Q&A: The art of comedy according to Steve Nash

Steve Nash’s motto has always been “make ’em laugh and make ’em laugh hard.” Nash, an aspiring comedian and actor and a graduate of Concordia’s Theatre Performance program, tells The Concordian what being a professional funny man is all about.

Tell me a little bit about the production you’re working on right now.

Right now, I’m working on a project called Macbeth: The Rock Opera, and it’s being put on by Purple Dragon Theatre which is a Montreal home for musical theatre. It’s a school that incorporates anybody that’s interested in acting, musical theatre, singing, what have you. We also have special needs integration.

It’s open for anybody. We have a lot of talented people whether they be kids or adults or special needs individuals. They’re all there. I believe it’s going to be a great show. The rehearsal process is usually about 15 weeks and you rehearse about one night a week. You go over the scenes and your lines and the songs. There’s a lot of dancing too, so it gets you in shape. I’m usually on the treadmill or the bike once a day so I can stay in shape and keep up with the younger and more vibrant people in our cast.

What role do you play in the production?

I’m playing Arthur the Witch. It’s a part that was written in. The play has been readapted into modern English and the director has rewritten the script so there are characters in it that have been written in just because. It is a school after all and we have to try and incorporate as many people as we can. I’m sort of the comic relief in the play, along with two other people in the show.

How do you feel about having a comedic role?

It’s something that I’ve always been accustomed to. My entire life has always been comedy, comedy, comedy. I was always the class clown. I was always the one pulling pranks in class and stuff like that. The fact that when I was in elementary school and my mom was my fifth grade teacher, I got away with a lot more than someone whose parent wasn’t a part of the school board or working at the school. I used that to my advantage in some ways. I guess it was in elementary school that I started to get into comedy.

Do you see yourself pursuing comedy in the future?

Well, for the past couple of years I’ve been contemplating auditioning for Saturday Night Live. I’m a big fan of Saturday Night Live and I have every show on tape from 1995 until the present day. I watc-h a lot of that. Every Saturday night, I usually tape it. However, these days it’s been pretty bad because I guess they’ve been choosing a lot of stand-up comics as opposed to sketch writers. To speed up the process, I went to Second City over the summer and I took an improv class because they require you to do that and Second City will be opening here in Montreal so I look forward to attending that school when it opens in, I believe, the fall of 2007.

What exactly is Second City?

Second City is basically a school that the better of the alumni from Saturday Night Live went to. You go in there and there are pictures of Mike Meyers, Eugene Levy, John Candy, John Flaherty, Martin Short, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase – they all attended Second City and it’s rather inspiring when you see these pictures because they were there and nobody knew who they were. Now, about 10 or 15 years later, they’re the megastars of Hollywood. It just makes you think [about] what this school can do for you. Every year, people are graduating from there and making it in the business. I think these days that’s the place to go if you want to do sketch comedy.

What was your experience with Second City like this summer?

I thought it was a wonderful experience. It’s a very friendly and safe atmosphere. They have several ways of teaching you improv acting. I was basically working with a lot of people who have never acted before in their lives. This was just an extracurricular activity for them because they were in other fields like law and what have you. This was something to do for them to break away from the regular. We all had a great time working there and I can’t wait to go back.

What education or training had you received prior to Second City?

Prior to Second City I got my bachelor’s degree in Theatre Performance in Fine Arts at Concordia University and I spent three years there working closely with a lot of teachers that are in the acting industry at this time. A lot of them are Actra (Union of Actors in Montreal) members and work on several Montreal productions – what they do at Concordia is plant the seed in you and it’s up to you as to how you want that seed to grow because the program is not one where you can just lay back and whatever happens, happens.

You have to really work hard at this program and it’s kind of like a stepping stone to when you actually try to get into the business. I worked with Nancy Helms who was my voice and speech teacher. I loved [the class] because voices are my bread and butter. That’s what I started doing as a kid and I still do to this day. She’s worked on projects such as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which was filmed here in Montreal.

It was nice talking with her because she’d give insights as to how it is in the business or she’d give us leads to auditions and stuff like that.

I found it very helpful having someone like that at my disposal. You really have to work hard because to make it in this business you have to be one of luckiest people on the planet and that’s what a lot of celebrities say in Hollywood.

I can totally agree with them because I’ve been fighting since I was 10 years old, just trying to get into this business and I’ve been doing everything in my power to try and get there and it’s just a constant learning experience and learning curb as well.

When did you decide to pursue an acting career?

Well, it kind of started when I was 10 years old. I’m an auditory person, so when I was a kid, I used to listen to my parents’ Bill Cosby records and I’d be sitting there just listening to this and I’d listen to it about three or four times and then I’d go upstairs and just repeat everything I just heard to my mother.

My mom [said] ‘Well, you know, maybe you should try doing stand-up comedy or something like that.’ I used to always be the class clown and show up to school and go, ‘O.k. kids today we’re going to be doing the mathematics,’ (Cosby impersonation).

I was always doing stuff like that and that’s, I guess, where it all started and when I hit high school – I ended up going to Loyola High School when I was in grade nine. I had to figure out how I could get along with everybody over there. It’s been my experience to make ’em laugh and make ’em laugh hard. I did the talent shows every year over there and I just made so many friends going to Loyola. I made friends with the sister schools as well. A lot of people knew who I was because I’d go up on stage and make a fool of myself and you know what, I had no shame in doing it because you basically have to go up there and whether you pass or fail, people are either going to respect you or they’re not so I won over a lot of hearts doing what I did.

Were you ever nervous about being on stage or did it just come naturally to you?

When I started I was nervous as hell. The first time I was pretty close to throwing up, but I was able to hold back and go up [on stage] and I repeated whatever was in my brain, just repeated it verbatim. When I hit high school, that’s when I did it. The first night I did it I was really nervous because there was about 2,000 people in the audience and I had never performed [in front of] an audience like that ever in my life – you’re a bit taken away when you do stuff like that. It takes you aback and you kind of have to really relax and try to zone out.

I went out there and I knocked them dead and after that it was like, ‘Well, I’m just going to keep doing what I do and whatever rituals I did before.’ It’s worked since then so I’m not going to stop something if it’s not broken.

Has your family always supported your pursuit of a career in comedy?

They have been supportive. You know you’ll always have your parents that are backing you [up], giving you their constructive criticism. I mean, my parents support me, but we have gotten into arguments where they say, ‘Well, maybe you should choose another career path,’ and stuff like that.

However, I am very determined to make it in this business and that’s why I keep fighting and doing what I do; going to auditions, getting my name out there, hitting the open mic nights, doing whatever I can so I can get noticed and keep taking steps forward to what I want to achieve.

That’s what I’m doing now.

They’re very supportive. I mean, they helped me pay for university; they helped me pay for CEGEP. Whenever I needed to go places for auditions, they would always give me some money if I couldn’t afford it and I love my parents for it. They’re the ones that are always in my corner and that I keep always in my heart. That’s why I love them so much.

What would you say makes this career difficult to pursue?

Well, it’s hard to pursue because there are so many people around North America that want to become actors. If you go to Los Angeles, everybody there is an actor, from the garbage man to the mailman to the school teachers; they’re all actors.

They want to make it in this business. If you go to New York, it’s the same thing. It’s so difficult to get into this business because there is so much competition.

People are taking classes that you may not have access to here in Montreal. Or if you’re in New York and people are taking classes in Los Angeles, it’s difficult because some people can’t afford to do that. That’s why I’m grateful that people are starting to recognize Vancouver and cities like Montreal and Toronto and even Winnipeg, where they started shooting movies.

I believe they also shot Brokeback Mountain in Alberta and that movie won all kinds of awards at the Oscars. So that just goes to show you that you’re better off staying in Canada than if you were to go to the United States because the competition isn’t as ferocious here in Canada as it is in the States.

If you really want to make it, just keep working hard and go to Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver; those cities, they’re the ones that are providing to Canadian actors.

What sort of acting experience do your have under belt so far?

Once I graduated, I joined Purple Dragon Theatre and that’s how I got hooked on musical theatre. My first play with them was Grease, where I played Sonny so it was a way for me to, again, use comedy. It was great because I got to speak with a New York-Brooklyn accent. I turned him into the Rocky Balboa of the T-Birds. It was a great experience. Then I was asked to play the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors, which was anther great role for me because I’d never heard of Little Shop of Horrors.

I finally watched the movie and I noticed that Steve Martin was playing the dentist and I thought, ‘Wow, these are some big shoes to fill.’ I did my research and I did what I could to play this role and I truly enjoyed the experience. Just recently, last season, we did The Lion King and I got to play Pumbaa and we got to sing all these different types of African songs because we took it from the Broadway musical.

It was a great experience and that’s what I’m doing now.

Over the summer, I took part in a TV show called Accident Investigator when I played the victim of a tragic trucking accident.

I finally got some exposure on TV, which is what I’ve been dying to get for years now. Right now, I’m working on Macbeth: The Rock Opera. Before Christmas we did the play Chicago where I got to play Amos and I got to show off my singing talents, or the lack thereof, when I sang Mr. Cellophane.

What does the acting business need?

If you keep having the same type of people in movies, you’re not going to want to go see the movies anymore because you’ll already know what to expect. It’s not going to be as interesting as it used to be. That’s why a lot of directors are saying it’s always the same people in movies. There are only so many films I can go see with Leonardo DiCaprio.

There are only so many films I can go see with Russell Crowe. I think these actors are great, but I think we need some new faces and that’s why I commend people like Justin Timberlake, who put on a phenomenal performance in Alpha Dog.

I went in thinking, ‘this movie’s going to be pretty bad.’ Then I saw him on screen performing and I was like, ‘O.k. I take back what I said.’ He was actually pretty good. I commend the people in the theatre department and people like Justin Timberlake who try to branch out and try to find different aspects to their career.

How important is motivation and determination to someone pursuing a career like this?

It is a key factor in this business. Countless times, I’ve gone to auditions and I don’t get picked for the role and when I first started, I went through depression. I thought, ‘do I really want to be in this industry?’ Then you just have to realize that it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. If you’re not right for the part, then that’s fine. There’ll always be another audition, there’ll always be another play, there’ll always be another movie going on that you can audition for. If you have the drive and the will and the heart to make it in this industry then by all means go right ahead.

What advice would you give to young aspiring actors?

My advice to you is to never give up. Always keep pushing. Do what you have to do to make it because there’s so much competition and there’s no room for people who just give up after the first shot. I guess, what I have to say is, when I was in CEGEP, my theatre teacher said something to me that was very interesting. He said failure is kind of like manure, it stinks but it helps things grow. That’s something that’s always in the back of my mind when I go to an audition.

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