Not only is James a hit on stage with audiences from coast to coast, the television show that bears his name recently began its third season on CBC Television.
From his Toronto home last week, the Nova Scotian-born James recalls that he was bitten by the comedy bug early in his life, starting as having loved the feeling of getting laughs as a child.
“My affinity has always been with getting laughs,” a friendly James starts. “It was just the way that I walked through the world.”
After having earned his degree from Acadia University, James found his way to renowned comedy troupe Second City in Toronto.
There, he says it was common to have SCTV stars including the late John Candy, Eugene Levy and Martin Short drop by to visit the students.
Those impromptu visits would sometimes lead to Second City members landing parts on various SCTV skits.
In the early 1990s, James relocated from his native Canada to Los Angeles where he landed some roles in both television and film. After struggling to find work for a year and a half, he returned to Canada to plot his next move.
James ended up writing a one-man show, Up and Down in Shaky Town: One Man’s Journey Through The California Dream, which chronicled his experience of the prior few years in the American market. James’ show was filmed and broadcast as the inaugural special on the Comedy Network when the channel launched in 1997.
Though James might not have ever intended to become a stand-up comedian, it is clear in speaking with him that he is rather comfortable wearing the shoes.
“Becoming a stand-up comedian was a big leap to take from being an irony actor. The end result of getting laughs is the same but it is a whole different skill set that I needed to learn.
“I just kept plugging away at it and ended up learning my craft from being on stage. I did anything and everything to help build my set. In a lot of ways, it made me feel alive and had revitalized my career that had, up to that point, been dependant on traditional forms of employment, like auditioning for roles. One I found that stand-up comedy was for me, I took the work much more seriously,” he says.
Taking the job more seriously involved James embarking on a seemingly never-ending tour from one coast to the other in the earliest days of his stand-up career. His hard work paid off though – James now routinely sells out his performances throughout the country.
Finding the right combination of material to include within the context of a two-hour stage show is not always an easy task. James says that for every 15 minute monologue he delivers, he has to write upwards of 30 minutes of material. Putting in the grunt work is not a deterrent for him, however. James remains undeterred, insisting that he has made a conscientious effort to ensure that his live show delivers on all levels.
“Included in the newest live show are stories about growing up, school, my family and house league hockey as well as how to find balance when the world is spinning around you full tilt. I think that everybody is trying to make sense of where they stand within this rapidly moving planet.”
“Finding the right balance of material to put into the show is very important. It’s like making a stew – you don’t want to have too much or too little of anything. But ultimately, this is what having performed stand-up comedy for the past 18 years has afforded me. I am able to take a look at where I have been, where I am and where I am going,” James says.
As a comedian, James is well aware that the most successful comedians are those who can establish an immediate connection with their audience.
He feels that, for the most part, the trust of the audience is earned via story-telling and experiences that people feel that they can ultimately relate to.
“As a comedian, your work has to resonate on a level that the audience can relate to. That is what is really nice about what I have accomplished in all my years of touring: my experiences ultimately become theirs,” James says.
“As I have grown and changed over the years, it has become a priority to figure out how to articulate the world and make it relatable to everyone in the audience. I find that part of the job rather humbling. I like seeing the plumber and the professor that laugh at some of the same things but then also laugh at completely different things as well. Having an original voice is the one thing that I believe that every comedian aspires to.”
Article published in November 8, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript