Funny comes naturally to Derek Edwards. Talking on the phone with the Canadian comic, our conversation is liberally punctuated with laughter.
As we speak, Toronto is waist deep in snow and enjoying a high temperature of -2, compared to Victoria’s 10-degrees and sunshine.
“I have relatives in P.E.I. and they have it a lot worse. They’re jumping out of an upstairs window to get to work. Here it’s only up to my ribcage – there’s no point whining about it,” the pragmatist says.
The 57-year-old comedian was raised in Timmins, Ont. some eight hours north of Toronto, in a town built on forestry and mining.
“In the summers they would hire students for when the fellas would go on vacation. Us students would maintain stuff, clean stuff, shovel stuff and move stuff, get it ready for when everybody came back in September. … It was very exciting,” he deadpans. “I had my own lunchbox – and not one of those plastic ones with the picture of a band on it, a real, metal lunchbox – you could kill someone with my lunch.”
The work, though not exciting, did give him material to begin his comedy career.
“I started doing it regularly at 29 years of age. I did my first set at 28 and it scared the hell outta me so I didn’t go back for a full year.”
His first gig was in a Toronto club; everything painted black and crammed with people.
“They had these little round tables just big enough to fit a drink on and so close together you were rubbing thighs with the person next to you. It gave everyone that awkward social feeling of not having any private space so all the attention was on the stage. It cut through the little chatter that can happen and if they liked you, they really liked you – then, there was the other side …”
After a year, his (now) wife urged him to return. “I was a fan of comics like Bill Cosby, George Carlin and all the guys that were huge, iconic folks before them – Rodney Dangerfield, he was hilarious and filthy, really filthy. But it was gut crunching funny – you’re almost ashamed at how much you’re laughing.”
He mustered up the courage to return to the stage and another year later, quit his day job as a carpenter and painter to hit the stage full time.
“As a painter, you do a lot of drinking at work anyway so being a comic was just a natural extension of my painting skill,” he jokes.
“Sometimes you just have to drop everything and go for the dream. Don’t just be practical, take a chance and jump on that rickety boat,” he adds.
The life of a comedian includes taking risks. “There’s no retirement plan – the whole thing’s a little sketchy … but you close your eyes and give it a whirl.”
Edwards’ comedy style is a little old school, everyday slice of life stories looked at from a slightly skewed angle. “It’s never what you do, it’s how you do it, there’s always a tincture there of originality in everything you do,” Edwards says.
Weather is one thing that gets audiences on his side, he adds. “Climate is the key. If you live in a place that has four distinct seasons and one is a brutal winter, like in Minnesota, Detroit, Colorado – you spend a lot of nights with pints watching a hockey game, we’re the same, you know?
“Out east they’ve had 140 centimetres of snow in the last two weeks. We have common difficulties: warming up your car, wearing two pair of socks – everybody’s been through it, it’s a brotherhood. (Now) you take your hat or your toque off, come in where it’s warm and get ready to have some fun.”
And in Victoria where it’s unseasonably warm and the daffodils are blooming?
“You don’t have flowers already do you? … Out in Shangri-La you can come in to a nice theatre for a cheap chuckle,” he says.
Derek Edwards McPherson Playhouse April 17 rmts.bc.ca