This post is several weeks in the making – this past January 30th, a Canadian comic icon, Don Ferguson, of the epically successful Royal Canadian Air Farce came to speak to the students of the Humber School of Comedy.
Here’s what I got out of it:
When I got the music, I got a place to go!
The Air Farce got their start back in old days of r-a-dio…. radio. Is that how you pronounce that? Radio? Ferguson and the late Roger Abbott met in Montreal, where they began performing sketch comedy together in front of live audiences. They would perform in theatres before they got picked up to do radio, which was advantageous to them because they learned by the reception of the audience what went well, what didn’t go so well and ultimately what worked.
It was then that they understood how much the audience wanted topical, current material. *For those of you who don’t remember, Ferguson took the role of many a politician on Air Farce, including this one:*
(Oddly enough, a similar reaction to that which I had when leaving Ottawa.)
Here’s what you could do with a live audience and with radio vs. on TV with a laugh track:
- You can hear the audience laughing;
- You can be plugged in to what they think is funny & relevant;
- You can go more places (it’s almost like animation the amount of places you can go! But CHEAPER!)
- Radio gets into people’s head & taps into their imagination;
- Did I mention how much cheaper it is than TV? Because it’s cheaper.
Ferguson mentioned how comedy, and particularly Air Farce’s TV sketches, demands precision. Something can be funny if written a certain way, but then if you re-word it, the message won’t come across quite as clearly. THIS is something extremely relevant to all aspects of writing for comedy, and probably especially to stand-up. I’m currently in the process of conducting some massive edits to my stand-up bits. It’s true, sometimes it hurts to kill your babies, or at least to dismember them, but it ends up with more laughs, then bye bye toesies!
Don Ferguson’s method for making it as a comedian in Canada:
Get a show
Be a hit
Remain a hit
It’s as easy as that! The pressure, he said, isn’t off as soon as you get a show.
“You can’t let up for a MOMENT. It’s like being a pro-athlete.”
Crossing the Border = Security
If any of us Humber kids are in the mindset that comedy will provide us with any kind of job security, Ferguson reminded us that his longest contract was one of five years. That’s it. Everything else was shorter than that, normally one or two-year contracts with Air Farce. That might make some people nervous, but Ferguson believes security can breed complacency in a business like this one. The anxiety, fear and nervousness is what a comedian needs to stay sharp.
How’s that for noble, eh?
Ferguson and Abbott were asked to work on the American sit-com TAXI, but they declined as they’d realized “what Air Farce was doing on Radio was more important to [Canadian] listeners than ANY sitcom would mean to US viewers.”
At this point, we skipped into a Q&A with Ferguson in which he gave us tips, tricks, encouragement and advice. Because I pay so much for tuition, I’m going to keep this segment of our Prime Time with Don Ferguson private. If you want more details, be sure to check this book out; a work that will serve to remind us how relevant; how important Air Farce really was for Canadians ever since their days back in R-A-D-I-O.
(Next on the schedule… Brie needs to dye her hair again!)