Derek Flores and his son Eli in New Zealand. The Second City alumnus has been deported, and tonight’s event at Comedy Bar is to raise funds for the legal battle to reunite Flores with his family. Photo courtesy of Katherine Sanders.
Some of Canada’s top improvisers and comics, many in town for the Toronto Fringe Festival, are putting on a fundraiser tonight at Comedy Bar to help one of their own, Derek Flores, with his legal troubles overseas and help reunite him with his family in New Zealand. An alumni of the Loose Moose Theatre Company in Alberta, and Second City here in Toronto, Flores was deported this spring over a bureaucratic mix-up.
“What happened was, he submitted his permanent residency application, and they sent a notice to an address he hadn’t lived at for over a year,” explains Katherine Sanders, a fellow Calgarian and Loose Moose alumnus who now programs in Toronto for the Harbourfront Centre (and helped organize tonight’s comedy fundraiser show). “So he found out three months later that his application hadn’t gone through, and he’d been declared unlawful.”
Despite the fact Flores had been working steadily for the last five years as an entertainer in New Zealand, and living with his son Eli (and Eli’s mother Fiona), when he sent a letter asking to re-submit his application, he was rejected. “The insinuation in the letter was that an exemption of that sort in the talent section was ‘reserved for the likes of Drew Carey,’ but Drew Carey doesn’t want to live and work in New Zealand—Derek does,” says Sanders.
Flores fled to Australia, and applied for a work visa so he could continue to support his wife and son with gigs in New Zealand, Sanders says, “but he was declined—despite assurances from his manager that he’d be accompanied from his shows to the airport.”
Hence tonight’s fundraiser, featuring members of the National Theatre of the World, cast members from Fringe shows The Soaps and LOVE Octagon, and celebrity acts like Ryan Belleville, Peter Oldring of CBC’s This is That, and the Rumoli Brothers. Flores’ many friends in the comedy community across Canada have already raised $2,000 for a retainer for an immigration lawyer, online; tonight’s fundraiser, and a recent show in Calgary, are for the impending legal battle. Flores, meanwhile, is working on a Second City cruise ship (he was a Mainstage performer at Second City Toronto for years) and sending his money to New Zealand for childcare costs.
“I was a little afraid of him at first,” admits Jim Annan, a fellow Second City alum on the bill for tonight’s show. “He would jump up on any stage, and just about kill himself to get a laugh. But I learned a lot, working with him; he was always completely fearless.” The two were tourmates in the Second City’s touring company, and Flores was the first of their cast to be called up to the Mainstage. “He called us all up to tell us he’d gotten it, and we hadn’t,” chuckles Annan (though the two were eventually reunited on the Mainstage).
Later on, Flores, Annan, and fellow castmate Scott Montgomery formed a improv troupe, Cockz with Swordz, that still holds the record for the group with the most consecutive wins at long-running “comedy deathmatch” Catch 23 Improv.
Stand-up comedian Kristian Reimer, who also remembers Flores as an early Calgary improv celebrity when he was a member of the globetrotting troupe The Three Canadians (Flores found early on he loved touring as a comedian), eventually roomed with Flores here in Toronto, where the two established the underground comedy hotspot the DK Ranch. “We’d dreamed about putting on living room shows in Calgary when we had an apartment there, and when we got this third-floor apartment off Spadina with a huge deck, Derek said, before we even took it, ‘We should do shows here.’” The first show had guests like Terra Hazelton and Rebecca Northan, and the audience grew. “We’d have like 80 people here, some watching from the fire escape. I don’t know how it happened, but it did.”
All the contributions Flores made to Canadian comedy in Calgary, Toronto, and in venues around the world are what made so many of his former castmates and peers keen to help him out. “People Like Matt Baram and Ron Pederson, Chris Gibbs—when they were working with Derek, they were comedy upstarts, but now they’re huge, across Canada,” says Sanders. “When I asked them to help, they all said, ‘I’m in.’ They didn’t even ask where and when first.”
“It’ll be a great show, for a great guy who left his mark on this city,” says Annan. Reimer agrees: “We’re supporting not just a fellow Canadian and comic, but someone who made a lot of people happy—and this is how we can repay the happiness he gave to us.”