Matt O’Brien hosts the Comedy Records Showcase, Saturday April 9 at Comedy Bar.
“Canada, and Toronto specifically, has an unbelievable comedy scene. There’s an incredible amount of talent that is completely underexposed.”—Barry Taylor, founder of Comedy Records
“It’s so hard to bring people out to things—you know?”—Matt O’Brien, host of the Comedy Records Showcase
It was partly in an attempt to make the most out of the first of those things—and, in doing so, to help remedy the second—that Barry Taylor decided to start up Comedy Records, a new Toronto-based label dedicated to continuing the storied art of aural comedy.
“The concept behind the label is to treat stand-up comedy the way other labels treat musicians and their releases,” Taylor told us. This includes employing the records and live shows as complementary calling cards—each to draw people to the other—and beginning the release of an EP series in the coming months. Eventually, “the goal is definitely to release full-length albums and build tours around them.”
“At first I just wanted to put together an album of myself and a bunch of other comics to use…to help book shows,” he says, perhaps most familiar to Torontonians from his time as a DJ at 102.1 the Edge. That process, however, wasn’t as easy as he might have expected. “I started looking to see if there were any labels in Canada that we could approach about releasing it, and realized there were none. So I decided to start my own.”
It’s an audacious reaction to the situation, and one that Taylor admits could be described as “kind of nuts.” The bold choice having been made, however, he went about building up a team of comedians who have since thrown themselves into making a success of the project, including performing showcases like the one put on this past Saturday at Comedy Bar, featuring comedians from the label’s debut album: Comedy Records Presents….
“I basically choose comedians who I think are funny, and want to work together,” Taylor says of how he’s gone about building up Comedy Records’ roster of artists. Based on a few examples, his judgment of comedy talent seems very sound (“My comedy heroes are Norm MacDonald and Bill Murray”), and beyond the sheer laugh-out-loud funniness possessed by comedians like those, he doesn’t think any particular shared style is required among the acts on the label. “Other than being funny. When you see or hear funny, you just know.”
With that watchword in mind, he’s gathered together a group of names with impressive reputations, a list that includes current hot comedians-about-town-and-country like John Hastings, winner of the 2010 Irwin Barker Homegrown Comic Award at Just For Laughs; Matt O’Brien, 2010 XM Canada’s Next Top Comic; and Mark DeBonis, Best Newcomer–winner at the 2010 Canadian Comedy Awards and a particular powerhouse at Saturday’s showcase.
Mark DeBonis pauses for breath while trying to invent the world’s most insane Craigslist ad.
Part of the label’s goal, in addition to indeed trying to “bring people out to things,” is to do the inverse and bring the comedy to the people. “I still love listening to comedy albums on road trips and on my iPod,” explains Taylor. “I think there’s other people out there that enjoy that too.” In this area, his experience dealing with the music industry comes in handy.
Albums and audio are still great ways of delivering comedy, Taylor points out, especially if one realizes the ways in which delivering recorded content of any type has changed. “When you look at the success of podcasts, it’s pretty apparent that there’s still a demand for spoken-word content. I guess it’s more about exposing the material to people.”
As the label attempts to grow toward releasing more albums, putting on more shows, and even greater goals (“The first stand-up show on the moon, ideally not on a night that coincides with a UFC pay-per-view”), Taylor’s focus remains on making a success of the venture by showcasing the homegrown talent he knows is all around. “Like any business, it’s been a challenge to get going, but I’ve been fortunate to be working with some amazing people with lots of talent, and that definitely helps.
“Eventually we’d like to become an international entity, but Toronto and Canada will always be home.”
Photos by Jeremy Woodcock/Torontoist.