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Archive for the ‘The Things I Do For a Dollar’ Category

The Open-Mic Scene

Posted by lifestyle On April - 25 - 2008

So you want to get into comedy, eh?

By Ben Robinson

Hello. My name is Ben Robinson, and I’m a failed comedian. I have a passion for comedy that dates back to before I can remember. In grade seven we were given a class project with the title, “What kind of job do you want to have?” I took that project more seriously than any other assignment that year, which is to say I spent about 15 minutes on it the night before. After much soul searching, I decided that I wanted to be a comedian.

Here were my reasons. I did not spend much money at the time, so I figured money would not be a factor in my decision. As most of you probably know, comedians do not get paid very much. Another factor was the desire to do good. Even back then I knew I would never be a doctor. But I did seem to have the ability to make my friends laugh. Finally, I thought it would be really fun.

After high school, I went to The Humber School of Comedy. There I met many fine young adults who wanted to be famous, but who did not want to do anything that would make them famous. I also met several excellent students who were merely trying to escape university. With the field clear of any real form of competition, I was able to manage a one-on-one dinner interview with Mark Breslin, owner and founder of Yuk Yuks — the largest chain of comedy clubs in North America.

My mother gave me money to pay my part of the meal, but I needed that money for pot. We went to a very fancy restaurant on Bay Street, and I refused to order any food. Mark would have paid, but I couldn’t tell my mother that. I was a very honest hustler. Mark insisted we order some bread and I acquiesced. Although all we had was bread and water, the meal ended up costing about $20.

Mark could tell I was destined to become a successful comedian by the way I kept asking him why someone of his stature would lower himself to have dinner with me. I asked him what the secret of becoming a good comedian was; he said to have a group of friends who laugh at everything you say. When these friends REALLY laugh hard — then you have a joke. I told him I knew people like that, and they were a real drag to be around. He recommended keeping two sets of friends.

Later that year I got myself kicked out of Humber and dove into the open-mic scene full time. At my height, I was doing nine shows a week. I will tell you what it is like to do amateur comedy: a man never truly knows what it means to be depressed until he has started doing standup.

Open-mic nights can be found in the Entertainment listings of NOW Magazine. But if you really want to be hardcore, you gotta network. Comics run open-mic shows so they have an opportunity to get more stage time. Comics are lazy, soulless people and often do not advertise their shows. At all. Situations like this create the ultimate hip-hop style of “realness” that I have come to associate with open-mics.

Eight people are in the audience. All of them are comics. All of them have heard all of your jokes before. None of them have ever laughed at anything anyone has ever said and never will. If you are lucky they will be drinking beer with their backs turned. If you are unlucky they are in the front row staring at you with their dead eyes. The judgment of God does not compare. Then again, after doing enough comedy, God is the ultimate punchline.

You become one of them. You are on last. This does not mean you are headlining. This means most of the other guys get to go home before you. Every word of what is said by the man before you fills you with hate. You wish it was true that open-mic-ers got free beer. Mmm, beer would help you cope. But you don’t have a job. No beer for you.

Right before your act, the local celebrity comic waltzes in and does a 10-minute set. Everyone loves him. You can tell he’s good because you don’t hate him quite as much. He blows everyone away. Then he goes out front to smoke a cigar and the sycophants join him. You are left to yourself and the bartender. You can’t remember anything you wanted to say, so you just make monkey noises and go home. Sleep is your reward.

The next day you have to do it again.

The Things I Do For a Dollar

Posted by lifestyle On November - 6 - 2007

Ten Reasons to Work at a Small Independent Suburban Gas Station

By Rachel Kahn

10. You are guaranteed to be no more than 50 feet away from a police or fire station. That is because most suburbanite parents are convinced that gas stations are sites of criminal activity, and you should be thankful they do, because this keeps YOU safe from getting held up by the kids of those paranoid parents.

9. If you have the good fortune to work alone, you will never get behind in your reading again. I personally completed eight novels over the course of a month and a half, because who the hell buys gas at six in the morning on a Sunday?

8. Once they finally install that Dunkin’ Donuts/Coffee Time/Tim Hortons next door, you’ll never sleep through an opening shift again. If you’re really persistent, the girls will even walk your order across the parking lot, so you can get hot coffee even when you’re not on break. Oh, the convenience!

7. Sometimes the power goes out and you have to eat all the ice cream treats in the freezer. Especially if the power goes out for over four hours. At that point it’s your DUTY to eat those ice cream treats.

6. Not one of your customers will complain about the price of gas, because your boss’s pricing strategy is “$0.002 below the Esso up the street” and you have company binoculars to keep that price consistent.

5. Quicker than you can imagine, you’ll build serious relationships with all the local tow-truck drivers. They’re the first to figure out that you’re $0.002 cheaper than the Esso, and if you’re really lucky, they’ll hit on you constantly. Of course, if you get tired of hearing about the “horsepower” of their “engines,” you can always call on Bubba. He runs the garage and repair shop behind the gas station, and he’s totally got your back.

4. You can develop an insider’s knowledge of lottery and cigarette addicts’ habits. This will serve you well in conversation with the tow-truck drivers, as well as at any other point in your life where you need a level of camaraderie with people who consider themselves pretty “bad-ass.” You will also develop the ability to locate a pack of (insert any cigarette brand here) with your eyes closed. That might not serve you so well unless you take up smoking, though, which is a bad habit to have while working at a gas station.

3. You get to play a mental game of bingo with hilarious car/driver pairings. Some of my favourites were the California Drug Lord, a man in his mid-60s, wearing sunglasses, expensive shoes and a Hawaiian shirt, and driving a pristine black 1980s Buick; the Reformed Biker, an overweight, bearded, balding man who has given up Harleys for hand-restored Austin Minis, and wears a t-shirt proclaiming his love thereof beneath his leather jacket; and finally, the Raging Granny, a woman far too old to drive, who frequents your gas station because it’s the only place in her neighbourhood where she can get diesel fuel for her 1973 olive green Mercedes, which she refers to as Ethel. You also get to take bets from Bubba and the coffee girls on how often Ethel “brushes” the stop sign on the way into the station.

2. The constant risk of getting blown up is a subtle, almost Tantric adrenaline rush. After the intense training lectures about things-that-might-make-you-explode, you become aggressively paranoid. Finally some woman pulls out a cellphone — while pumping gas — on the hottest day of the summer — and you just flip out on the poor dear. After she leaves in tears, you feel vaguely proud.

1. When the entire Eastern Seaboard loses power on the hottest day of the summer, you’re the first to see signs of panic. Thankfully, you do get to eat a lot of ice cream.

The Things I Do For a Dollar

Posted by lifestyle On June - 18 - 2007

Fire Poi Busking

By Claire Brownell

Post-grad unemployment is a harsh and unforgiving reality. A few weeks after moving into a dilapidated townhouse in London, Ontario, lured away from the comfort of our parents’ homes by false promises of employment and cheap rent, the financial situation of my roommates and I was getting dire. We needed a way to support the lifestyle to which we’d grown accustomed — lying around on mattresses on our living room floor all day, repeating our motto “today I buy whiskey, tomorrow I find job.” We took stock of our marketable skills and, sure enough, it wasn’t my bachelor’s degree in political science or our various industrial and service industry experiences that was to keep us supplied with gin, Mr. Noodles, and nicotine for the next few weeks. It was the hours my roommate Victoria had spent practicing spinning fire poi that saved us.

Fire poi, in a nutshell, is two flaming balls on chains that you spin around in patterns. Originally practiced by the Maori people of New Zealand, it’s become something of a global subculture with poi dancers linked by message board communities. People spin poi as a form of meditation, to one-up those lame glow stick kids at music festivals, and because, well, could you have a cooler hobby? Most importantly, it really impresses drunken people. Our original scheme was to sell beer lemonade-stand-style in sparkly bikinis off our front stoop, but fire poi busking seemed like a more lucrative and slightly less illegal business plan. We imagined people lining up for the bars on a Thursday night losing their minds at the sight of Vicky spinning fire and dollar signs flashed before our eyes.

We spray-painted a baseball cap gold to collect change in and made a sign that said “Support our drinking and fireplay.” We stationed ourselves in an alley beside the busiest bar we could find, lit up the poi, and started the music in our stereo. There was an audible “Whoa!” from the onlookers in the line up and on the patio. Fire spinning not only looks really impressive, it also makes a great whooshing sound. When people stopped to look, it was everyone else’s job to give them the sales pitch: “Crazy, eh? Bet you’ve never seen anything like that before. Kerosene, bristol board, and gold spray painted hats don’t come for free, you know.” People’s reactions ranged from the predictable “I’ve got my own drinking to support, thanks” to dumping the entire contents of their wallet in wide-eyed silence into the hat.

We could see police across the street scratching their heads, flipping through their book, obviously trying and failing to come up with a bylaw we were breaking. We thought it was all over when the bar owner came out to talk to us, but he wanted to thank us for improving business. Eventually the crowd started stumbling home and petering out. We had made eighty-five dollars in about an hour — including two twenty dollar bills.

I feel that our entrepreneurial and artistic spirits were appreciated. I caught more than one flash of pity tinged with envy in the eyes of spectators who were probably unemployed like us — sort of “this is awesome!” mixed with “I wish I had thought of something like this” mixed with “ouch — I hope I don’t have to stoop this low.” In the end, it was the basic law of supply and demand working in our favour: London was desperate for a break from blandness, and Vicky delivered. Everybody wins. And now we can buy a summer’s worth of kerosene with our hat full of money.



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