Ron James . . . Full Throttle
Tuesday, May 21 at 7:30 p.m.
5 St. Anne Street
Tickets: $62.50. Call the Arden box office at 780-459-1542
It used to be that working stand-up comedy was a young comic’s gig – unless you hit the big time.
However, Canadian comedy icon Ron James, who’s been on the road for more than 20 years, shows no signs of slowing down.
In fact, he’s on an Alberta-Saskatchewan tour with a stop at the Arden Theatre on Tuesday, May 21.
“This is a funny career. You never want to leave it. It takes so long to get good at it. But let me be clear. This was a calling and I had to answer the calling,” said James, who is known for his satirical, rapier wit.
With nine critically acclaimed one-hour comedy specials under his belt, plus five seasons in his own series, The Ron James Show, this silver-tongued road warrior keeps delivering laughs with fodder ripped out of the news headlines.
He’s travelled the country east to west, top to bottom. But the road was never easy.
Born into a long line of coal miners and seafarers, the Halifax-raised James attended Acadia University studying history and political science to become a teacher.
“At Acadia, we did plays. A buddy and I were in variety shows and we had such a riot. I was always funny in school and this was natural for me.”
In 1977, he had an epiphany watching Saturday Night Live. After graduating, he moved to Toronto and joined The Second City acting troupe.
“I started doing improv and once I got the acting bug and could get laughs, I knew I had to commit myself. This was the language I could use to make sense of the world.”
Full of hope for a bright future, James moved to Los Angeles to try his luck at a series that was cancelled. Without any kind of contract, the competition was brutal.
He went to 81 commercial auditions before landing a role as a spokesman for Texas Tourism. Although the commercial ran about 20 times daily for about 14 weeks, his total take was $415.
The comedy club, The Improv on Melrose Avenue, started accepting new standup comics and threw the names in a hat for a five-minute gig on pre-selected nights. When James added his name to the pile, more than 300 comedians were ahead of him.
After a struggle accumulating $47,000 US in debt and a wife and daughter to feed, he returned to Canada.
“After one year of being unemployed in Los Angeles, I wanted to be in charge of my life. I started doing amateur night in 2001 and hit the road for eight years. And then I started doing TV specials, comedy festivals and the Just for Laughs Festival.”
And then he started writing specials for CBC that raised the bar on social, political, religious, cultural and historical issues.
“I became an equal opportunity offender. In the states, you can pick one side or the other and you still have a big audience. In Canada we don’t have that luxury. If there was anything I learned at CBC, it was to be affably subversive without offending an audience.
“One thing Keith Richards taught me is give the audience what they paid for. You strike a balance between artistic need and audience expectations, but you never underestimate the audience.”
James is also releasing a book, All Over the Map, in the fall of 2019. Not only does it provide an insider peek into his life, but it shows every sign of pointing to another tour.