There is something about small towns and comedy. Take Listowel. Until last year, Listowel was just one of many charming rural Ontario communities.
Now it’s the coolest burg on the map thanks to Listowel’s own Jared Keeso who created “Letterkenny,” based on his life growing up in a small town.
Comedian Jeff McEnery (who had a guest cameo on “Letterkenny” as Alexander the bar drunk) has done the exactly same thing with Acton.
“Small-town humour works in Canada because it is more smalltown than big cities. It’s country. And gosh darn it, that is how people in the country talk!” says McEnery in his signature husky drawl.
“Acton has a bunch of really entertaining characters. Most of my stuff is biographical,” he says. “Some people can write about politics and all of that stuff. I am not smart enough to do that. So I just write about me and my life experiences because it is the easiest stuff to write.
“And no one will steal those jokes because this is exclusive to me.”
McEnery jokes about everything from drunks and skinny people, to country music and working as telemarketer.
“I did that job very briefly. It was just long enough to get that joke. That was the only good experience I got out of it.”
It helps that he comes from a hilarious family background.
“My dad’s side of the family is country people — more shy and reserved — not much sense of humour. My mum’s side of the family is just a bunch of degenerates,” says McEnery.
“I call them the Kennedys. They have all the problems of the Kennedys but without the money — drunks and derelicts. But they are really, really, funny people, he says. “So I got my sense of humour from them.”
When he was younger, mimicking comedy faves in his room, McEnery’s favourite funnyman was Jeff Foxworthy.
“Those were the first albums that my family members listened to. But as I got older I got into Richard Pryor. He influences my standup and my whole style actually,” he recalls.
“My high school drama teacher Mrs. Ross is like my North Star,” says McEnery. “I was lost and she got me pointed in the right direction. She told me I was really funny and I should sign up for the improv team. Then I started doing plays in high school.”
McEnery was the comic relief in Peter Colley’s Canadian musical dramedy “The War Show” based on the Second World War.
“That is how I found out that I like performing,” he says. “Then I found the Humber College Comedy Writing and Performance Program. I applied, got in and that is how I did my first Yuk Yuk’s set. If it was not for Humber I don’t know if I ever would have done this because I was so shy,” says McEnery, adding that standup was a mandatory part of the course, and that he was lucky enough to start young and get ahead of the other comics.
He has done work for television (“Still Standing,” “The Latest Buzz”). He has also written and produced two short films “Yes And ...” and “Behind the Funny” for The Comedy Network on the show “Canadian Comedy Shorts.”
McEnery was a member of the sketch team for TV comedy “Hotbox” and has also appeared on “The Jon Dore Television Show,” “The Howie Mandel Show,” “Covert Affairs” and “Naturally, Sadie.”
The comedian also co-starred opposite Adam Butcher in Kim Chapiron’s critically-acclaimed drama “Dog Pound” based on inmates in a juvenile detention centre.
“Turns out, the director was a crazy person,” says McEnery. He was a nice guy but he wanted realism in this movie so basically me, Adam Butcher and Spinner from “Degrassi” (Shane Kippel), we were legitimate actors. Everyone else was hired out of Moncton juvenile detention centre! I was one of the guys that picks on three new guys. The movie actually has a cult following now,” he says.
McEnery is now a top headliner for Yuk Yuk’s and has appeared at every major Canadian comedy festival.
His one-hour “Comedy Now!” standup special was broadcast on CTV and The Comedy Network in the summer of 2011 and was nominated for Best Male Stand Up at the 2015 Canadian Comedy Awards.
As a standup he’s seen and heard it all from audiences — be it hellish venues or “alternative rooms” in Toronto where the crowd deems itself smarter than he is.
“The punch line is “there is no punch line,” says McEnery in a mocking posh English accent. “You’re telling jokes. We don’t like jokes.” he says with a groan.
He says a joke is good if it is based in authenticity and reality.
“Chances are the more it hurt you in the moment, the funnier it is going to be,” he notes.
“I can honestly say I do not enjoy writing. It is tedious. But the feeling after I am done is the best feeling in the world.
“The thing not to do in standup is be inauthentic up there,” he cautions.
“If you are doing a character or not being yourself — you are trying to be squeaky clean when you really have some crap going on in your life — audiences can smell the B.S. a mile away. They really can. So if you go up there and be honest with them that’s half the battle right there.”