Amateur comedy night invites locals to try their lines

PJ-open-mic-035-300x224The very big, very bright spotlight is on. The mike stands alone, except for a single stool, on which you will place your beer glass, for this is stand-up comedy, so you… stand up. You are one of eight or nine people on the roster in front of a smallish crowd in the back lounge of P.J. O’Brien’s on Colborne St, and tonight will determine whether you (and your material) live or die. Just like every other Monday night.
Jeff Grabell, 36, from Leslieville is second up to the mike. A self-described Giant Nerd by day (he’s a software developer with the Federal Government), he was always the funny guy in his crowd, and his friends kept telling him he should get into comedy. One of his managers suggested that an improvisation course might help his on-the-job communication skills.
“So I took a year’s improv classes at Second City a couple of years ago. It made me not at all afraid to dive into any situation. I always had a kind of ambition to be a comedian and after that there were no longer any inhibitions. Some friends and I started coming here a few months or so ago, and I finally got up and did it. This is my seventh time out.”
“I love it. I don’t know where it’s going to go but I’m really having fun with it.”
Organizer Russell Roy admits that you’re unlikely to make a fortune in the business in Canada, either organizing or performing—“the average stand-up comic in Canada makes between seven and ten thousand dollars.” His main line is selling packaged evenings to organizations and groups, but he still needs the day job driving a cement truck.
Roy has been in the business one way or another for about 15 years. “I was working at Bell Canada and my first boss was Mike Bullard, who used to be a pretty famous comedian for a while, and it was always on my bucket list to try and he encouraged me, and next thing you know I was quitting my day job and following this life.”
The Monday night gigs at P.J. O’Brien’s, which have no cover charge and are revenue-free, are the blast furnace where the product—human and written—gets refined. The show lasts about 90 minutes most evenings.
“We’re about one year into the show in this location,” Roy says. “You get three types of performers—professional acts who are in town and they’re working out new bits for their routines, you get up-and-coming acts who are cutting their teeth in comedy, and you get people who have never done it before in their lives. So it can be very up-and-down, but the quality can be surprising.”
“We’ve had some pretty big names come in here to work out their routines—a couple of weeks ago we had probably five professional acts who were performing at the Just For Laughs show in Montreal and they had to sharpen up their TV segment so they did it here.”
And the big names, as Roy says, can fall as flat as a newbie if it’s the wrong audience, or the wrong material, or the wrong phase of the moon. A 4th-century Roman actor’s tombstone reads, “I died many times but never like this.” The gang at P.J. O’Brien’s knows he must have been a comedian.P.J. O’Brien’s is on Colborne Street at Leader Lane. Performances start at 9 p.m. every Monday. For information (or if you want to try performing), visit