Laugh Track: Graham Clark

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Illustration by Anosha Ashfaq

Graham Clark is more than just a funny guy with a beard. Sure, he sometimes uses that beard as a brush and does paintings to raise money for charities, but there are layers to the Calgary-born now-Vancouverite. Aside from his side life as a follicled artist, Clark also co-hosts the insanely popular weekly podcast Stop Podcasting Yourself and produces the comedy show Laugh Gallery every Monday at Havana on Commercial Drive.

But why take my word for it? I’ll let Clark explain all of these things for himself.

Tell us about all of the wonderful ways you’re involved with comedy — both locally and beyond Vancouver.

Well, I do traditional stand-up, both at festivals and at comedy clubs, and then I do a weekly podcast, and then I run a weekly show at Havana and then I run some monthly things, like a wrestling-themed comedy show at Little Mountain Gallery, and I work on the radio show The Debaters as an associate producer, and other odds and sods, but those are the main things.

Walk me through the steps that go into producing an episode of Stop Podcasting Yourself. Do you do any prep work, aside from finding a guest star every week?

Well, my co-host, Dave Shumka, does all of the production stuff. Either someone will be in town that we think would be fun to have on the show, or we’ll have someone we’ve already had on the show and we know is fun. We just go over to the studio Dave has set up at his place and we record the show. We don’t do a ton of prep work. I think we just always make sure to come in with a story each week, but there’s not a lot of prep work because it’s all kind of off the cuff.

Do guest stars on the show usually approach you or do you approach them?

Sometimes people approach us, but more often than not we’re approaching people. It’s a tough sell because we know the show is good and we know they’ll have a good time, but every comic I know has been on a hundred podcasts and a lot of them aren’t good, so being approached by a podcast is not a great proposition for these comics. You want to know that a) it’s going to be fun and b) that someone’s going to hear it on the other end. But we’ve got a pretty good reputation at this point; we usually approach people but sometimes comedians come to town and pitch themselves as a guest.

Are there any long-term plans for Stop Podcasting Yourself, or are you and co-host Dave just winging it and seeing what happens?

We only started doing the podcast because we liked each other and thought we were really funny, and there weren’t a lot of comedy podcasts around when we started. So we didn’t think it was anything. We just liked doing it and we kept doing it, so we didn’t have a plan then and we don’t have a plan now.

When was the moment that you realized, “Hey, this is a thing”?

I think when people we’d never met before were listening to it and enjoying it. Because our friends listened to it and they liked it and thought it was funny, but when there were complete strangers liking it and sharing it, then I felt like, “Oh okay, now it’s something that’s a thing.” It was just fun when we realized that there were people who liked it empirically.

Your weekly show at Havana, Laugh Gallery, has been described as “part comedy show, part Antiques Roadshow.” Can you elaborate on that?

That’s totally astute, because I gather up these prizes from flea markets and thrift stores and I give them away over the course of the night. It’s a big part of the show and it’s what keeps me interested in doing the show, going and finding these neat things. And people get so stoked on things that they previously didn’t ever think they wanted, but being in the same room with it they get really jazzed about this toy or shirt or whatever. So that’s a good descriptor of the show.

What’s been your favourite thing to give away?

A couple of years ago I did a show for the Comedy Festival and they gave me a special budget to produce the show so I went and bought some stuff that I would’ve never bought for the show because it was too expensive. I bought a still-in-the-box Michael Jackson Thriller-era action figure and I gave that away. It was hard to part with, but people went so bananas for it. That’s what stands out in my mind as the coolest.

You sometimes make paintings using your beard as a brush. How long does each painting usually take you?

The one that I’m doing now, I think altogether will be about 12 to 16 hours, because everything’s so finicky. Everything takes twice or three times the time it would take if you were just using a regular brush. Depends on how intricate the painting is, but somewhere between 12 and 20 hours.

What kind of paint do you use?

I use an acrylic from a store on Granville Island that makes their own paint called Kroma. Their paints don’t have a lot of the stuff that paints from a conventional art store would have because they don’t put preservatives in it, so it doesn’t last as long, but it’s non-toxic. When I was doing it, I talked to different painters, went to different art stores, I even talked to a doctor to make sure it wasn’t something that could affect me, health-wise.

What would you say is one popular misconception about comedians that you wish people knew about?

I think it’s coming to light because of the Internet, and I’ve read a lot of articles on it recently: the idea that heckling is somehow part of the show. It’s like a myth, but it keeps going and people don’t even do it to be malicious. They really think it’s a part of the show and it’s not.

Anything else you want to say to our readers?

To anybody reading this, Vancouver has such a good comedy scene; it’s insane. You would have to go to a city like New York or London to find the kind of talent that’s here. If you have any kind of inkling to go see a comedy show, do so, because you’re in for a treat. There aren’t just shows every night of the week; there are good shows every night of the week. We’re really lucky to have the scene that we have in Vancouver.

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