Next week, at the Just for Laughs festival, a Brit, an Arab, and a Jew will actually all walk into a bar — along with a Moroccan, an Italian, and a Malaysian. Well, maybe not a bar, but they’ll all be walking into Club Soda to perform in the festival favourite, The Ethnic Show.
While in Montreal on his pre-festival Press tour, I chatted with Toronto-based comedian Frank Spadone, the show’s token Italian. Spadone performs alongside local and international talent such as Rachid Badouri, Gina Yashere, Ahmed Ahmed, Ronny Chieng, and Don Naturman. Hosted by Alonzo Bodden, the show promises “a gathering of some of the most diverse comedians each with their own respective upbringing and unique view of the world.” In other words, check your political correctness at the door before you sit down.
Marisa Samek [MS]: Can you tell me about the decisive moment that led you to pursue comedy full-time?
Frank Spadone [FS]: It’s funny because I think the minute you decide you’re going to try stand-up, it’s after that very first time on stage. Lucky for me it went well, and I was immediately bitten by the comedy bug so I kept doing it. I had such a great first experience. I think if it went bad the first time, we wouldn’t be speaking right now, I would’ve been like “ah, I knew it. I’m just a funny guy around my friends”.
MS: How do you come up with new material and how do you test it?
FS: You have to experience life to talk about it; I’m married now, I had kids. My earlier stuff was about living at home with my parents way too long. They won’t kick you out and if you try to leave it’s like you’re kind of in prison, they’ll shackle you to a pillar or something. Then you get married and you’re allowed to leave the house. As my life evolves and things affect me, that’s what I talk about it. Sometimes it’s not always the funny things… it’s the things that made you mad or pissed you off or made you sad that you tap into.
Ultimately, I’m the kind of guy who methodically sits down and thinks about how I can paint the picture of this experience… I really need to take my time and think about what I’m saying. I usually pick an open mic night or amateur night and I try to hear myself. It’s not so much about the crowd. it’s about hearing yourself say it.
MS: What differentiates your type of comedy? What do you think people love about it?
FS: I don’t know… Whoever follows me relates to me and they may not relate to someone else. When you first start out, you’re writing to make everybody laugh but after a while, your fans find you… It’s like music, and dance, or even like figure skating. I never understood how you judge figure skating. In the Olympics, a song can throw off a judge because it reminds them of their ex-boyfriend. It’s subjective… I should ask the people who watch me what they like about me. I really have no clue. I’m just being me up there.
MS: Let’s talk about the Ethnic show: Why do you think it’s one of the biggest draws of the festival?
FS: It’s vey relatable… it’s not so much the ethnicity you are, but your persona…you come at an angle and, if it wasn’t for your upbringing, you wouldn’t think of things that way. They [the comics] often don’t talk about anything related to their culture but [they talk] about what they’re going through in life and their upbringing affects that. That’s all of us.
MS: Who are you the most eager to meet in this year’s line-up?
FS: I am eager to meet them all but I am really looking forward to seeing the ones I know, it’s like seeing old friends… I’m also looking forward to meeting Alonso. I’ve met him but we haven’t hung out…he’s just a great comic. He’s one of those guys that inspire you.
MS: Robin Williams’s death ignited a discussion about the link between comic genius and depressive tendencies. What do you think about that link?
FS: Comedy is not an easy thing, you’re on the road, you’re by yourself. You put yourself in a very vulnerable position. We become so sensitive to reactions from people. I’m telling you, we can have three great shows over a weekend… but we’ll hate one show for a certain reason, like, someone didn’t laugh in the front row. We’re so sensitive to “Wow, that guy didn’t like me” and now, thanks to social media, people who love you probably don’t say they love you but the minute someone doesn’t like your comedy… they’re ready to tear you apart on social media. That gets to you.
You got to watch out with comedy. I treat it like a job. Sicknesses, like depression, they’re not biased to anybody. You can be famous, you can be rich. People think: “But that guy’s rich, what’s his problem?” Money doesn’t make you happy and sometimes your job doesn’t make you happy.
MS: What advice would you give to aspiring comedians?
FS: When you’re starting out and you’re young and you don’t have a family, just go do it all. Try to be fearless because the fear is what’s going to stop you. Try to remember that it is a business and that it is a job and to treat it like that. But, you have to live life. You have to experience things to talk about it. You can’t just hang out at a club every night or you’re just going to have jokes about you getting drunk and not knowing how you got home.
Catch Frank Spadone in The Ethnic Show that kicks off the Just for Laughs festival next Wednesday July 8 and runs till July 19.