Derek Edwards is a professional stand-up comic hailing from Timmins, Ontario who is often referred to as a comic’s comic. Early on in his illustrious career, he won the Vail National Comedy Invitational in Vail, Colorado. He’s performed at the Molson Canadian Toronto Comedy Festival, the International Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, and graced the television on A & E’s Comedy On the Road, CBC’s Comics!, Comedy Network’s Launch-A-Thon, Open Mike with Mike Bullard, and galas for the Comedy Network and CTV.
He’s also filmed his own one-hour special for Comedy Now series, called Blood, Sweat and Beers and has been featured on many radio programs like Laughing Matters, Madly Off in All Directions and Definitely Not the Opera. And last, but not least, he has also won The Stand-up Comedian of The Year at the Canadian Comedy Awards.
Apt613: Hi Derek, thanks for joining us. Tell us, what was it like growing up in Timmins?
Derek: Sometimes the geography affects the folks. Basically you have lots of trees and rocks, you know?! So you got primary industry like logging and mining going on. A lot of young fellas living at home, making some serious union wages and very little to spend it on. So bars and taverns do an incredible business up in the north. So you do have a kind of festive backdrop to the whole thing. It’s quite a fun place and I miss the north and go back all the time. It’s actually grown a lot in the last ten or fifteen years, what with all the gold finds there and traffic has become quicker, people are a little more impatient. But as for growing up, back in my era, “back in my day” it was fantastic. Friendly folks, big snow banks all through the winter so that you can walk to school on top of the snow banks the whole way. If you like the outdoors, if you like tobogganing, skiing, skating, whatever, jeez, it’s all there for ya.
What made you want to leave Timmins?
There was no itinerary, no series of goals leading to a larger vision of some future accomplishment. It was very much: “okay, let’s see what happens”. Very much just flipping coins the whole way.
Did you have a regular job, before you went into stand-up?
Yeah, I was in the trades. Drywall, painting… that kind of thing. I wasn’t reading any blueprints or putting in electric systems. It wasn’t a career, I had a job. Anyway, I was making a go of things and I started doing comedy and started getting shows on the weekends so I started to book (time) off from work on Friday and they were nice enough to say: “okay, just make sure you come back on Monday.” And so that allowed me to have a buffer, you know?! So it wasn’t quit, you know, balls to the wall the entire go as I needed a buffer at one point because I still had rent to pay.
Did you find your day job helped with your comedy?
It really does give you a leg up because you are acquainted with what goes on in the real world and what goes on in the work world and, you know, you have to make things work… you know… it was just a little more confidence when you went on stage knowing you got a little more relatability because most of the people in (the comedy club) have the 9-to-5s. And to come in when you’re eighteen, nineteen, fresh right out of high school and try to relate to people that are working, I don’t know how you do it. So I tip my hat to those folks that are able to get some laughs with people that they have nothing in common with, god bless them for that. I didn’t even have the confidence to try something like that.
Do you remember your first time on stage?
It’s not something you forget. It’s like bungee jumping, isn’t it?! It’s terrifying and illogical that you’re even doing it, but you know you’re alive! I had a struggle, I had a real struggle because I blanked out for a joke I asked in downtown Toronto. It was like a Monday amateur night, packed house and I asked: “So, is there anyone from Timmins, Ontario?” Just as a joke because it was leading into something else and of course, there’s a whole table, at the back of the room, and they’re all hammered. So they screamed in recognition: “Oh my god Timmins!”, just yelling… and that’s when I blanked out and just stared into the intensely bright light, in the basement of Yorkville, just with nothing to say.
It’s terrifying and illogical that you’re even doing it, but you know you’re alive!
So I didn’t go back for a year or thirteen months, something like that. It was too terrifying. The hell with that, I didn’t want to go back. I was like: “where’s my drywall, where’s my painter’s brush, I wanna go back to the real world again”. But you know, it’s the painful recollections that makes the best stories comic to comic because every single comic can relate. Because no matter how hilarious they are, the comics you worked with, admired all these years… they all have these terribly nightmarish, hell-gig stories.
Do you have any good anecdotes while performing comedy somewhere?
I guess on the theme of hell-gates… I do remember a guy named Bob. He was a booker. He was a booker with no conscious, he was a booker with no morals. And he brought me and this guy with five kids, named Marty into this biker bar. He didn’t say it was a biker bar. He just said: “Oh I got this great gig for you that’s an all nighter on a Tuesday in Red Deer (Alberta).” And we went in and there was this pole on stage, this brass pole. It seemed out of place, eh?! Seemed like a good place for comics to lean on. And everybody there was massive, they were huge, I didn’t know what they were eating out there, I assume beef.
Anyway, we started doing the show and immediately there was this hatred, this white hot hatred about everything we had to say and I was just dying on stage, leaning against this pole. Then this waitress walks by and I say: “how you doing today?” You know, just looking for anything on stage. And she goes: “Fuck Off!”. That was my feedback, so nothing to work with there comedicaly… then I get this sign from Marty, who opened for me, where he was using his hands to say “stretch” (my time on stage) so that’s good news to boot!
So here I am working through my set and I said something that offended some guy. So this guy, he’s gotta be 300 pounds, grabs a chair and starts walking towards the stage. And through the lunacy of it all, I just started laughing. It just seemed impossible that things could get any worse as I thought that I was about to go to the hospital. I started saying: “Anybody going to try and stop this, do I have no confederates out there?!” And finally the owner goes: “Gus, put the chair down god dammit!” and the guy with the chair finally looked down and said okay and put the chair down. But that was one of those growing up moments where you wish you hadn’t had to grow so quickly. Just tales from the road man. It’s funny, I still remember it to such clarity and detail, I mean entire years go by and I can’t remember what happened, but that… that was a moment to moment play by play.