Local funnyman and SiriusXM Next Top Comic competitor Chris Locke talks about the JFL42 festival, and how marriage has (and hasn't) changed his act.
We’ve been following the career of funnyman Chris Locke for a long while now, since his days as a member of sketch duo The Gurg, playing Righteous Wednesdays at the Oasis. (All these things are now gone.) These days, Locke is a touring Yuk Yuk’s stand-up. He’s also representing our city as a finalist in the SiriusXM Next Top Comic competition, which opens the JFL42 comedy festival on September 19. But Locke still thrives on performing for audiences of all kinds and sizes. After watching him do his thing at a recent backyard garage show, we talked with him about the changes in his life and career, his busy JFL42 schedule, and how he views his craft.
Torontoist: Let’s start with the SiriusXM Next Top Comic contest, which opens the JFL42 festival on Thursday. You’re Toronto’s finalist for the nationwide competition.
Chris Locke: Yeah, that’s pretty cool.
Some people might have thought of you as a lock, no pun intended, since you were voted Toronto’s best stand-up in NOW Magazine this past year, but you were up against some stiff competition.
Oh, yeah. I don’t have any delusions about that—the talent in the competition is huge, and everybody involved is awesome. It’s going to be one of those things where I just want to go up and have as much fun with the audience as I can, and enjoy the whole show, watching these other amazing comedians.
Do you know how the show is going down on Thursday?
Well, there’s the eight of us, from across Canada. There’s also a big secret headliner, who’s one of the acts here for JFL42. [That headliner has been announced as Colin Quinn.]
And you’re doing quite a few other sets during JFL42.
Yeah, I’m one of the 42. I’ve got my own show, and I’ve got four other slots booked; there may be more. I think I’m gonna be on one of Andy Kindler’s alternative shows—those were my personal highlight of last year, big time. Also, one of the shows at the Rivoli, one of the ALTdot Comedy shows. And I might be opening for Kyle Kinane. I mean, I am. I know that.
Between the 42 selection and the top-comic slot, it’s almost like you’re doubling up. You’re gonna be all over the place.
I feel really lucky that I’m going to be really busy during the festival. I couldn’t have asked for more—literally.
So, since the last time you were interviewed for Torontoist, for your solo show We’re All Rich Geniuses, and even further back, for Laugh Sabbath at the Rivoli, a lot’s changed for you, both professionally and personally. You’re a recently married man—to fellow Laugh Sabbath collective member Kathleen Phillips—and you’ve been traveling a lot as a stand-up, too.
Yeah. And after JFL42, I’ll be traveling a lot more for out-of-town shows. With these contests, there’s a lot of self promotion involved—vote for me, come see this, etc., etc. After the fest, I’m really looking forward to giving promoting myself in Toronto a rest, get back on the road, and go bother other cities.
And I got married, yeah, to someone who really is my best friend, the love of my life. We’re really supportive of each other, both being in comedy, and knowing that travelling and weird work schedules comes with that. Like, if she took a writing job out of town, or was traveling with a show—we both want each other to get to go do all that stuff.
Would you say your act has changed much, with all this other change? All this stuff doesn’t necessarily impact your “hit” with audiences, how they initially perceive you, but has it changed your perspective? Do you approach material differently?
Like, getting married?
Yeah, and the NOW Magazine citation, and the Yuk Yuk’s touring…
Well, the NOW Magazine thing—it’s very, very nice, of course, but it’s also one of those things you have to try and forget about right away.
I saw this amazing documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. All Jiro’s life, he’s wanted to perfect how to make sushi, and he’s really old now, he hasn’t got much time left. And he still doesn’t think he’s gotten it right, although everyone else does. That’s how I want to approach comedy. I think that movie’s great for anyone trying to master a trade or craft.
I think I’ve grown a lot as a comic, touring with Yuk Yuk’s especially, because I’ve been playing to bigger, broader audiences, who might not necessarily think of things in as absurd or surreal a way as I do. So I may need to help those audiences come into my world a bit more before I get really wacky with them. But really, I’ve found that, if you’re having fun yourself, most audiences will come along with you. It’s taken me a long while to learn that it’s not as hard as you might think. Does that make any sense? You have to learn to make it easy.
And you often tailor your act to the audience. Like tonight, you had a fantastic set that delved into elves and druids and trolls, all because of a couple of odd heckles.
Yeah, it was just playing off the vibe. Maybe ’cause we were in this super old garage that felt like a medieval bar or something, and then some guy passing by in the alleyway shook the garage doors…
And you turned all that to your advantage.
I love writing jokes, and touring my material, and that material making people laugh. But at every show, I really love being in the moment. And I think my JFL shows will focus on that, too, dipping in and out of material as much as I can. That comes from my improv background, like my duo with Brian Barlow in our twenties, the Gurg. After a few years in, we weren’t writing any sketches. We’d come up with a concept and then just go up and be goofballs, riffing on it. And I try to get to that too, doing stand-up. Well, maybe half-and-half. Find a balance, right? I feel like Ryan Belleville does that, Seán Cullen does that, Mark Little…I really look up to those guys.
Bringing it back to JFL42, besides the guys you just mentioned, who are you looking forward to seeing?
Well, I’ve toured with Kyle Kinane before, and we’ve done shows together—I’d call us friends—and I’m always excited to see him. He blows my mind, every time. I love Hannibal Buress. I just saw Brent Weinbach live in Montreal, and he was ridiculously funny, so him. John Mulaney, Bill Burr, Kurt Metzger, Sam Simmons…I really hope people in Toronto get that there are going to be all these world-class comedians performing and hanging around for a week. It’s going to be insane. I basically want to see every show. Like, if I don’t have a conflict, I’m going to be going out every night to at least two shows, which is easy with the pass. Best way to do a festival, right?
This interivew has been edited and condensed.