise was uttered about first cousins marrying that joke has been sitting there going, “Find me and put me in your act!” Taylor found it first. Being a good comedian is like being a good detective. Keep looking for the clues and then solve the case and go for your gold shield.
Rick – Stay funny.
Mike – Thanks for asking.
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Mike McDonald will host the semifinals of The Funniest Person in the Valley on Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Festival Hall Centre for the Arts in Pembroke.
Twelve semifinalists will be taking a shot at the getting to the finals on Oct. 2 at Yuk Yuks in Ottawa.
They are Tommy Fitz, Jay O'Neele, Rebecca Reeds, Brad Doiron, Matt Watson, Catherine Doucette, Colin O'Brien, Matt Swizzle, Greg Schroder, Kris Kingsbury, Jenn Hayward and Tim Reil. Five funny people will move on.