âHi, my name is Jon Dore. I canât get to the phone right now. My roommate Steve Patterson is a racist. Please leave a message. Thanks.â BEEP
In the process of contacting Canadian comic Jon Dore for an interview before he arrives in Australia, I repeatedly reach his voicemail; performing in the LOL Sudbury Comedy Festival in Ontario, heâs understandably busy. So I leave a message for his âracistâ roommate Steve Patterson â a great Canadian stand-up who I met on one of several Australian visits â and assure Jon Iâll phone again. At least the delay enables me to watch a few clips online, not just of Doreâs stand-up, but also excerpts from the television show he landed after serving as the âwhacky correspondentâ on Canadian Idol.
âOh. Iâm sorry to hear that,â Jon offers as his icebreaker, when I tell him. I figure I should just get stuck in. It seems to me Jon must have some experience in improv-based comedy, seeing as thereâs a strong physical aspect to his comedy, and heâs able, when interviewing on his show, to âaccept offersâ and bounce off them to go in a new direction.
âAbsolutely,â Jon says â about the improv experience, I assume, since he carries on with, âbut when you say âphysicallyâ, Iâm not sure what you mean.â
âThat bit where you take the stuff off the stool, move it, sit on it and start swinging your legs as the set-up for a joke,â I offer as a clear example. âThere is a physicality to what you do.â
âOh yeah,â Jon agrees. âI would say thatâs a very specific moment where thereâd be some physicality. I do walk onto the stage â so itâs starts pretty physicallyâ¦â
There may be other clear examples that constitute evidence of a âphysicalâ approach to Jonâs comedy, he concedes, but he wouldnât actually know. âI donât think Iâve ever analysed it that way. I mean, I like to take it easy as much as I can and not move around much. I get tired.â
Fair enough. But as far as the improv aspect goes â there is clear evidence of it at work in one of my favourite clips from The Jon Dore Show, in which Jon turns to a little kid for help with giving up an addiction to cigarettes. It doesnât look as though the kidâs been fed lines.
âWe couldnât feed him anything,â Jon confirms. Julian â the child in question â was chosen out of âa bunch of kidsâ because they were after someone who wouldnât sound âscriptedâ. Although they soon discovered that Julian was no slouch when it came to âimprovisingâ either. âThere was no way of controlling him,â Jon recalls. âHe would get off the couch and run into the kitchen and pretend to shoot bad guys who werenât there. He was a genuine child, completely unaware that there were cameras there.â The trick was to ensure that Jon âaccepted all offersâ â bounced off whatever Julian did, using it as inspiration for the next bit. âWe shot for about half an hour. We had to sculpt the interview into some kind of sensible viewing.â According to Jon, moments like those â âgetting kids on the show, treating them like adults â are among his favourite. âThatâs my theory: treat the adults like kids and the kids like adults. That seems to work out all right.â
Go (mis)directly to comedy
Jon got into comedy âthe way anybody wouldâ, he reckons: when he was a student in his early 20s, a comedy club opened in his neighbourhood in Ottawa so he went there and started telling jokes. âI was terrible, and I then just kind of kept at it. A lot of my heroes were comedians and were funny, but I never thought Iâd be a comedian by profession. I always thought it would be a fun thing to try, and you just continue to do it and it seems work out.â
At the time, Jon was âslinging drinksâ in a
bar to supplement his student loan while he studied television production â a
degree he completed. âIt solidified what I wanted to do,â he says. âI had no
idea what I wanted to do in life, and then I studied TV broadcasting and found
out I loved writing and directing and editing.â
Hence, Jon has a hand in all aspects of The Jon Dore Television Show, from writing it with his friends, to producing it while friends direct, to sitting in on the edits and liaising with the network regarding notes on the show. In other words, he says, âI was a bit of a control freak. It was the only way it could have happened.â
Perhaps âbeing a control freakâ is the only
way the television show could have happened; the beauty of Jonâs stand-up is
that there is no clear-cut way any of the jokes happen. That is to say, the
only way to predict a punchline would be to predict the most unpredictable
outcome. He always seems to be subverting audience expectation. Is this because
he is always able to see a multitude of different options and pick the
seemingly least likely? A good question, according to Jon, but one to which he
doesnât have know the answer.
âI think thatâs just where, as a writer or a comedian, I naturally started to go,â he offers. âI started to see what would make audiences laugh, and it was the unexpected. The misdirection â making them feel like Iâm going one way and taking them in a different direction â is what I became comfortable with. I donât know when that happened or why that happened, I think that itâs just a natural way of evolving as a writer.â
Although, as far as Jon is concerned, âall comedy
is misdirectionâ. Not knowing what the comedian is going to say next is part of
what makes you laugh. âSometimes itâs a more familiar punchline,â he concedes,
âbut I prefer to work in a world where the punchline is not going to be
something familiar, itâs something the audience wasnât thinking.â
Jonâs reluctant to analyse it further. Or at all, really. That mode of comedy comes naturally to him. âItâs how I behave with my friends. Having beers and talking, and then saying something they werenât thinking always seems to get a response.â
Jon hasnât visited Australia before. On the verge of departure heâs âvery, very excitedâ. Heâs also âscaredâ. In fact, he says, âIâm a whole bunch of thingsâ, partly because he knows very little about the country â just what he learned at school and what friends have subsequently told him. âI imagine itâs a warm place,â Jon says. âPeople have told me that itâs very similar to Canada in terms of politics and personality.â
âYour flatmate would have told you that
breakfast costs too much,â I tell him. I remember Steve Patterson remarking,
from the stage, that the base price of a cafÃ© bacon-and-eggs breakfast in this
country appears to $15, whereas back in Canada, it is $5.
âMy flatmate?â Jon says. âOh, yeah, I got your message. Youâre thinking of a different Steve Patterson.â
What? Surely notâ¦
Turns out the Steve Patterson Jon shares a place with is different to the Steve Patterson who has come to Australia a few times. âI know the Steve Patterson you mean,â Jon says. âIâm also friends with him. He now lives in Montreal. My friend Steve Patterson is another comedian and writer, who also helped me write The Jon Dore Television Show.â
âI was certain there was only one funny
Steve Patterson in Canadaâ¦â I offer.
âYou know what?â Jon says, âI think they both wish there was only one funny Steve Patterson. This confusion is what we constantly run into now.â
Anyway, I soldier on and point out that the
other funny Steve Pattersonâs observation: breakfast costs too much in
âIs that right?â Jon says, unfazed. âHereâs
where that wonât affect me: I wonât be up till afternoon! Thatâs how I save a
little bit of money.â
Not having seen a lot of Jon Doreâs work, I canât make any sweeping generalisations regarding what his material is âaboutâ. So I ask him to break it down. âI enjoy being facetious,â he says, proving it by adding, âI love lying â if you believe that! And I love being silly as well.â Like all good comics, Jon is drawn to any âso-called âtabooâ subjectâ, but adds, ânot for any greater purpose â just that when tensionâs built, itâs fun to relieve it.â Although he wouldnât describe himself as âcontroversialâ, and doesnât specifically focus on âheavyâ issues like race and religion, Jon acknowledges the âbuilt-in tensionâ of controversial topics that draws him to them. âIf there is tension there, itâs a fun topic to approach,â he says.
âFunâ itself is a fun topic to approach, I
reckon. I put it to the comic: what does Jon Dore do for fun?
âInterviews!â Jon says. Not just a clever response, given that heâll derive comedy from interviews on his television show. But he is a comedian, after all; isnât âfunâ a comedianâs raison dâetre? Well it is in Jonâs case, almost by definition, since he adds that he does âjust about anythingâ for fun, and that âeverythingâs kind of funâ. He can be more specific, of course:
âI love hanging out with my girlfriend. We
just ordered âheeliesâ online. Adult-sized heelies.â âHeeliesâ, Jon explains,
are âthe shoes with wheels in the heelâ that you see kids scooting along in. âWe
just found them incredibly cheap: $40 a pair, delivery included. So thatâs fun.â
Grown adults in heelies. It is fun. But itâs alsoâ¦ rather childlike. Perhaps thatâs where Jonâs theory â about treating adults like children, and children like adults â has its origins. As a comedian, heâs always âembracing the child withinâ, surely, in order to see the world fresh with a child-like innocence. Or not.
âI donât know,â Jon says, sensibly avoiding
any high-falutinâ philosophical nonsense. âI donât think about it. I just know,
for television purposes anyway, for whatever reason, itâs just fun to be
childish and ask child-like questions of adults because they come across as a
little more honest, a little more realistic, because theyâre not crowded down
with red tape and rules. And then to treat a kid like an adult and make them
respond to various questions, they come out with some very earnest answers.â
Itâs another one of those perfect comedy disjunctions and Jon cites a classic example of it: the show Kids Say The Darndest Things, best remembered for when Bill Cosby took over from Art Linkletter as host. âThere was something fun about that: an adult in a suit with a microphone, asking a child to respond to a very adult-like situation and then saying something very childlike and honest.â
Treat adults as children and children as adults. I almost feel bad publishing it. Itâs too good a secret to share with the rest of the world. Nobody needs the competition of other people who know âthe secret to good televisionâ. Jonâs not so precious.
âWeâre all gonna die one day,â he reminds me. âPrint what you want.â