Meet the no-brows by Dave Jaffer

by Ottawa Fringe

June 19, 2009

Montreal company Uncalled For bring birthdays for all at Ottawa Fringe

Discussing Uncalled For’s newest bit of scripted sketch-comedy, Today Is All Your Birthdays, is complicated, necessitating sub-discussions of space, time, space travel, time travel, relativity, morality, natural selection and the very nature of existence itself. Having that discussion with the four members of the show ain’t much simpler. There are moments where I’m sure I’m talking to some of the sharpest, smartest minds in comedy and others where I’m afraid their hive mind will annex me. And then there are moments like this:

“I’ll tell you the reason I think I’m better than Matt Goldberg,” says Mike Hughes, apropos of nothing. “I don’t have a stupid acronym after my name.”

“My job made me do that on my card!” retorts Goldberg, before explaining, “I’ve got the BA and the MA. I’ve got the BAMA. I think that sounds awesome, but I would never actually put that on a business card.”

Goldberg then addresses my recorder: “I just want to make sure the recorder knows I quit the job with no plan. With no parachute.”

Anders Yates disagrees. “His plan is Uncalled For, we’re sitting right here.”

Dan Jeannotte, who rounds out (this current version of) Uncalled For, gets us back on track. Today Is All Your Birthdays, which made its premiere at the Montreal Fringe last week, represents the first show the Montreal-based troupe have brought to the Ottawa Fringe, and the first sketch-com show they’ve ever attempted in Ottawa, period. But they’re not scared.

“The first time we went, we were

very aware of the fact that we were playing to a new audience, and they were just awesome,” says Jeannotte. “We got nicely received. It was a good crowd, a really enthusiastic crowd. They were really receptive to our kind of improv.” Adds Yates: “I never felt like we had to pull any punches or lower the weirdness level of what we’re doing.”

If this is true, Uncalled For and Ottawa are a match made in heaven, because these boys are really quite strange.

XXXInfluenced as much by each other as they are by comedy icons like Monty Python, Charlie Chaplin, Peter Sellers and ahead-of-its-time television like Mr. Show and Stella, Uncalled For’s collective sense of humour isn’t what you’d call conventional.

“We introduce some pretty weird ideas in some of our sketches,” admits Jeannotte. “In this particular show, we talk about the space/time continuum, we talk about time travel, we talk about this idea that maybe your whole life takes place in one moment.”

“We do what we think is funny,” he continues. “We do what the four of us, the six of us, the lot of us think is funny. And [dick jokes have] never really been what we thought was funny.”

“I love dick jokes,” Yates counters. “There is actually a lot of really crude humour that appeals to me massively, but as much as it appeals to me, it isn’t the stuff that necessarily inspires me. I’ll laugh my ass off at somebody that’s doing lowbrow stuff, but it doesn’t make me want to create that.”

Like so much other art, a lot of comedy is subjected to a class struggle, of sorts, between what so-called regular people like and what art snobs like. As if TIAYB didn’t have enough to deal with, what with the very nature of time and space and existence. That said, Uncalled For say they crafted the show so it would appeal to everyone.

“There’s this humour that’s very absurd, it’s kind of like a helium balloon that you can’t hold on to, that’s just going to float farther and farther away and there’s nothing for an audience to grab on to, and this is something that I’m very tempted to go towards,” says Hughes. “But I think what we’re realizing now is we’re finding a way to tie these balloons to something that the audience can hold on to and enjoy.”

“If a group decides, ‘We’re going to do highbrow comedy,’ that’s going to end up alienating people,” says Jeannotte. “If someone decides, ‘We’re going to do lowbrow comedy,’ that also is going to [alienate people].”

Uncalled For’s humour, Jeannotte says, is “no brow.”

“We’re certainly nerds,” he says, “we might live a lot up in our heads, [but] that’s not the only thing that’s interesting to us. Clowning is funny, slapstick is funny, movement and dance is funny. It doesn’t all have to be intellectual.”

If this doesn’t sound like the stuff of classic comedy to you, you’re not alone. The Uncalled For guys and I conducted this interview before I saw TIAYB and, to be honest, I was skeptical. Too often, high-concept comedy doesn’t get fully cooked. Too often it feels like an inside joke.

After seeing the show, though, it all made sense. It has excellent narrative flow, it’s inventive, it’s intelligent, and best of all, it’s funny as all giddy-up, boasting countless gut-busting moments that are, considering contemporary mores, filth free.

“Our comedy is always very clean and accessible, but it’s always got a good mix of things going on,” says Goldberg.

That said, Yates has a stunning revelation: “We almost say the word ‘vagina,'” he says.

“Almost,” Goldberg replies. “We don’t quite get there. But it’s heavily implied.”

Today Is All Your Birthdays
By Uncalled For
Ottawa Fringe Festival
(Venue: SAW Gallery)
June 24, 7 p.m.
June 25, 8:30 p.m.
June 26, 7:30 p.m.
June 27, 10 p.m.
June 28, 5:30 p.m.