He may be a St. Michael grad and former alter boy at St. Vincent de Paul Church, but his current gig is telling off-colour jokes, sometimes downright dirty, at bars and comedy clubs.
This week, he’s going to be telling them in Niagara-on-the-Lake, at the annual Icebreakers Comedy Festival, which he founded four years ago to co-incide with the icewine harvest celebration.
St. Davids native Jeff Paul will always be a Niagara boy at heart — his friends and family are still here — and he loves coming home to perform.
He was at Yuk Yuks in Niagara Falls this weekend, while tying up loose ends for this year’s NOTL shows, and returned Monday to his day job as a CTV program co-ordinator in Toronto, where he ended up after graduating from Niagara District Secondary School and the TV broadcasting program at Fanshawe College in London.
But several nights a week, he walks on to a stage somewhere hoping to make people laugh — it’s what he really loves to do. He works his routines at Toronto bars and comedy clubs, and while he may be successful in terms of Canadian comics, he still needs a steady paycheque, and considers himself fortunate to have a job in TV he enjoys, rather than waiting tables in bars, the fate of so many comics striving to make a living.
This Thursday, at Oast House Brewers, Paul will tape his debut live album, an audio recording which will play on radio and online. “It’s a good revenue stream for Canadian comics,” he says, and he’s at the stage of his career where he feels ready to make the move, having refined his act to get there.
“I’m comfortable with it, and ready to record the show.”
It’s going to be a compilation of “greatest hits,” featuring 45 minutes to an hour of the best moments of all his shows, so it should be a great performance to watch.
While the bits that make it on to the final audio won’t necessarily be NOTL-related, the audience can still expect home-grown humour, including stories about his friends and some of their “crazy antics.” NOTL, he says, is a “weird place to grow up. There isn’t a lot to do so you have to find ways to enjoy yourself.”
Although some of the content might be local, it’s still “dirty,” but not as vulgar as some of his jokes. The conversation about comedy has changed in recent years, he says — it has always been considered “the last bastion for talking about what you’re not supposed to talk about.”
There may be lines that shouldn’t be crossed, but everyone has a different line, he says.
“Sometimes you just have to say ‘screw it’ and do what you have to do.”
He makes a distinction between being dirty; vulgar, which is a step further and maybe best left for a later show, as it will be for the upcoming Friday night second performance; and hate-mongering, which to him is the when the comedic line gets crosse.
The late show tickets went quickly — there is an appetite for the more vulgar comedy, he says, but a comic has to gauge the crowd and be able to adapt.
Comedians put great store in freedom of speech and are concerned about censuring, “because once you start, where does it end,” but if it’s hate, in his opinion, “that’s when it’s time to get off the stage.”
Those lucky enough to get remaining tickets for some of the other shows “will get their money’s worth, he says. “There are going to be some funny people on stage.”
The four-day Icebreakers Comedy Festival, organized by Paul and his friends Tim Bala and Maria Mavridis, will feature four venues and five shows.
Wednesday night at Jackson Triggs, local comics perform, with Burlington native and Yuk Yuk’s regular Scott Faulconbridge, also featuring Mark Matthews, Graham Davidson and Marc Sinodinos.
Thursday at Oast House Brewers Paul will be the featured performer, with Jarrett Campbell and Ian Gordon slated to ope for him.
On Friday, Corks Wine Bar and Eatery hosts two shows, first at 8 p.m. and then at 10:30 p.m. At the first show, Barry Taylor, Garrett Jamieson, Adrienne Fish and Monty Scott take the stage. The late show, called The Meltdown, is sold out.
Also sold out, as it is every year, is the Saturday night CBC Laugh Out Loud Gala at the Court House.