Canadian comic Bobby Mair readies himself for the Edinburgh Fringe 2013
The young comedian has been a support act for Jerry Sadowitz and Doug Stanhope
This article is from 2013.
When you learn that Bobby Mair has been a support act for Jerry Sadowitz and Doug Stanhope, you get a fair sense of the dark terrain which this young Canadian’s material might cross. From where he’s standing, any offence caused would be a fuss over very little. ‘I’m very unaware, but I don’t think I’m as dark as those comedians,’ insists Mair. ‘I just love their kind of jokes but I don’t class myself as a dark comedian. I’m sure other people might, but to me it’s just the normal thing. In one joke, I take revenge on a woman who I bumped into and she got angry, screaming “excuse me!” So in my fantasy, I toss myself in front of a train and die and have my tombstone dumped on her front lawn. It says “Bobby Mair: 1986–2013. Excuse Me!!”’
So, that’s the suicide and vengeance boxes ticked. If you’ve seen any of his routines in the flesh or on YouTube, you’ll know that other ticks go beside terrorism, single-parenthood, murder, child abduction and animals suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. But while in the hands of Sadowitz or, to a lesser extent, Stanhope, that kind of material can appear witheringly cruel and delivered with a little too much venomous zeal, there is a wide-eyed playfulness about Mair that is instantly appealing.
His personal story in which he harboured ambitions of being a comic is familiar to that of many Canadian comics (Glenn Wool, Stewart Francis, Tom Stade and Craig Campbell for four): they all moved away in order to progress. ‘The only stand-up there was TV repeats of old Just for Laughs clips,’ Mair recalls. ‘When I was 14, I wrote an entire act of observations on Y2K and being 14. Since then I have destroyed all that so I don’t have to read them ever again and no one can find them.’
Still, the bug for writing and performing had clearly taken hold, so he took the only route that seemed available at that point to further his experience. ‘I moved to Toronto and went to comedy college. In the brochure they said only one in nine people who apply get in and you turn up and they clearly took four grand from anyone who offered it. And the teachers are like, “all of you are going to be famous”. Really? All 100 of us? And then you see all these dreams slowly crumbling.’
Mair dropped out after eight months and promptly got the best comedy education there is by doing open mic spots wherever and whenever he could. So far so hauntingly familiar. But the story now gets somewhat atypical with Mair revealing that when he was 19 he supplemented the low income he was earning through stand-up by becoming a medical experiment.
‘I was a lab rat,’ he summarises. ‘I went in about two weekends a month and got 1200 Canadian dollars. While you’re in the clinic, you don’t have a name, you just have this number on your chest: “Would number 33 please come and give blood”. The most dangerous time was when I went to test methadone, the synthetic heroin. I was so excited about it. I got there, they took my heart rate and it was just too low which is a horribly depressing way to find out that I’m not healthy enough to take fake heroin.’
By this point, Mair had decided that he needed to head for the UK to make any impression on the comedy world and alongside the cash he was raising from his weekend stints as a lab rat, he earned more by delivering meals to children’s nurseries. The company was less than trustworthy and eventually went out of business. ‘They said food was halal or kosher when it wasn’t and organic just meant way past its use-by date. I quit there the day they poisoned a child. I was ready to move.’ His funds (and confidence) were also boosted by a $10,000 win in a comedy competition just before he left Canada, giving him a cushion to arrive in Britain with, allowing him to take a bit of time to get himself noticed as a comic. He knew instantly that he had made the right move.
‘There’s a culture in Britain where people leave their houses and go out for live entertainment. And the fact that the Edinburgh Festival exists where millions of people are specifically watching live comedy is insane. I read a study that 40% of the population here regularly go out to watch live entertainment. In Canada it has to be less than 1%. It’s not that they don’t like it when they’re there, it’s just not in the front of their minds as something to do. And Canada is like the population of Tokyo spread across the size of Russia, so it’s an eight-hour drive to go out anywhere. Here, everyone is on a tiny miserable island and so will do anything to smile.’
And smile at Mair they surely will. Powering his borderline yet affable routines is a bouncy stage energy which, from a distance, reminds you of his fellow countryman Jim Carrey for its gangly restlessness and frenetic focus. Although Obviously Adopted will be his debut hour, he was in Edinburgh last summer to test the waters. Just prior to the Fringe, he had scooped up the Laughing Horse New Act gong (‘I felt guilty as I’d been in comedy for seven years at that point’) and he left Edinburgh with the experience of having faced tough crowds (one bill he played in a bar was loudly interrupted every evening by the same regular drinkers) and extra knowledge of Scottish geography.
‘I’ve been to the Glasgow bus station many times. You meet a lot of great people at eight in the morning there. I took a 12 hour coach ride to Aberdeen and 12 hours back for a gig there for £200. So really, I’m doing the gig for free and being paid five pounds an hour to sit on a bus.’ Soon, he will be able to sit and wait while crowds start going to him.
Bobby Mair: Obviously Adopted, Tron, Hunter Square, 0131 556 5375, 3–25 Aug (not 13), 7.40pm, £8.50–£10. Previews 1 & 2 Aug, £5.