Laugh Track: Paul Anthony

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Illustration by Gabriel Yeung

If variety is indeed the spice of life, then Paul Anthony’s Talent Time is a bowl of Carolina Reaper peppers soaking in Tabasco sauce. A live variety/comedy show currently in its eighth season, Talent Time combines musical acts, live comedy, and unique/bizarre performances into one of Vancouver’s most deliriously enjoyable monthly events. (Each installment also gets filmed, edited down, and later aired as a half-hour cable access show.) At the centre of it all is Paul Anthony, creator, talent booker, host, and titular glue that keeps everything together.

Read on to learn more about how Talent Time has changed since its debut eight years ago, what an act needs to make it a good fit for the show, and how committed Anthony is to keeping Talent Time going.

Where did the idea for Talent Time come from?

There are so many different answers to that, one being that I’ve done a variety show my whole life. When I was a kid, we would put on little shows at Thanksgiving for our family, and I used my cousins and aunts and uncles. So I’ve always been interested in variety performers and I always get really bored with any scene. A lot of comedian friends will just do comedy shows and hang out with other comedians, and a lot of musician friends just go see their friends’ bands play, and that’s about it. But I’d be going on the SkyTrain out to a mall in Surrey to see a talent show, and I’d watch two hours of garbage and then you’d see something that’s so fantastic and magical and I’d want the whole world to see it. And I could never get friends to make that journey, so I thought I’d bring the acts into the city and put on a variety show.

How has the show changed over its eight seasons?

It’s grown at such an interesting, organic rate, which means really slowly in this case. I was trying to figure out what the show was this whole time. I wanted the format to be somewhat of a variety too. I was using different co-hosts all of the time, I was really playing with what you could get away with, what the audience was drawn to. The first couple of years, it was more punk-rock and raw, with some positive moments and then a lot of really dark shit, and as it kept going it slowly became about championing the human spirit. I didn’t mean to do that on purpose; it’s just what the audience responded to the most, and what I liked more. Over the years it’s become a real community show. I’ve stayed in contact with a lot of people who’ve been on the show, some have become friends.

Historically, are there any types of acts that have been fan favourites for the audience?

If it has all of the elements, of being something that people don’t generally see or haven’t even thought of it existing, and then you add genuine talent with a really interesting personality, then that’s a homerun. But that’s hard to find. We have lots kids and seniors on the show, people who aren’t hyper-conscious of being cool or what they look like. They’re just going from the heart.

What are some of the challenges that come with being the host to such a range of eclectic acts?

It’s challenging to stay present the entire time, when I’m producing the show. I can’t help but think about, “Okay are they setting the next thing up? Has that sound effect been loaded yet?” If you’re not present as a host, it’s kind of painful to watch, and I’ve done that way too many times. One thing that takes the pressure off is having my co-host Ryan Biel, which is one of the reasons why I brought him on. He’s just so funny and likable and present, that if I’m off in my head for a moment doing something, the show doesn’t fall apart.

What were you drawn to first: comedy or acting?

I always liked the sound of humour. I would go to bed curled up to my ghettoblaster speaker and listen to old comedy shows, whatever was on the radio. Even as a kid I remember not really getting it; I just loved the idea of laughter. I remember watching my dad make his friends and family laugh and it just seemed so magical. I started acting as a sort-of skipping school strategy. I wanted to stay home from school, but I had just seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and I thought that if I walked out into the world like me, the principal would find me. So I’d put on my dad’s clothes and started walking differently and putting on accents, so then I could go out and rent a movie and get a personal pan pizza from Pizzahut, come home and enjoy the day.

Then I started just doing all sorts of experiments, like dressing up like a homeless kid when I was 11 and just riding the bus and going through garbage cans and seeing how people reacted. The psychology of it all was what interested me, just figuring out why people do certain things. Even now I still find it fascinating.

What can people look forward to at the upcoming Games Night edition of Talent Time?

You’re going to see the great acts that you’ve come to expect from the show, including a 12-year-old pop singer who wrote and recorded her own pop song; we have the Runaway Four, who do videogame medleys, so they’ll be playing to actual gameplay from retro video games; comedian Sophie Buddle; a couple of surprises. And then the second half will be the Family Feud part. We’ve actually built a set for it. It’s going to be very analogue and hand-made, but made by really talented people; a lot of them professionals in movie and theatre, so it’s got a cool mixture. The games are real questions too. I did research to find surveys of 100 people, so I wasn’t just making it up.

What do the next eight years hold for Talent Time?

There’s something really hilarious to me about doing this show my whole life. I think I’m in it for the long-haul, because it seems really funny to be 80-years-old and still hosting this show. Like, a cable-access variety show that you’ve hosted for your whole life? That’s just funny to me. And that just shows the stupid lengths I’ll go to for something that makes me laugh, because I’m willing to just mess with the trajectory of my whole life so that when I’m on my death bed, to just be chuckling to myself that I did a cable-access show for zero money my whole life. I have a daughter who’ll be two in December and she was first on the show in her ultrasound video, so maybe one day I can pass the family business off.

Experience the magic of Paul Anthony’s Talent Time for yourself: the Games Night edition is on November 5, with a new Talent Time happening on the first Thursday of every month at the Rio Theatre.