Passion Profiles is a collection of real stories from people who love what they do. If you know someone who has a story to share we would love to hear from you.
Interview with a Comedian
The Emphasis of Togetherness
Ivan and I meet at Rainier Provisions, a coffeehouse in Gastown. I’d seen Ivan on stage a few weeks before at Comedy Mix in downtown Vancouver, and left with a sore laughter-gut and cheeks tired from smiling. Watching his stand-up was like listening to hilarious stories from a friend. And it feels the same way meeting him this afternoon - relaxing with hilarious bursts. Though not everyone he meets opens up to his role as a comic.
“A lot of times people are stand-offish about comedy,” he tells me. We sit at a quiet table near the back of the shop. “It’s really weird being introduced as a comedian in a small town. I'll get, ‘I bet you think you're pretty funny.’ And I'm like ‘I know I am, it's just my job.’ You wouldn't hire a plumber to come to your house, and when he walks away you say, ‘I bet you think you're pretty good with pipes, huh?!’”
Ivan grew up in Ladner, a small town outside of Vancouver, though he spent most of his time in Vancouver, visiting his Dad who lived here. For as long as he can remember, he loved being in front of crowds, making people laugh. For him, comedy was a natural step.
“I've always enjoyed being on stage, ever since I was a kid. The number one thing I enjoy is interacting with people.”
"When was your first time on stage?" I ask.
He tilts his head thoughtfully for a moment. "First time on stage was a little bit over eight years ago. I started comedy when I was 19. I was in college and didn't really know what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to do something with performing. The acting world is so difficult unless you have a very unique kind of look. I look like a guy that people knew in highschool. Everybody's like ‘I think I know you! You're like that guy that I forgot about. Were you in my high school?’”
He took a comedy course at Langara College and knew that was what he wanted to do.
“Stand-up is 100% about making a connection with the audience. If you come out and say it like it’s been rehearsed in front a mirror people can tell. ‘Oh, this guy’s not talking to us. He's talking at us.’ There's this weird sort of other, kind of intangible connection that needs to occur between a stand-up comedian and the audience. It's different than an actor. An actor delivering a monologue is still kind of out of the room.” As he speaks his cheeks warm up, and he leans forward in his chair, grinning.
“I often tell audiences, ‘you know we're a team, right?! This is a two way street. We're working together to have a great show. It's not me against you, we're in this together!’"
"And do they warm up after that?"
"No. They throw bottles at me."
I laugh loudly, thinking he’s kidding. Though I probably should have asked.
Ivan’s first time on stage was on his 19th birthday, the day he was able to enter a late night comedy club for the first time. He asked if he could perform and the club said yes. That first night went okay, he tells me, so they invited him back the next week. He returned the following Tuesday and was booed off stage. To this day, he has never seen anyone else get booed off stage, an occurrence he thought happened regularly.
“How did you feel your first time on stage?”
“I felt okay. I think when I started comedy I was also too cocky. Any career has a way of making you become honest, especially comedy, because you have instant feedback. It's probably one of the only jobs that's so just. It's the only artform where the second you do it, you can know how good it is while it's happening. It would be like painting a picture and halfway through someone was like ‘Nooo, don't like it!’ ‘Well I'm still trying!’ It really taught me to be humble. Getting booed offstage was an eye opener for me.”
We talk about what attracts him to this work.
“You give people a sense of togetherness, which is why I like talking about things that bring people together. I've always tried to do that with everything. Come up with an idea about something that has annoyed people but they forgot. Bring that up and people say ‘Yeah! I feel that way too.’”
“It's like a traffic jam that's going really slow. You hate it. But a traffic jam that stops completely and you can all get out of your cars and be together, you're like, ‘Yeah, this is great. I love it.’ I call it the Power Outage Principle. If your power is out, you're mad. But if everyone’s power is out, it's great. There's something there in the sort of ‘togetherness.’ I like the idea of everyone laughing together at something. Like I said before, we're a team.”
I ask him if he could pass on some wisdom to his 15-year-old self, what would he say?
He pauses in thought for a moment, tilting his teacup to his lips. “If you're not cool in high school you're never going to be cool. Don't believe what anybody tells you. This doesn't matter.”
After an eruption of laughs, he continues.
“Nah, I would probably tell myself to be more humble. Don't take so much criticism to heart and at the same time don't think you're amazing. Teenagers have this mind set of knowing everything. It's the classic, ‘You don't know dad! You were never my age!’ ‘Yeah, I was! Like 8 years ago.’ Remember that your parents have done it all before.
“Humility and respect are two things that people just don't learn. Kids learn to criticize and compare. ‘I have an A and you have a B. I'm better than you. I'm in Grade 7 and you're in Grade 6. I'm better than you.’ It would be so much better if people could just learn to come together and work. There is not enough emphasis on ‘togetherness.’”
“At fifteen years old, you have to choose. Are you going to do sciences? Are you going to do auto mechanics? I wanted to do all that stuff. But you have two years - figure it out. That's when you determine what university you go to. There's all these fourteen year olds who are like ‘I just want to touch a girl's leg! I don't know anything beyond that!’
“Nothing's fair. The only thing that's fair is that it's not fair for anybody. And sure, some people catch a break. You'll get yours, too. Success is preparedness meets opportunity. So you just have to be ready when that opportunity comes.
“If you become too fixated on one thing, something else might pass you by. There's a great quote from Ira Glass. It's about creativity and how your ability to be unsatisfied by your work is what makes you succeed. You reach this level where you think, okay, I'm doing alright, but I wish I was doing better. And that's good! Because you have to get over that plateau, and in order to do that, you have to create and work as much as possible.”
Some final advice for those getting into any career, including comedy:
“Never become bitter. You have to remember, you're in this for fun. I find times when I'm getting too bitter, too jaded, I just take a step back. You're doing this because you enjoy it. No one is forcing you to be here. This is what you do, and you should be happy.”
We end our interview with a photograph. Another patron in the shop makes a comment about joining in the picture. Ivan opens his arms wide, “Let’s all get in here, guys!” Another moment of Togetherness.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
― Ira Glass