Beloved Canadian comedian Ron James knows he’s one of the lucky ones. It’s an admission that comes early in the conversation in advance of his performance at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre on Saturday night.
For the last 15 years, James has been selling out venues across Canada, producing five seasons of The Ron James Show, in addition to filming his seventh television comedy special, The Big Picture. A Gemini Award winner for his writing on the long-running CBC television show This Hour Has 22 Minutes, James is also the proud recipient of the Dave Broadfoot Comedy Genius Award.
The latter acclaim is especially poignant for James these days as, at the start of November, Broadfoot passed away at the age of 90. Not only was Broadfoot a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Farce troupe, James insists the comedian helped pave the way for guys like him to thrive north of the 49th parallel.
“Dave was a gentle giant,” James begins. “He was a good man of strong character and remarkable ethics. He also blazed a trail for comedians at a time before anybody knew what stand-up comedy was. He was the gold standard for Canadian comedians to aspire to reach.”
James recalls approximately 25 years ago, he was given a chance to open for the legendary comic at the Gravenhurst Opera House, located almost two hours north of Toronto. Not only did Broadfoot take the time to offer James advice with respect to how he could broaden his audience, James says the comedian’s show put others half his age to shame.
“At almost 70 years of age, with a comedy team from Toronto’s Queen St. West smugly passing judgment of him, Dave did 90 minutes that put all those guys to shame. It’s no coincidence that those that doubted Dave’s abilities have been swallowed and lost to time.”
In today’s age, where the seven-second video clip reigns supreme, too many consumers are focused on quantity over quality, often paying minimal regard for the work that goes into the craft.
Contrary to the lure and supposed promise of social media, YouTube and the like, James acknowledges there are no shortcuts to fame if you’re resolved on being the best you can be.
“So many people today are looking to become famous without putting in the necessary work. YouTube can be a good springboard for your career, but when you walk on stage at a club, the experience is totally different. For better or worse, the reactions are much more immediate. The first time a carpenter picks up a hammer, they aren’t building a mansion. You have to look at stand-up comedy in the same way. You need to live through those insufferably bad one-night gigs and look at those experiences as a means to help you hone your skills and craft. If you want to do it right, you have to put in the grunt work; it makes the end reward that much more satisfying,” James says.
If anything, James knows he’s fortunate to have made a name for himself before the online landscape, including social media became such a driving force in the world.
“I’ve always been the kind of person that wanted my work to speak for itself. I have no interest in doing something goofy that is in turn going to be boiled down to be a mere morsel of content for somebody that’s bouncing around from one web page to the next. It might prove to be my downfall one day, but until then…”
Despite selling more than one million tickets over the course of his career, James is not relying on previous accomplishments to continue bringing people out to his performances. He shares his newest stand-up show focuses on electoral issues south of the border, but also within Canada, including some comedic insight into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s so-called “sunny ways.”
James show is about so much more than politics, however.
“In Canada, we’ve gone from having a prime minister that could never smile to having one that can’t stop smiling, but I’m also talking about everything ranging from Pokemon Go through food poisoning, and how the Baby Boomers are the most spoiled generation going,” he offers. “I’ve always believed that a comedian’s job is to rock the apple cart, not ride in it. In a world of non-stop change, I hope to be able to connect the dots for people.”
What: Ron James
When: Saturday Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 811 Main St., Moncton
Tickets are $55. Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone (506) 856-4379 and online at capitol.nb.ca.