Foibles is a fictitious club in Toronto, presented here as a typical setting for stand-up comedy in Canada. A number of exceptions to and variations on Foibles will be noted in this section and the next. Indeed, it will become evident that, with reference to some aspects of the comedy club, no place is typical. Although Canadian comedy clubs legally hold anywhere from 100 to 300 patrons, Foibles can serve 190, the average capacity of all the clubs visited for this study. Most of the audience at Foibles is seated at tables in a rectangular-shaped room with the stage, cantered on one of the long sides. This is the sort of room comics prefer, for it is difficult to play to people seated in an L-shaped space like Yuk Yuk’s Uptown club in Toronto or in a deep and narrow room like Crackers, a now-defunct club in Hamilton.
Foibles has a plain interior. Its black walls and ceiling direct attention toward the stage and help create a sense of density, an environment of contagion. Black and white show business photos hung here and there do little to alter this subtle persuasion. As plain are the tables, chairs (not too comfortable), stools, flooring, and lighting, which simultaneously lower management costs and focus attention on the stage rather than the sensory environment
A SHOW AT FOIBLE S
Shows at Foibles are typical of those presented in Canadian comedy clubs. Let us consider the first show Saturday night. Patrons begin arriving an hour or so before it starts, pay a cover charge of seven dollars (occasionally adjusted to compete with the cost of local cinemas, and sit down to a round or two of drinks, perhaps a snack from the kitchen. Popular recorded music mingles with cigarette smoke and conversation. The very informality of the room along with the liquor, soon reduces the inhibitions of patrons as they wait for ShowTime.
The show at Foibles is reasonably typical, but to complete our conception of Canadian stand-up comedy there are several variations to note. At Foibles and many other clubs, the order of shows and acts varies from day to day. Depending on the room, amateurs perform on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays in five- to ten-minute sets. These evenings are emceed by a professional, and the headliner for the week sometimes provides twenty minutes or so of entertainment at the end of the show. There is one show on Thursdays with the same structure as the weekend shows. On Fridays and Saturdays two shows are offered, often eight-thirty and eleven-thirty. The sequence of opening, middle, and headliner acts, or spots, as they are sometimes called, is uncommon in the United States.
The comic’s act onstage is, at bottom, his or her interpretation of written lines. These are memorized and presented as though improvised. Although most performers deliver lines in a conversational manner, there is still much about a presentation that is theatrical. With some notable exceptions, seasoned professionals are more inclined to be theatrical than amateurs and junior professionals, incorporating a variety of movements (stage business) into their acts. Professionals bend over, gesture here, light a cigarette there, manipulate the microphone, bump it with their head (which makes a loud pop), pace in this direction or that, turn their backs momentarily, and the like. These actions are designed to augment the humor of certain lines.
T H E ESSENTIA L AUDIENC E
Ether can be no stand-up comedy without an audience. I am not referring here to the fact that the audience ultimately pays the comic and thereby enables him or her to make a living from comedy. Rather I mean that interaction with the audience is an essential part of the comic’s act. The performer communicates jokes and sketches, the audience indicates, chiefly with laughter, whether they are funny. As noted, in the typical case the comic communicates in a conversational manner, using sweeping eye contact and a friendly demeanor while treating familiar subjects. The audience responds with smiles, chuckles, howls, applause, comments to one another and, occasionally, to the performer.
Some Flop Factors
An artistically strong act may still flop because of certain events or conditions in the room. Some audiences, usually not those in comedy clubs, are present for reasons other than to hear comedy. They might have come to watch a televised hockey game which an imprudent manager has switched off so the comic could perform. Sometimes comics work for an evening at a nightclub that features dancing as an occasion for single adults to meet. The performer is often seen as obstructing these more important goals.
The problem of hecklers and commenters, by the way, is next to nonexistent in Quebecois stand-up comedy. Its theatre-like presentation in a large hall discourages spontaneous audience participation. Advanced francophone amateurs also tend to avoid the problem, since they are brought along through a system of talent finding and development such as the festival Justen pour rare.