I’ve known GLEN FOSTER for nearly four decades, representing him during the 80s as part of the Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Klub agency Funny Business, then working with him again several years ago when he launched a series of independent comedy showcases featuring the best of the best of Canadian comedy talent. Known as That Canadian Guy, Glen has become a mainstay on the Canadian comedy circuit – he didn’t just work the road, he’s one of the comics who built it! His comedy is clever and intelligent, combining reflections on his own personal experiences with razor sharp commentary on current events and popular culture.He has appeared many times at the world-renowned Just For Laughs festival, had his own TV specials on the Comedy Network, can be heard frequently on CBC Radio’s “The Debaters” and he’s a club and corporate event favourite across the country. That Canadian Guy is a reference to Glen’s first network comedy special during which he joked about the fact people could call him “that Canadian guy” if they couldn’t remember his name. Sure enough, after the show aired, Glen received a flood of e-mails from viewers who said, “I couldn’t remember your name but I remembered “that Canadian guy.” This became a part of his act….
Glen contacted me recently with great news…he’s releasing a brand new comedy CD on a real-life record label, so I asked him a few questions about how the album, UnChecked, came to be during the pandemic lockdown as well as how the comedy industry has dealt with the lack of live audiences….
After being locked down and locked out of live performing for 14 months, you’re releasing your new comedy album “UnChecked” May 25th – is producing this album how you spent your time during Covid quarantine? I’m a procrastinating perfectionist which is a terrible combination. It means that a lot of things never get done. And if by some miracle, they do get done, they’re never right. Oddly, I was wildly productive at the beginning of the pandemic; I created a “Covid Comedy” website to showcase comedians who were doing online projects during lockdown. I co-wrote a Covid parody song and I was one of the first Canadian comedians to attempt a Zoom show. In fact, just hours before the lockdown, I borrowed a van and raced to Home Depot to get a piece of fake brick wall so I could build a virtual stage in my basement which I called “The Covid Club”. But did I work on the album? No, well, not right away. The bulk of this album was recorded in January 2020 which is very lucky, because a month later, we were going lock down for three weeks to “flatten the curve”. After it was done, I decided to set the recordings aside for a while so that I could come back and listen with “fresh ears”. For me, “a little while” means “forget about altogether”, so it wasn’t until we were in full blown pandemic that I actually started listening. And then I listened repeatedly, over and over. I made detailed notes as I prepared a paper edit. Being a bit of a purist, I was hoping to record the entire album from a single show. (Personally, I think it’s cheating to record six shows and take the best bits of each), however, it turned out that the best recording was the Saturday early show, which is a shorter show because they have to bring in a second crowd. This meant that I couldn’t do a full headline set. So, full disclosure, I had to edit in material from other shows. As the pandemic dragged on, so did the editing process as I sent notes and audio files back and forth with the producer, who was a friend with a newborn who was also time-challenged in his own way. I vacillated between completely ignoring the album and sudden urgency for completion. First it was to release the album in time to qualify for the Junos. When that deadline passed, I thought Canada Day might be a good time to release. Of course, I couldn’t get my shit together in time, so by late summer ‘20, I had decided to hold the release till Christmas. Then I got a call that changed everything. A comedian friend I have known for many years, put me in touch with 800Pound Gorilla Records, which is the largest producer of comedy albums in the world! They wanted to hear my album but they couldn’t get to it until after Christmas so I made the decision to postpone yet again! Finally, almost a full year after I had recorded it, I got word that they wanted to sign me to a distribution deal. I am very excited because UnChecked will the first album that I have ever released on an actual record label. It’s only taken forty years to get some US audience and media attention.How did you choose the material included on the album? Well, first of all, I had to eliminate material that I had already done on previous albums, which I managed to do – mostly. There were a couple of bits from earlier albums that I HAD to include because they were working well with some of the newer bits I had been working out, so they had become part of my regular set. I would say though that there are only a couple of exact repeats. Most of them are bits that were in an early development stage when I first recorded them. Now, of course they’re much more polished, or I’ve spun them differently or changed the delivery. Besides, I wouldn’t be the first comedian to get away with doing an “old” bit on a new album. Unchecked has been growing as a concept in my mind (and in my act) for a few years now. Partially it’s a reference to my scatterbrain existence. I have a To Do list with NO checkmarks, which is not entirely true, I suppose, because I did manage to get this album out…finally. However, it also refers to the fact that as a “cis gendered white male” I don’t check any boxes. If you look closely at the cover, you will see that it is made up of actual check boxes, some of which refer to things that are still on my “to do” list like “Screenplay” and “Taxes” (the deadline is looming as we speak), while others are boxes that I can’t check like “Female” or “LGBTQ”. I’ve thrown in some more whimsical ones as well, like “Rich”, “Sexy”, “Astronaut” plus a few more contentious ones like “woke”, “safe”, “politically correct”. – things I am most definitely NOT. So in that sense, the third meaning of UnChecked is not holding back, no holds barred, which is an approach I certainly take on this album. I seem to have a penchant for ambiguity; I love it when things have two meanings, so UnChecked having three gives me a kind of nerdy thrill.
You pride yourself in working “clean”, but with all the frustrations of isolating with the family, were you tempted to go from That Canadian Guy to That Pissed Off & Angry Canadian Guy? I used to be more of a stickler on the clean thing, but now I like to play both sides of the fence. I can do a completely clean show if that is what’s required, but shows where you can cut loose are a lot more fun. I don’t mind dropping the odd F bomb, but I would never swear for the sake of swearing. If you’re going to do it, it should help the joke. There is only ONE F bomb on the entire new album, but there is no way to do the joke without it. I’ve tried, but F*ck is the only word that really works. I could have cut the joke, but I really wanted to include it because, apart from getting a great laugh, it makes an important point about the state of comedy and what should be considered “funny”. In fact, there are a few observations about the state of comedy, particularly with regards to political correctness, cancel culture and what you can and can’t say. Or more specifically what I, as a cis gendered white male, can’t say. Or certain taboo topics that comedians are not allowed to joke about. The only rule I have in comedy is that there should be no rules. In fact, when someone tells me that I can’t do a joke about such and such, I see it as a challenge to find a way to do it. For me, the jokes that create the most tension are the ones that bring the biggest laughs and the best of those are the ones that leave you wondering “Was that offensive?” I would say that about 70% of this album is pretty close to “Disney clean”, and another 20% could be considered questionable, but that last 10% is going to make some people’s heads explode!! So I look forward to the release of UnChecked and my subsequent cancellation…LOLWith the possibility of live performances starting up by end of summer, are you already planning shows in Toronto and across the country in support of the album? If I do any touring, I don’t think it will be in Canada, not for a while at least. We are way behind on vaccinations, so I don’t see things opening up again until fall. Even then, I think older crowds, which I appeal most to, are going to be pretty skittish about going into crowded spaces for some time. Or maybe, if they ever perfect Zoom, we’ll be doing more virtual shows. I’ve done a few of them during the pandemic, and some of them were awful. Even the good ones don’t compare to LIVE though. Of course, if the album is a big hit, who knows? This is the first time that my comedy will be heard all over the world and that may bring some new and interesting opportunities.
Several years ago, you presented a series of live stand-up shows (The Canadian Aces) featuring comedy greats like the late Mike MacDonald, Evan Carter, Ron Vaudry, Ronnie Edwards and Simon Rakoff, as well as your then Hump Dump Live radio show co-host Lawrence Morgenstern. The rooms were packed with fans who appreciated the sharp and timely material. Could such a series of shows happen again, either with the Aces or the young’ens once we’re allowed to go back in to the clubs? Again, it remains to be seen. And again, the primary market for that sort of thing would be an older crowd who, as I say, might be a little skittish about crowded spaces for a while. The good news is more and more comics have been in this game for twenty years or longer, although due to all the lockdowns and on again off again closures of live venues, 2020/2021 may have an asterisk in the margin of the record books.
In That Canadian Guy’s opinion, how has the comedy scene changed over the past 4 decades since you started out? Comedy reflects reality, so all the issues that have been part of that reality like racial tension, the #metoo movement, gender issues have all had an influence on comedy. The biggest thing I’ve noticed would be the rise of political correctness, which isn’t unique to comedy of course, though comedy seems to be the focal point of a lot of anger lately. Certainly a number of comedians have been under the threat of being “cancelled” for mere jokes. This is another one of the themes of UnChecked. There is this notion that comedy, like everything else needs to be more diverse and inclusive. Along with that comes the idea that old, white, male comedians such as myself should step aside, give up our privilege, etc. As a result, I find that a lot of comedy is more preachy than it used to be. It’s more about making your point, or standing up for this group or that group, not punching down, etc. There is a lot “clapter” these days which is a term for an audience half laughing, but more clapping and agreeing with whatever point a comedian might be making: I think it’s all a bit of nonsense. To me, the only thing comedy has to be is funny. My rule is be funny first, then you can preach or do whatever the hell else you like, but be funny first.
Where can we purchase/download your UnChecked album and how much will it cost to enjoy and own great comedy? On May 25th, it will be available on all the usual music download platforms like Apple, Amazon etc. Or you could just visit my website www.thatcanadianguy.com because I will have all the links listed there.
Good luck with the launch, Glen…I hope everyone buys the album and the next blog interview I do with you will be for next year’s Juno awards!! Make sure you visit Glen’s new website, follow him on Fcbk at www.facebook.com/thatcanadianguy or visit the record label www.800poundgorillarecords.com