Anyone who survives 40 years at the same job deserves a prize, and stand-up comic & writer GLEN FOSTER has certainly earned kudos and bravos for building and maintaining a career in the comedy business. Glen has been touring for the past four decades and 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. I’ve known Glen for all his 40 years of funny, representing him first during the 80s as part of Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Klub and its in-house 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. To give you a little background on Glen, he got a “Cinderella” start in showbiz – after several months grinding away on amateur nights, he found himself part of a Yuk Yuk’s tour out west in 1982. When he took the stage in Winnipeg that first night, suddenly Glen was a “professional stand-up”. As he tells it, “Things progressed quickly from then on. I was barely six months off amateur night when I was flown to Los Angeles to appear on “An evening at The Improv” with movie legend Tony Curtis as celebrity host”. He has appeared eight times at the world-renowned Just For Laughs festival, had his own TV specials on the Comedy Network, is a frequent guest on CBC Radio’s “The Debaters” and a club and corporate event favourite across the country. I spoke with Glen recently and he shared his thoughts on his long comedic journey, navigating his way through one of the most volatile entertainment sectors (stand-up comedy), sharing tales of survival and the shenanigans along the way….
So Glen, has it really been 40yrs? I remember when I was booking you through Yuk Yuk’s back in the 80s and I knew I could always rely on you to deliver a killer set wherever I sent you. November 4th, 2022 was the actual fortieth anniversary of my first Yuk Yuk’s Western comedy tour, which kicked off in Winnipeg in 1982. This past November I returned to Winnipeg to do a special show to commemorate that event, almost forty years to the day of the original show. For years, I’ve kept an old Winnipeg Free Press article about the 1982 tour and now I have a matching one from 2022 as well.I’ve actually been doing comedy for more than forty years, although two years of Covid lockdowns and club closures does kind of mess with the math. I started performing at high school variety shows (1977-78). Soon after that, I did my first “real” comedy club set at Yuk Yuks, which had just opened in Toronto. Unlike today where there are hundreds of comics scrambling to get just a few minutes of stage time, there were only a handful of us and we were working all the time. As a result, I was able to progress very quickly. I was barely six months off amateur night when I was flown to Los Angeles to appear on “An evening at The Improv” with movie legend Tony Curtis as celebrity host, no less. So no matter how you do the math, I am quite confident saying that I have been a “professional comedian” for at least forty years.Your stage personae and material appear to have changed considerably as your career has developed. How would you compare the comedy themes or styles of 1980s Glen with today’s Glen? I always admired comedians like George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Bill Maher and others who were actually saying something with their comedy. So at a point, I decided that it wasn’t enough to just be funny, I also wanted to be relevant. I started doing material about all of the things that frustrated me as a Canadian: High taxes, government incompetence, the sad state of our armed forces and especially, what was known at the time as “political correctness”. That material really resonated with crowds and got big laughs as well. I even created a very popular t-shirt (shortly after the first Quebec referendum) that featured a “puzzle” map of Canada held together with band-aids and stitching with the caption, “My Canada includes every bitching whining Province, Aboriginal, Feminist, Minority and Special Interest Group.”
Recently, I’ve been going over some of my old videos and like many comedians of my era, there are definitely a few “cancelable” offenses to be found. More than once I have said to myself, “There is NO WAY I could do that joke today”. On the other hand, there is also material that I wouldn’t WANT to do today because, like society in general, my attitudes have changed and my comedy has evolved.
Jerry Seinfeld famously said that he won’t play colleges anymore because younger crowds are too easily offended. These days, comedy seems to be all about diversity, “safe spaces”, and inclusivity. As an older white male, are you still able to remain relevance? And are you able to entertain “the kids”? There is no question that audiences, especially younger ones, have become much more sensitive and far more easily “triggered” than in the past. The smart thing would be to just avoid certain topics altogether, but for some reason, I can’t seem to do that. My style has always been to poke the bear, but I have had to become much more nuanced and creative in my approach, so the bear doesn’t rip my head off. I’ve become quite adept at dancing around hot button topics and of getting very, very close to the line of offense without going over. As a result I’ve discovered a rather unique style of saying things without actually SAYING anything at all, to the point where many of my punchlines have become blank spaces that the audience has to fill in themselves.
Fortunately, I think we are finally starting to see a turn around. People are waking up to woke (pardon the pun) or at least becoming weary of some of the more extreme examples of cancel culture and the very real dangers that it poses to free speech and artistic expression. For me, it’s a vindication, though it does feel odd to be behind the times and yet, ahead of my time… at the same time.
Since the 80s, you’ve appeared on numerous tv shows and even had two of your own 1-hr TV specials on the Comedy Network – do you and other comedians receive royalties on those shows? I mean, they play them over and over on the various CBC or CTV networks…surely you must be “that wealthy Canadian guy” by now? The short answer is no, and the long answer is not much. It depends on the show. I do get a small amount for re-runs of CBC shows, but other shows are a single payment “buy out” situation. Certainly no one I know is getting rich off of the television royalties from Canadian stand up. It’s interesting, every now and then I’ll get a call from someone who will say “We’d like you to do this gig. It doesn’t pay a lot of money, but it will be great for exposure!” And I always joke, “This is Canada, people DIE from exposure.” But if you think about it, because there is very little money, just about every show you do in Canada is for exposure. And you do get that. If I perform a set at Just for Laughs, for example, they will take that and sell it all over the world in every medium you can think of: TV, satellite radio, DVDs, CDs, streaming and even in-flight entertainment. The trade off is that the producers wind up making exponentially more money than the actual talent.
Speaking of “That Canadian Guy”, how did that nickname come about? And, despite the fact that you have not been on television for a while now, is it still something that comedy fans recognize and respond to? I have an advertising background (I was copywriter) so I’ve always understood that in order for people to remember something, you had to make it easy for them. So beginning with my first comedy special “That Canadian Guy” that is exactly what I did. I even joked that the viewers wouldn’t be able to remember my name, but they would remember “That Canadian Guy”. I also included a line about my website. Sure enough, the morning after the special aired, I received a pile of e-mails from people saying “I couldn’t remember your name, but I remembered “That Canadian Guy”.
Remember when I talked about exposure? Well, the curse and the blessing of Canadian television, is that everything I have ever done has been repeated and repeated… and repeated! In fact, someone messaged me just the other day to tell me that my original “That Canadian Guy” special from 2000 was going to be on again!
An interesting thing has been happening recently. People are coming up to me after shows saying things like, “I was so surprised to see you here.” and “I’ve been watching you since I was a kid!” Of course, these fans are now in their late thirties and forties. A few are even younger than that, which makes me think that their parents may have been a bit too permissive, or just abandoned them to the electronic babysitter, as my parents used to call the tv. It’s all very gratifying and it makes me ponder whether there could be a larger, as yet undiscovered group of fans out there somewhere. I even have some ideas on how I might actually do that. I’ll let you know how it goes.Apart from your television appearances, you’ve also produced four comedy albums. Any plans for a fifth? And what about podcasting? A lot of comedians have gone that route and many have become quite successful. I’m actually working on my new album, tentatively titled Unsafe and Unnecessary right now. It’s kind of an extension of my last album Unchecked (a reference to all the “boxes” I don’t check as an older white male). It’s a bit of a challenge with four previous albums out there; I don’t want to repeat myself, so I have to structure my live sets in such a way that I can develop and practice the new stuff, while keeping enough of the old stuff to have a cohesive set. Plus, I have to maintain a certain comfort level for myself and still entertain the crowd, so I can’t do too much new stuff all at once. As for doing podcasts, I have a few ideas, but I have so much to do and I am chronically disorganized (my To Do list remains “unchecked” as well). If I find something that excites me, I could happen…..I will keep you posted.
Thanks for sharing, Glen.
Glen also publicly shared his thoughts on his YouTube channel on the recent Bill C-11 which has since passed, and the slippery-slope it creates with its proposed limitations and censorship of the ‘net
Follow Glen on social media: Facebook.com/thatcanadiancomedian or Twitter.com/fosterfunny
and visit his website: https://glenfoster.com/