The true story of four Toronto standup virgins
Do you remember your first time?
No, not that. Your first time onstage. Doing standup comedy.
Evidently it’s a traumatic experience, as evidenced by the new documentary film Delivery, which recounts the trials of four standup virgins and their journey to get onstage.
For Mark Myers and three friends, doing standup for the first time is more akin to an extreme sport with all the accompanying adrenaline rush and fear. Myers is a video and commercial editor here in Toronto. His wife is about to give birth to their first child, and he feels he should do something equally brave. Note to Myers: sorry, there’s no comparison!
But he wisely begins his film with a clip from Jerry Seinfeld, who jokes that “public speaking is people’s number one fear. Which means that, if you’re at a funeral, you’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.” Great joke.
Myers enlists his three friends Shane, Sean and Bert on his mission and gives them a deadline to deliver a five-minute routine before his wife delivers the baby. None of the lads have done standup. The movie follows their challenge until they finally have their first time three months later.
Meanwhile, they go to Just For Laughs, take a comedy class and hang out with some well-known comics, most of whom treat the aspiring comics rather badly.
“One time means nothing,” is the message they get from Andy Kindler, Bobby Slayton, Marc Maron and others. And I have to confess they’re right. I always tell new comics that the first five hundred times don’t even count.
It’s a long game if you want to do it right, which is one of the lessons the boys learn. I call them boys because, even though they’re around 30, there’s something callow and unformed about them, even Bert who is on the far side of 70.
In the real world, it’s doubtful that aspiring comics would make their debut at a comedy club. More likely, they would try out at one of the dozens of open mic nights at bars around the city. The pressure is low, the atmosphere casual and the drinks cheap.
There are about 300 aspiring comedians in Toronto who are at the open mic level. If you watch an evening of them, you’d be surprised at how competent they are. The general level of proficiency has risen over the years as amateurs have watched professional comics and learned from them without even realizing it.
So when Myers and his friends finally get their five minutes each at Yuk Yuk’s, they’re not bad at all. The elderly Bert seems out of his element, but the other three acquit themselves just fine. They have a nice vulnerability, a smooth delivery and, if they wanted to, could have pursued standup further. The only disappointment is their material: crude sex jokes ad nauseam. Easy stuff that always gets a laugh but no career move.
Myers may not have a great career ahead of him as a standup, but this is a more exciting film than the topic suggests. He’s a terrific editor, always filling the frame with pop-ups and cartoons and bouncing around at breakneck speed. It’s no wonder the film got a modest theatrical release and is now enjoying a healthy life on video on demand.
Oh, and not to ruin the ending, but his wife had a baby boy.
Four comedy rookies chronicled in fun new documentary film