Well, it’s not actually a joke. It’s the way life has played out for Moncton native Julien Dionne.
Returning to his hometown for a show at the Empress Theatre on Friday night, Dionne traded his briefcase for the stage many moons ago. A Canadian Comedy Award nominee, Dionne regularly travels coast-to-coast to deliver his unique brand of humour to audiences looking for a chance to laugh.
These are exciting times for Dionne: In addition to hosting a regular comedy night in Downtown Toronto, he has also launched a twice-weekly podcast, The Julien Dionne Comedy Hour.
Perhaps most significantly, Dionne is also a free agent for the first time in eight years. After a successful partnership with the Yuk Yuk’s comedy chain, the comedian is now steering his own ship.
“My relationship with Yuk Yuk’s was terrific – all positive stuff,” Dionne says from his Toronto home. “I had just reached a point in my career where I wanted to try doing my own thing. I had the opportunity to perform a lot of shows but felt like there was potentially something else out there for me to explore. It is an exciting time, especially at this stage of my career.”
He says that a fear of career complacency was also a motivating factor.
“When you’re working with a nationally-renowned company, it is just way too easy to become complacent and wait for opportunities to fall in your lap,” Julien says. “Being in charge of your own empire is completely different. Knowing it’s up to you to book your next shows and stay on top of all aspects of your career is a huge but welcome change of pace. It really lights a fire under you.”
Part of that fire comes from branching out into previously unexplored territory. While he has been well versed in performing stand-up comedy over the last decade, Dionne took on a different kind of challenge in his adopted hometown of Toronto. He began hosting bi-weekly comedy nights at popular Toronto nightclub C’est What. He says that the shows have forced him to constantly revamp his act and come up with new material, both of which help keep his creative juices flowing.
“Hosting the shows at C’est What has forced me to be constantly writing and coming up with new material, especially because you could have some people showing up each time and you don’t want to be relying on the same material,” he says. “You never want to get too comfortable with the material in your act.”
Also helping keep Dionne on his toes is his podcast, which he writes and records twice each week. Available for free download via iTunes, Dionne says that each podcast follows roughly the same format. “I kick off each podcast with a 15- or 20-minute monologue and then go into a feature interview with a guest in which the podcast isn’t specifically about comedy. I think the last thing anybody would want to listen to is two people trying to out-funny one another. I always encourage my guests to just be themselves and not worry about entertaining as much as simply having a discussion.”
After spending a couple of years living and working in New York City earlier this decade, Dionne says that he has a great appreciation for being a comedian in Canada. He understands that television opportunities may not be as frequent as if he was based of the United States, but he feels confident about the prospect of building his career at home.
“Getting into television and film would be a bonus. For the time being, I’m happy to focus on my stand-up routines and podcasts over which I have a little more control. There are comedians like Steve Patterson and Gerry Dee, both of whom have made great careers in comedy for themselves in Canada. Things just seem to be getting better and better for me,” he says. “I’m doing something I love.”
Performing alongside Dionne on Friday night is Ottawa native Jen Grant. A veteran performer of major Canadian comedy festivals including Just For Laughs as well as the Halifax and Winnipeg Comedy Festivals, Grant has also performed alongside comedy legends Louis CK and Robert Klein.
“I started pursuing comedy in my hometown around 15 years ago,” Jen says. “I decided to get up on stage during an amateur night but was also terrified of doing so. I had essentially memorized my act, got up there and got off stage giving myself the worst pep talk all the time. But I did end up getting some laughs and kept getting better with the occasional bomb of a performance in between.”
Early in her career, Grant departed her hometown in favour of Vancouver, a move which afforded her more opportunities to pursue and refine her craft. She then moved onto the Big Apple, living in New York City for a few years where she continued to impress audiences.
“My experience in New York City is that it is a great city to be a comedian but it is insanely competitive,” she says. “It was completely normal to perform a show with people that had been on the David Letterman show and it wasn’t that big of a deal. In Vancouver, a good comedy show would earn you a buzz that would sustain itself for a while (whereas) in New York, you are only as good as your last set. It’s really true what they say – if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
“My experience there was great though. I have a pretty great life.”
Like Dionne, Grant returned to Canada where, among other career highlights, she finally recorded and released her debut album of comedy, Nobody Likes Your Homemade Wine, 16 years after she first set foot on stage.
She notes that her performance at Moncton’s Empress Theatre on Friday night will be recorded for what she anticipates will be her second audio release.
“After getting my first recording done and released, it makes me wish I had done it five years sooner,” she says. “I don’t want to waste any time following it up.”
What: Julien Dionne & Jen Grant
When: Friday Dec. 19, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Empress Theatre, 199 Robinson Court, Moncton
Tickets are $23. Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone at (506) 856-4379 and online at capitol.nb.ca