After 25 years on Canada’s comedy circuit, Andrew Grose says he knows he’s still not a household name, but if you saw him perform live at St. Mary’s on January 11, it’s a name you won’t soon forget.
As the featured act for the 8th Annual Kinsmen Comedy Night, Grose paced the stage with his personable brand of self-deprecating story-telling that kept the Yorkton audience howling for a full 75 minutes.
I had the opportunity to chat with the comic after his set. Sometimes an interview is just so good, you want to share it in its entirety.
For those who were not at the show, my first question is 100 per cent tongue-in-cheek. A significant portion of Grose’s routine deals with relationships between husbands and wives. Some of it is pretty edgy stuff and he delivers it in a way that makes you feel like he’s talking behind her back. He addresses that late in the show, saying, “don’t ask me what my wife thinks about my jokes.”
YTW: What does your wife think about your jokes?
AG: (Laughs.) You know what, my wife would like me to write more.
YTW: My real question is about what you said about working together on your material. Is that true?
AG: We do. We work together on all the material, but by that I mean we don’t sit down with pen and paper and say, ‘okay, I want to do a bit about a lamp.’ We just live, and then when things happen, I’ll just say to her, ‘what do you think about this?’ or ‘what do you think about that?’ Or, if something happens to us and we laugh, then she knows. She’ll look at me and I’ll see that look and I know that night we’re going to word it together. A lot of times what we’ll do, and I don’t recommend this to people, but we’ll have friends over and Carol will say, ‘tell the story about so and so,’ and I’ll tell the story and we’ll gauge the reaction. Afterwards she’s my worst critic. She’ll say, ‘what was wrong with that is, do this, do this.’ She’s a technician when it comes to comedy, but she cannot get on stage herself.
YTW: Does she have a background in comedy?
AG: She ran a comedy club for several years. That’s how I met her, in fact. She was the general manager of a comedy club in Edmonton. It was just funny, because I met her there and I was trying to impress her, but not as a guy, I was trying to impress her as a comedian. She told me, you’ve got a lot of potential, you’ve got a lot to learn and she was absolutely right. I would not be here today without her.
YTW: I’ve often thought stand up comedy has got to be the toughest gig in show business.
AG: It’s really tough. It’s a lot tougher than it looks, but, in fact, it shouldn’t look tough at all.
YTW: It doesn’t look tough for you.
AG: But it is tough. Every night is a different challenge. Every room I walk into I know is a different challenge. Tonight, not as many challenges as I’ve seen in the past. This was recreation more than anything.
YTW: What was the challenge tonight?
AG: Tonight sightlines were the problem. The problem is, as soon as you get over 400 people, and I would have guessed they had about 450 in that room. You get really good at math when you’re a comedian; you can look at a room and say, ‘that’s about four-and-a-half.’ The problem with that is, if I’m going to do an hour, and tonight I did an hour and 15, if I’m going to do that much time, you have to feel as though I’ve engaged you that entire time. If I don’t engage you, I’m going to lose you, so ever person in the room has to feel like I’m speaking specifically to them. That’s hard. That’s why I pace the stage; it’s not by accident. I’m attempting to make eye contact with each person in that room as many times as possible. I want them to think, you know, when somebody laughs really hard like that lady did, I’m not one of those guys that jumps down your throat, I want to engage them.
YTW: How much of it is off-the-cuff? I know you have your routines, but do you improvise a bit?
AG: You can tell when I’m enjoying a show because if I’m not, I will stick to the script. Tonight I was having a good time and I could take chances because the audience allows me to take those chances to have a little fun and I know they’ll forgive me. They didn’t like the fact that I called them out on not being a city. I mean, when I say they didn’t like it, they didn’t turn on me, but it didn’t get as big a laugh as everything else I was doing did. But I like doing that because I like you to know, I know a little bit about your town. I didn’t just come in, take a cheque and leave. I actually know your town. The truth is, I know this town really well. It used to be one of the toughest one-nighters in the country. I used to do it for years, 20 years ago, in the Holiday Inn. I think it was called Molly’s Inn or Molly’s Reach, I can’t remember what the bar was called, but it was in the Holiday Inn. It was rough, and the reason it was rough is, we used to call it the “Star of David Tour,” we would start in Calgary, go to Yorkton, then go to Moose Jaw, then go to Prince Albert, then go to Regina, then go to Saskatoon, then return to Calgary, so it was just all over the province. It was horribly brutal, but Yorkton was the first stop. I’d come down from Edmonton, pick up the opener, then go to Yorkton. Well, that’s 11 hours of driving, so you’d come into Yorkton exhausted, and you’d be in this rough bar. But I actually quite liked Yorkton. I like all challenges; I like every time someone says, ‘comedy doesn’t work there.’ Well, give me the address. I’ll bet you comedy works. But Yorkton used to be one of those ones where I’d lecture people at the end of the show. Right before I got off, I would say, ‘okay, did you enjoy yourself tonight?’ They would applaud and I’d say, ‘I’ll tell you why you enjoyed yourself tonight, because you listened to me, so when the guy comes in next week, listen to him. I find too many comedians just give up.
YTW: It must be really easy to just give up.
It is, because you can do it in a bubble; you can say, well, they’re just not listening to me. Even our emcee tonight, Garth, he did a great job. He didn’t give up. He said, ‘I need you to be quiet. I’m not going yo introduce this guy until you’re focussed.’ That’s brilliance. That’s about confidence. That’s about saying, ‘I want the table to be perfectly set for this guy.’ And he did. He said it perfectly.
YTW: When you were growing up, were you the class clown?
No, I was the class comedian. And there’s a huge difference. The class clown is the guy who runs naked across the football field. The class comedian is the guy who talked him into it.
YTW: When did you know that comedy was your thing?
It’s interesting. I was running a trucking company. I have an MBA; I ended up in a senior management position in trucking and I was miserable. I could have gone another 30 or 40 years and retired with a good pension, but I was miserable. I saw my dad retire, and I saw how hard he worked and how smart he was, and what he got out of it was, at the end of all that work, he could afford to do what he wanted to do, which was travel, and I thought, ‘what a waste, why not do it now.’
So, I jumped at an opportunity to do an amateur night at a theatre. They wanted dancers, they wanted singers, they wanted comedians. I talked the organizer into believing I was a comedian. So, I went on and I thought I knew what I was doing because, you asked about school, I was always the most entertaining guy. People would listen to my stories, but I learned very quickly on that day that telling a good story at a cocktail party or in high school is much different than doing stand up comedy, much, much different. I bombed. I mean, I bombed so bad people wanted me off the stage.
I couldn’t just take that I’d failed, so I just said, ‘okay, why did I fail, I need to figure it out.’ So, I watched comedy. Back then, it was A&E’s Evening at the Improv. I watched the comics. I didn’t watch their material, I just watched where they got their laughs. I watched how they held the mike, what they were wearing, how they made eye contact. I learned as much as I could as fast as I could. I went back and did another amateur night and killed. At that point, I was hooked and I never looked back.
I don’t get to play bars anymore, but to this day, I still treat it like a bar, though. In a theatre, for example, I will go to a 3,000-, 4,000-seat theatre for the soundcheck in the afternoon. As soon as the soundcheck is done, I will go sit in as many seats in the theatre as possible. I want to see, what does it look like from the balcony? What does it look like from the edge? What does it look like from the front row? And then, that night, when all the lights are in my eyes and I can’t see a damn thing, I play to each of those guys because I know where they’re sitting now and I want them to feel like, if they bought the last ticket to my show, they...