Wednesday, November 11, 2015


This Remembrance Day, it stands out to me how many people offer their thanks to the veterans and to those serving our country currently. What stood out to me was how vague many of the sentiments were. I thought about it more and realize that it makes sense. Especially, when the second World War (the last war that involved most of an entire generation) ended 70 years ago. I know that even for those who are my peers, some of their grandparents were too young to be a part of the war effort. Even if people do have grandparents who served in the war, many do not hear of their story. Perhaps it was too horrible or perhaps it simply doesn't come up. Many will hear stats such as that there were over 1,000,000 Canadian soldiers with over 42,000 of them dying during the war. Even though those numbers encapsulate many individual tragedies, they are just numbers. Humans have a hard time feeling bad for numbers.

That's why a personal story and a personal connection can turn one of those numbers into a someone we can identify with. It can bring the ideas of sacrifice and honour to a tangible picture.

I wonder if that many people lack that personal connection to someone from that era and although they intellectually understand the danger and sacrifice involved in such an event, maybe they feel detached from it all.

Growing up and going to Remembrance Day services at the school, I recall some of the other students and how disinterested they were in it. Now, I can understand it, but back then I could not.

That's because my own dad was a veteran of World War II. I was invested in those ceremonies because it involved my dad's own friends, classmates and even his other siblings. This was important to him and so it was important for me.

What I want to share with you today is what I can remember from what my dad told me about his experiences and my hope is that it will be a record for my own benefit, but also hopefully for those of you who feel so far away from the war. I want to take one of those numbers and make it real. I realize that I have a unique position of being closely related to someone involved in the war. I got to spend so much time with him because he was retired by the time I was 5. We would go for long walks around Minnedosa in the summer time. Sometimes we would talk about the war and his experiences and it's not until now that I realize how rare and beautiful a gift that was.

My dad, Les Rae, was born in 1925, which means he turned 18 in 1943. Four years of the war had already passed when he was enlisted and join the war effort. My uncle Frank was already over in Italy as artilleryman and my aunt Nina was a radar operator for the Navy. Dad told me about how there was a sense with his friends and peers that they needed to go and join. He told me that a few of the others who were too young would lie about their age and join. It was a sense of duty that drove them. Perhaps even the adventure of it.

He lived in a farming community west of Virden, Manitoba called Two Creeks. He told me about how throughout his teen years, the pilots who were training in their fighter planes would sometimes fly overhead and swoop down and fly right over your head with the roar of the engine blaring in your ear. My dad really wanted to join the air force. When he was old enough, he tried to join, but he was rejected because he failed his eye test. Not to be discouraged, he went to another place where the air force was recruiting and hoped to pass. To his chagrin, he got the same eye doctor and was once again rejected.

Enlisting in the army instead, my dad was sent to Kingston, Ontario which was the major army base of the Canadian Forces and went through basic training. He told me about the gruelling day long hikes with 80 pounds of gear on his back. One of the drills he had to do  was to crawl through the mud underneath barbed wire as they shot live ammo over them to simulate what it was like to crawl through the battlefield. They'd have to make their beds perfect so that if a commanding officer checked, they could bounce a quarter off the perfectly tight bedsheets. To contrast, I take up to an hour to get out of bed in the mornings.

After basic, my dad was assigned to be a signalman, which means he got to ride Harley Davidson motorcycles. Although it was not the same as flying a plane, it was still pretty exciting. The signalman’s job was to hand deliver messages when the officers did not want to use the radios to transmit secret plans. This also meant that the enemy would target the guys on motorcycles first to stop the messages from being delivered. My dad was sent to England for motorcycle training where they had learn how to expertly handle their machines. One of the tests was the riders would have to drive their bikes underneath a wire that was only a foot above the height of the bike and they’d have to duck.

Once done his training, my dad was sent to Germany to join the fight there. He was not there long when the German army surrendered. He was really fortunate given the dangerous role he had. Dad had told me about one signalman who he had met who had been involved at the battlefield. This other signalman was riding along when he stopped and looked around and realized that he was in the middle of a mine field. The enemy was firing at him and the only thing he could take cover behind was his bike. As he took cover, he prayed for the first time in his life. He realized he needed to move. Slowly pushing his bike along, he carefully navigated the field. Once out of the minefield and to safety, the reality of how close he was to death hit him as he looked upon his shrapnel-ridden bike. 

Another one of the stories that stood out to me was about the night the Germans surrendered. He and some of the other signalmen took the local German kids for rides on their bikes. Many Germans hated the war and some of them were opposed to the monster at the top as much as anyone else and were relieved that it was over. 

It's also worth noting that no one really knew of the holocaust while the war was going on. Much of that information came out after the war. Many people were unsure whether to be involved. Especially the United States. The States were cautious and stayed out of it. The presidential election taking place at the time had both candidates promising to not get involved because it was not the job of the United States of America to police the world. Funny how the times change.

Despite the German surrender, the war was not over. My dad was sent down to the southern United States to do some specialized jungle training so that they could send him to fight in Japan. While he training, the Americans dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan which lead to the surrender of the Japanese.

My dad was sent home. In the end, he never participated in any actual fighting. He’d tell me that some of the men who had seen fighting avoided talking about the war and what they saw because it was such a scary memory for them. War for many was not the exciting, flashy action movies and comic book stories that you see. War meant people were putting their lives, their minds and their souls on the line for their country.

I realize that this story is not a flashy story of heroism and sacrifice. One of the things I take away from my dad's story is that there were others like him who didn't have such a happy ending. They shared his hope for adventure and the deep sense of duty for his community. I can see how it was resonate with me to be involved in a such a vital way. This was a way you could have a strong sense of purpose. These men and women would serve selflessly because it was right to help your fellow countrymen.

Another thing that has struck me over the years is the idea that some veterans would not share their experiences because of the emotional trauma of what they saw. It's another kind of wound that would follow them for the rest of the their lives. I never met my uncle Frank. My family always spoke very highly of him. How he was funny, smart and handsome. He died sometime after the war when he was hit by a train as he was walking in Virden. What's interesting is that my family claims that it was an accident. That he didn't hear the train coming because of the wind. It sounds like a comforting lie. I always wondered how the war impacted him. They said he changed after the war. He was one of those that would not speak of his experience. I suppose we'll never know for sure what happened.

It's one of the reasons that I am grateful that my dad didn't experience the horrible realities of war like others faced. Many didn't get that benefit. They either died or came back never the same. Perhaps even living with those memories and unable to purge the horrors from the cages of their mind. 

I hope my dad's story is a reminder that the people who were involved in this war were like the rest of us. That war changes people. That war destroys people. That we must not take war lightly so as not to needlessly endanger those brave enough to defend us. That we push for peace. That we should live well so that the soldiers did not sacrifice themselves in vain.

I tell you this story in hopes that we do not forget and do not repeat.

"Kudos, my hero
Leaving all the best
You know my hero
The one that's on
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary."
- "My Hero" from the Foo Fighters album "The Colour and the Shape"

Friday, May 15, 2015

Love Letter to the Edmonton Comedy Scene

(This post is in regards to an article in Vue Weekly, which you can find here:

I was recently quoted and interviewed for an article in one of Edmonton's local arts papers that has led to a bit of a stir in the Edmonton comedy scene. The article focused on a supposed "underground" comedy scene (I guess Whyte avenue is considered underground? I wonder if the writer had confused "underground" with "south of the river") and it was presented in such a way that it made it seem like these shows were inclusive while the big comedy clubs and other shows were not. Which is not true.

This has led to many to be upset at such an idea as they should be. The comics that are hard working in the clubs and other shows are not creating an exclusive environment.

Some of their responses have pointed out something to the effect that those interviewed have no authority speaking on comedy because they are so new and/or are bad comedians. Some have indicated that those interviewed are creating a divide or are unfairly insulting fellow comedians. I can't speak for the others in the article. So I won't. I will, however, respond for myself.

I have no idea if my comments were considered to be hurtful or divisive or if it was simply because my name appeared in the article and thus it seemed like I agreed with the content of the article. Perhaps I'm being vain to assume people misunderstood me or even cared what I said. I don't particularly think my opinion is one of any authority in the scene. Some dude asked me questions and I answered them. The problem for me is if people did misunderstand me and felt slighted, then I should clarify myself.

I do believe that what I actually said in the article but not necessarily anything else. I tried to mention in my conversation with the reporter as many of the rooms I could think of including the Druid which was one of the shows that preceded the existence of Dr. Jokes and all of their kin. The Druid and Rouge Lounge are different than the alternative rooms, but they are just as vital.

I like the weird, alternative comedy-leaning rooms because they allowed me to explore concepts and were willing to go with me on my longer story-telling style. As well, like I also said, a comedian needs to do all kinds of rooms. You need to be able to win over crowds that don't innately like you because you're weird and adorable. As Lars Callieou has pointed out to me before, referring to something that Jerry Seinfeld said: "Good crowds help you explore; tough crowds help you edit."

My start in stand up comedy in Edmonton entailed going to the Druid comedy night (hosted by Lars) where I got my emotional teeth kicked in for months. I struggled to write short jokes that got quickly to a punchline and my round about pseudo-Stuart Mclean story-telling style didn't work great with a 5-minute set when a crowd can easily get distracted.

That's when I discovered Dr. Jokes where I was given more time for sets and I could explore premises and stories. It would give me some of my favoured bits that I still enjoy doing.

I still continued to go to the Druid and if forced me to come up with quicker jokes and I'm so thankful for that.

In the end, I do all these shows so that way I can go into the clubs and on the road and bring the best I can there. I would love to work consistently at the clubs, but I want to be good enough that they want me there. As Jim Gaffigan has said, "be so good that you are undeniable". I appreciate the clubs because they bring comedy to all sorts of people. They are a vital part of the engine of giving comics a chance to live and survive doing what they love.

The best part of stand up to me is that if a person feels like they have a point of view that they'd like to share with a crowd (perhaps a crowd of people that would normally disagree with them) you can. You may even plant the seeds to change minds. The only requirement is that you be funny. And you can't become as funny as you can be holed up in the rooms that you feel safe in.

What I'd like to end off this post is something positive. I know this may be hard for some of you comics to swallow but I'm not responsible for your cynicism.

I am thankful for the Druid. It's the first stage I ever performed on after I decided to become a standup comic. It has taught me some critical writing skills that I still need to work on. It also helped prepare me for road shows.

I am thankful for Dr. Jokes for allowing me to explore and giving me a place to figure things out.

I am thankful for Rouge Lounge because it was my great challenge for a long time. My style is weird to them there. That room was my Moby Dick if you will. I still remember the first time I did well there and I am always happy when I do.

I am thankful for the Comic Strip and the opportunity it is in this city. Major headliners come through and you have a chance to perform in front a diverse crowd. When shows are full there, it is so exciting to perform. Plus their joke battle show has lead me to find some of my best bits.

I am thankful for the Empress comedy show and the Underdog comedy show because of the opportunity to play for an engaged audience. I don't have to fight the crowd and I can experiment with some really weird ideas.

I was about to write a list of people to thank. But I realized that that I would likely get me in trouble. Just know that I try to learn from all of you and I appreciate it. Whether its comedy stuff or otherwise. Maybe I'll even tell you in person something instead of some note on the internet.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Just Jokes

It's weird to get a theatre degree and then wait 10 years before you actually start performing in a theatre. I mean, sure, I wrote sketches and videos for churches, camps and for kicks, but I haven't really had the experience of doing acting exercises and rehearsals since college. It has been a lot fun joining up with my improv troupe, Sorry Not Sorry. 

Improv is not really my strength in regards to acting. Normally, I prefer prepared scripts and thought out monologues and I always figured I'm not fast enough on my feet to effectively do improv. Honestly, I'm not as quick as some of the folks in the troupe who seem to have minds that can spontaneously combust into quips and jokes and characters that are funny and entertaining. I will say that my strength lies in my character work. If I can conceive a character, I can make it come to life. I suppose it was all those years of doing monologues with weird characters.

Anyway, that's the background to something that happened that caught me and had me reflecting for the next couple of days. We had a rehearsal where we focused on a long form story and we took suggestions for a location to be used at some point and we went with "church".

What ensued was a story about a new priest who was trying to help out this town that had fallen into a terrible debauchery since the last priest left. There was a couple of brothers who wanted to sabotage the new priest because they feared their pickle empire would suffer (because when people are debaucherous, they eat pickles - improv is weird sometimes). The story was cartoonish as people would switch from bad to good at the mere reading of any phrase in the Bible (or "bibble" as it was called by the unknowing bad people). It was silly and fun and everything turns out well. It was a pretty standard improv story.

After the story, one of the actors felt really apprehensive about doing such a story involving religion. He was concerned that it may come off as offensive to Christians because of the way improv has a natural tendency to trivialize whatever topic is involved. It is true that improv tends to play fast and loose with topics because it has to. If you are stopping and editing yourself, it will lead to a stilted presentation. I could appreciate how he felt about the whole thing. You don't want to make light of someone else's beliefs or philosophies or culture.

Some of you may feel like it may have been inappropriate to take the suggestion of "church" in the first place because that is what would lead to such a potentially hurtful situation. Here's the thing. I was the one who accepted the suggestion of "church" from the crowd. It was one we hadn't done before and I figured that it might be interesting to do.

Now, I have no idea if any one else in the troupe would identify themselves as Christian as so I don't know if they would have taken offence at it. I haven't tried to do the secret handshake to discover the others and so we could conspire to turn the group into a troupe that only does Christian messages and quotes the Bible every scene. (To be clear to everyone, I don't plan on doing that. That would be stupid.)

Admittedly, the way the church and members of the clergy and were portrayed in the scenes were very inaccurate. No one would just turn from selfish ways at the mere mention of a line from Jesus. A town doesn't become a complete den of inequity because there's no priest around. The Bible is not magic in that way. (Funny enough to me, it could have been made into a movie and it would been celebrated as a wonderful Christian film celebrated by the church for it's positive portrayal of Christianity.)

I suppose I had the "right" to be offended. It had took a jokey approach to my faith and could have been construed as being dismissive to my beliefs. This is where I say I shouldn't be offended. It would be stupid of me to be offended. It would be immature of me to be offended. If I would be offended at someone making fun of my faith (especially one where the church were portrayed as the good guys. How often does that happen anymore?) then I would communicate something far more damaging about Christianity that anything joked about. I believe it would communicate that my faith and my God is not strong enough to overlook a joke. It seems to me that if you can't bear to hear a joke about your beliefs then you probably don't believe in that thing very much. Also, it shows that you either lack the intelligence or humility to differentiate when someone is joking and when someone is trying to harm you.

The more defensive you are about your beliefs, the more uncertain you are in those beliefs. If all you hear about my beliefs is how I'm offended at something, then I'm missing out on the opportunity to talk about what is good about my beliefs.

If you can't take a joke, then I can't take you seriously.

"Some people try to find the meaning in life but that's the craziest thing you can do,
Because the meaning behind something as f***ed up as life would have to be pretty f***ed up too.
Some people think a wizard lives up in the sky
And he looks after people after people die
And also there's a monster underneath the dirt
And his job is to trick us into being jerks
But other people think none of that exists
And if you try to argue they get really pissed
The only thing upon which they can all agree
Is at the end of the day there's nothing more crazy that Scientology
People's opinions are all stupid and bizarre
Believing in stuff is mostly crap"
- "Life" from the Success 5000 album "Laughcore"