Ottawa Funny Faces

The Ottawa XPress – October 21, 2004

Peters: a “hot and spicy” East Indian

Funny Guy: Russell Peters

Local Talent sticks around, and not just for laughs

With the help of local comedy clubs, Ottawa has been home to some of today’s most popular comedians, including MTV’s Tom Green, Saturday Night Live’s Norm MacDonald, and the recent CBS Star Search winner, Tracey MacDonald. Regardless of the pull toward television or feature film contracts in America, Ottawa clubs appear able to maintain a loyal following for comedy acts that are still going strong.

“Comedy was huge in the mid-’80s,” said Yuk Yuk’s manager Howard Wagman in a recent interview. “But then it reached a saturation point where standup became passé. Now it’s a healthy scene again, but what is important now to most comics is making the jump from the stage to the TV.” And the leap doesn’t necessarily cross the border anymore.

Local comic Rick Kaulbars, for example, in addition to standup, writes episodes for the Kevin Spencer animated show on CTV and the Comedy Network. A veteran of the scene and revolving host of the Wednesday Open Stage at Yuk Yuk’s, Kaulbars has seen it all (or much of it) and explains that Yuk Yuk’s is possibly the “best stage in Canada.

“Onstage for talent, and backstage for energy and consistency of morale amongst the talent,” he told XPress. Yuk Yuk’s “pops ’em out,” Kaulbars said, referring to the consistent talent pool due in no small part to the godfatherly style of Wagman. With more than a decade in the business, Wagman spends his days setting the busy schedule for the club and booking corporate functions. But his influence goes further.

The Absolute Comedy Club on Preston Street is run by two comics who were once regular performers at Wagman’s club.

Bruce Hills, chief operating officer for Just For Laughs, said, “Ottawa has been a great source for Just For Laughs. It has given us Mike MacDonald, who has appeared at every festival, and Jeremy Hotz, one of the most popular comedians to have graced our stages and is featured in this year’s Just For Laughs Comedy Tour coming to the NAC.”

XPress caught Canadian comic Russell Peters at one of his sold-out shows in early October at Yuk Yuk’s. One of six in the 2004 Just for laughs lineup, Peters’ blunt commentary on cultural differences, midgets and Brampton, Ontario gangsters is described as “hot ‘n’ spicy East Indian humour.”

“When they don’t get a joke,” Peters says after the show, “I always associate it with stupidity.” The comedian is Yuk Yuk’s single most successful event to date according to Wagman, who showcased him starting last March. Opening for Peters that night was local comedian Wafik Nasralla whose jokes about his malfunctioning eyeball are reason enough to stick around Ottawa for the second show.

To check out more local talent, drop by these venues to see who’s movin’ up: Absolute Comedy, 412 Preston Street, reservations at 233-8000,; Wall Street, 303 Bank Street, first Sunday of every month; Yuk Yuk’s, 88 Albert Street, reservations at 236-5233,

TIX: $49.50, $39.50, $32.50.

– Sylvie Hill