For decades anglophone comedians in Montreal had only two venues to hone their craft: Comedy Works or Comedy Nest. This shocked standup comedian George Hamilton Braithwaite when he moved to Montreal in 1994. After all, this was the home of Just for Laughs, the largest comedy festival in the world.
“Either you worked for one club or you worked for the other club,” said Braithwaite. “You weren’t allowed to do both clubs and they [the owners of the clubs] stopped any outside shows.”
Today Braithwaite is taking advantage of the many more opportunities the landscape has offered up. His new show, Rock Bottom, gives young up-and-coming comedians a chance to work a room for 40 minutes as a headliner. The series kicked off last week at Barfly, the intimate and unpretentious bar on Saint-Laurent boulevard.
This Thursday night, comedian Kris Dulgar will headline Rock Bottom. Braithwaite feels this hole-in-the-wall is perfect for comedians that interact with the room, like Dulgar, during their routines, which gives the audience a very personal standup experience.
Dulgar performs for both French and English audiences. He doesn’t write different material for each crowd but translates his jokes. “When your jokes work in front of a complete Quebecois crowd and then an anglo crowd, you’ve got something magical,” said Braithwaite. “You’re actually making jokes about human relations rather than cultural references or city references, which is popular right now in American comedy.”
Dulgar is an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago whose family moved to Montreal when he was 12. Dulgar attended a French high school, and he was teased and ridiculed because of his dark complexion and because his first name sounds like a Quebecois swearword.
Clever and quick-witted, Dulgar used humour to diffuse the mockery he faced from his francophone classmates. He discovered his talent for comedy and began to study standup performances on The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman.
“I never pigeonhole myself,” said Dulgar of his routine. “People see a brown comedian and expect brown material but I do so much more than obvious racial jokes. I tell jokes about politics to sex and relationships, everything, man. My material isn’t necessarily “clean’ and doesn’t relate to the 35-45 year old suburban crowd with the minivan and kids.”
Dulgar has been doing standup for six years and credits Braithwaite for providing venues for him to get stage time. “We have to thank [Braithwaite] a lot for what he has done for the scene,” said Dulgar.
In 2004, Braithwaite changed the fate of anglo comedians in Montreal and started his own show called “Off the Main,” at Oliveira on Rachel Street. Ironically, it was Ernie Butler, the owner of the Comedy Nest who once banned Braithwaite from his club, who gave the show his blessing. Finally Braithwaite and other young comedians had more opportunities to run their sets without the time limits and loyalty restrictions of the mainstream clubs.
His goal then and now is to create more opportunity for comedians to work their material. In New York, for example, it is easy to find four or five gigs a night, seven nights a week. But for 11 of the 17 years Braithwaite has been a comedian in Montreal, finding four or five sets a week was almost impossible. “This craft is all about stage time,” said Braithwaite. “We finally have enough rooms where were are creating a great crew of comedians.”
Check out Rock Bottom featuring Kris Dulgar at the Barfly, 4062 Saint-Laurent Blvd. Nov. 25. The show is pay what you can at the door and starts at 10 p.m.