The ups and downs of digital comedy

Bob Angeli, a 20-year veteran of the Canadian comedy circuit, is leery of posting his act on YouTube. Angeli, 50, has no clips of himself on the video-sharing website.

Bob Angeli, a 20-year veteran of the Canadian comedy circuit, is leery of posting his act on YouTube.

Angeli, 50, has no clips of himself on the video-sharing website.

When he and American comic Leif Skyving step on stage at Coasters on Wednesday, you’ll have to just take his word that he’s funny.

“The information highway has enabled people to get into the game much faster, so to speak,” said Angeli, speaking from the Days Inn in Dawson Creek.

Before the digital age, a comic might stroll into town, an obscure and unnotable name with only the venue’s aggressive promoting to help fill seats.

But today, everyone can see your monologue as soon as they hear your name.

“The game has changed,” said Angeli. “A lot of comedians and actors don’t want to put their act on YouTube because it’s being lifted, stolen, borrowed and seen already.”

And if you don’t like what you see on a tiny video player, why pay cover to go to the show?

“Audiences are getting smarter; people are more informed,” he said.

The internet may overexpose a comic, but it has reaped benefits for those who have mastered the fine line of internet publicity.

“A lot of people have said that Dane Cook is not the best comic out there, but that he’s just the best at marketing himself,” said Angeli.

Cook’s MySpace page has over 2.5 million friends, his website claims.

With more than 40 videos posted on the site, you might except the in-your-face approach would empty seats when Cook plays a show.

But the media-intensive site helps to fuel the hype surrounding the comic, building a loyal fan base that will reflexively download Cook’s next album on their iPods.

“He’s just a genius at marketing,” said Angeli.

For those who don’t have the time to build a virtual personality cult (see,) comedy can be a slow and grueling occupation.

Most funny people—think house party humour or post-fishing campfire jokes—can’t make it professionally.

“Some of my best friends are naturally funny,” said Angeli, a Montreal native who’s lived in Edmonton for more than 20 years.

In those friend-filled natural settings, Angeli’s buddies can just “wing it,” he said.

“And if the joke doesn’t go over well you might wave your hand and say ‘Oh, John, shut up,’ and

then 30 seconds later there he goes again with another hilarious anecdote.”

But put them on stage at a local amateur comedy night, and flopping is no longer an option.

“Now you’ve got to be funny,” said Angeli.

“From the natural setting to the pressure setting, it’s a whole different dimension and most naturally gifted funny people cannot transcend.”

Self-discipline after a confidence-shattering bad joke is only the first tiny barrier on the long road to making it in the funny business.

Despite being drawn to comedy by the 1960s spy spoof show Get Smart, Angeli went to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, more commonly known as NAIT, for a degree in market managing.

Not content with the jobs he was getting, Angeli took three years to backpack around the world.

“When you spend a lot of time travelling and searching within yourself—the meaning of this journey—you have a lot of time to reflect,” he said.

“Every time I asked myself where the future led, comedy just kept coming up as an option.”

When he returned to Edmonton, Angeli worked as a labourer on the final section of the West Edmonton Mall.

“We were putting the finishing touches on the lagoon,” he said, refering to the artificial reef scene.

At lunch breaks he would entertain the crew, and the compliments began to bring home a career as a stand-up.

After a “favourable” response at an open mike night, the MC asked Angeli to write five minutes.

Eleven years later, he started running the Comedy Factory in Edmonton, where he’s been ever since.

“My story is no different than any other’s,” he said. “Most comics get told by family members, school members, workmates and friends that there’s something about them.”

But learning to hold one’s self on stage is just the beginning.

Writing soon becomes the real challenge.

YouTube videos might give you the impression that the average comedian walks onto a stage with a new act every night.

Digital media forces cultural industries to produce fresh material on a constant basis, comedy included.

But traditionally, comics have to toil for years perfecting the same monologue to get just a few more laughs.

“If you’ve watched a Jerry Seinfeld set, he’s worked for five to 10 years to chisel a 45-minute to an hour gig that will get laughs every night or almost every night,” said Angeli.

“George Burns once said that it took him 30 years to get laughs,” said Angeli. “It’s not that he wasn’t getting laughs for 30 years, but it took him that long to chisel a set that he knew would get laughs every seven to 12 seconds that he delivered a punch line.”

Once a comic is able to get that rhythmic connection with audiences, the horizon opens.

“(Howie Mandel) was from Toronto originally,” said Angeli. “And once he realized he was getting the kinds of laughs he needed, he pushed himself to the Los Angeles market because that’s where you get discovered.

“The same thing happened to Jim Carrey.”

Skyving, 53, is another comedy vet who’s got a few television gigs under his belt.

The comic moved to Los Angles from Sweden when he was a kid.

“Then he married a girl from Idaho,” said Angeli, That’s where Skyving now makes his home.

He’s been a finalist on the Last Laugh San Francisco comedy festival, “the oldest and most prestigious comedy festival in the United States,” according to Angeli.

Canadians might recognize Skyving from appearances on the Comedy Network’s comedy at Club 54.

“If you make it on television, you’re doing all the right things,” said Angeli, who’s done shows at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival.

The comics know each other from Skyving’s gigs in Edmonton, and Whitehorse is a midway point on a northern tour that ends in Alaska.

Skyving does have a few videos on YouTube, but they’re more like teasers than spoilers.

And that might be just the right amount of publicity to get people interested in seeing his shows.

“As far as a comedian goes, you have to be a bit of a chameleon,” said Angeli. “You have to be a good businessman, a good manager, a good writer, and a good performer.

“That’s the dilemma in this business,” he said. “Most of us can deliver live, but it’s everything around it that we have poor skills at.”

Maybe YouTube isn’t so bad after all.

Skyving and Angeli perform at Coasters with guests on Wednesday August 5. Cover is $10 and doors open at seven.

Contact James Munson at

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