by Ryan Meehan
The age of heavy metal comedians is most certainly a force to be reckoned with. Comics such as Jim Florentine, Jim Breuer, Don Jamieson, and Jim Norton have made it no secret that metal is a huge part of their lives, and that balls out approach has made them audience favorites all across the world. Another comedian who has been making headway with that mentality is Canadian comedian Jay Brown. Based out of Toronto, he’s been winning over audiences in much of the same way that Iron Maiden took over the world when the New Wave of British Heavy Metal first hit the United States in the early eighties. Horns are in the air today, because Jay Brown is my guest today in 7 questions.
RM: Your first experience doing stand-up comedy came at a very young age…Could you briefly describe that incident, and what was so special about that moment which made you think that this was something you could actually do for a living?
JB: I was 7 years old, living in Jamaica, with my mother and her boyfriend, and went to NeGril Beach Village one night for a big outdoor party. The band was playing, everybody was dancing, as the resort put on a display of flaming limbo dancers, and the like. I can remember it being a room full of good times. Suddenly the MC stops the show, goes up to the mic and says “We’re going to have an open mic, who wants to come up and tell some jokes?”. Well, I was a very precocious child, and fearless was my middle name, so my arm went straight up in the air. There was about 1000 to 1500 people there and I thought there’s no way he’s going to pick me. Sure enough, like a bolt of lightning, he points at me and says “You! Get up here!” So, up I went, slightly panicked, woefully unprepared, and told the only jokes I knew, which were off colored jokes, heard around the playgrounds of Jane and Falstaff, a seedier area of Toronto’s subsidized housing programs. The crowd loved it, for some reason, and as the band played me off, a man emerged from the crowd, approached the stage, and placed me on his shoulders, as a bevy of bikini-topped, sarong beauties, there as guests of the resort, rushed up to me to tell me how adorable I was, and how cute I was. And THAT is when I knew: “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life!”.
RM: What were your first few gigs as an adult like; and how would you contrast what you saw in the clubs with that first experience as a kid?
JB: My first spot, on amateur night, at the Yuk’s Uptown (Yonge and Eglinton) was in late 1988, and it was just about reliving that moment in Jamaica, 11 years earlier. Unprepared and jacked up on adrenaline. I had no jokes per se. I remember I had a battery powered squirt gun from Toys r Us, and sprayed the crowd if they didn’t “play along with the laughs”. It was fun, but as I learned later, unappreciated by the other comics. Luckily, I didn’t make it my “shtick”, and dropped the props for personal material. I realized very quickly that the business of comedy is no laughing matter, and was to be taken seriously, or risk socio-political peril. And it’s been nothin’ but gravy ever since. Muah ha ha ha ha.
RM: If you can’t answer by saying “Both”, what was you say is more important with regards to getting a joke to hit: Premise or Delivery? What is the primary reason you gave the answer you did?
JB: A Comedian can be static in delivery, but have me hooked onto every word, if they are leading me down an interesting subject path. Conversely, I have been totally happy turning off the “Brain Drain”, if “Clowny” can bounce around funny. It’s the reason why Seinfeld has such mass appeal. It plays to both sides of the bucket. So, which do I consider the greater trait? I guess I’d just rather be interesting. However that happens to manifest itself, is okay with me.
RM: When did people within the comedy community officially start calling you “The Metalhead of Comedy”; and what are some examples of things you sing about when you bring your electric on stage?
JB: I was always a metalhead, but it started in comedy around 2004, in Vancouver, when an agent in the Calgary area said to me: “I am not going to book you to headline, because no headliners are complaining about following you”. I said “Oh really? That’s how you do it huh? Ok, well, I just added ALL OF MY SKILLS TO THE PARTY! Let see which of your headliners can follow ERUPTION!”. And the electric guitar made its first appearances on the stage. I only featured ONCE, after that, and I’ve been a headliner ever since. That “agent” works at a Starbucks in a mall now, or some shit. I would play a bunch of shreddy shit, like Pantera, or Van Halen, AC/DC for WOW factor, then really dig in and throw down some “Toccata, Fugue in D minor”. You know, “easy stuff”.
RM: How often you you ride your motorcycle to gigs? When did you get that bad boy; and what do we need to know about it?
JB: If it ain’t raining, I’m riding. It’s a 2008 Harley Davidson Road King, with apehanger bars, and custom paint and bags.
RM: I read in a 2010 interview with orangeville.com where you described yourself as “the big brother at a high school house party,” and added that at your shows “Everyone is safe, but definitely I’m in charge.” Is there anything that you do in particular within the first five minutes of your set which commands that kind of control from the audience; or do you kind of indirectly suggest that heckling might be a bad idea at one of your shows?
JB: I think crowds are savvy enough to know when someone is wasting their time, and in it just for themselves. Any jokes that feed themselves on ignorance, starve the audience. You give respect, you get respect. It’s that easy. Failing that, it helps being 6’2” and 270lbs. Every comedy club needs at least one “Policy Enforcer” employee.
RM: There seems to be a big crossover at the moment between comedy and heavy metal these days. You have Don Jamieson putting out albums on Metal Blade, and Brian Posehn listed as a part of Relapse’s artist roster…Why do you think that we are seeing such a resurgence of comedians who make it well known that they are huge metal fans; and what is the biggest similarity between the world of comedy and the world of heavy metal?
JB: Jazz comics don’t work. Ha ha. Math. It’s all “Math”. Good metal makes sense, to the brain, like math. Same goes for comedy. Also, the cultures coincide, and are interchangeable. Metal is non-conformist. What’s more non-conformist than telling a room full of strangers what you think of them, and their shitty platitudes. For example; The band U2 brings 190 Semi Tractor-Trailers with them, every time they go on tour. Each truck has a carbon footprint of 55 cars. That’s like four douchebags, riding around in 10,450 cars, telling you to “unplug your iPads at night!” The bile in me, for that, comes from both my metal, and comedic, sensibilities. We can also correctly use words like “platitudes” in a sentence.
RM: Which aspect of the writing process to you tend to struggle with the most and why? Conversely, which aspect of joke writing would you consider to be your specialty; and why do you think you excel at that particular component of the practice?
JB: I guess its the actual “writing” part. I never want to write anything down. It pigeon-holes the organic nature of the inspiration. I love to come to my bits by happenstance, then try to reiterate them to following audiences. I will find the verbal balance that way. The most efficient way to say what I’m trying to say, will eke its way out, naturally. If I write it down, it sort of binds me to those words. My specialty, oddly enough, would be “listening”. I talk to the crowd, listen to their answers, and draw word pictures with what they give me. I’m like a caricature artist, with a mic. That way, every show is a brand new rollercoaster, for us.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2016 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JB: Just to maintain my family’s happiness, and to keep pissing off the bullshitters of the world. Bono! I am looking in your direction!
Jay on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jaybrowncomedy
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