Okay, so I’m having lunch with Steve Martin, Woody Allen, and Jim Carrey. Steve turns to me and says, “Colin, my genius friend, how did such a modest, retiring man as yourself become a Canadian icon and a major U.S. celebrity?” Then Woody says, “Yes, as an avid fan of your work, I too would like to know how it all happened for you.” Then Jim pretends he is choking on his salad and we all laugh. We regain our composure and I am about to answer when Ann-Margret runs up, plants a big wet kiss on my lips, and tells me she loves me. Suddenly my green beans begin to dance, stopping only long enough to tell me that although they think I’m amusing, I should do more characters, and perhaps get a day job. Then I wake up.
What does the dream mean? Who cares? I mean, the green bean thing is disturbing, but it is not important. The important thing is that the dream has celebrities in it. Everyone wants to know about celebrities. Everyone wants to see celebrities. I know this from personal experience. As I walk down the street, I hear excited whispers: “Look, it’s what’s-his-name from Whose Line Is It Anyway,” “Look, it’s the bald guy from What’s My Line?” “Hey, it’s Peter Mansbridge.”
Since Whose Line debuted on ABC in the summer of ‘98, I have been inundated with tens upon tens of fan letters. I even had a stalker for a while, until she realized she had me confused with the golfer Colin Montgomerie. Last I heard of her, she was sending Nanaimo bars to Colin Powell.
Because of this overwhelming interest in me and my life, I thought I should write a book to satisfy the public’s keen curiosity. My life and I are very closely linked, although there was that one time we had a falling out and my life went to the Bahamas with somebody else. Anyway, that was a long time ago, and things are fine now. But I digress. Upon further consideration, I realized that writing a book takes a long time, not to mention a lot of work, if you actually do it yourself, so instead, I came up with the idea of a pamphlet. Which, when you think about it, is a much better idea. Pamphlets fit in any size pocket and often get left on buses, subways, dumpsters, where people can pick them up and peruse them at their leisure. Thus they reach a much larger audience than your average book.
The following is an excerpt from my pamphlet, with answers to some frequently asked questions. Please remember that this pamphlet is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of the National Hockey League. I don’t know why.
Where and when were you born?
I was born November 30, 1957, in Kilmarnock, Scotland. I am told that my first reaction to the world was to urinate in a perfect arc into the doctor’s eye. I still get a little nervous during my annual checkups. So does my doctor.
Do you remember when and where you got your first laugh?
Can you be more specific?
Let me paint a picture for you. The year is 1974. I am sixteen years old and standing in the wings of the auditorium of Killarney High School in Vancouver. We are performing the timeless classic The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch. I am playing the part of Mervyn Vale, the undertaker, and my cue to enter is approaching. What am I doing here, I ask myself. I’m in my third year of taking science courses so I can fulfill my dream of becoming a marine biologist. So why am I here, terrified, about to go on stage before friends and family? I am not an actor, never thought of becoming one. Damn Roland Rossman for daring me to audition for the school play! Damn Mr. Maunsell for casting me! Damn me for thinking I can do this!
My cue comes. I take a deep breath and make my entrance. My first step rips the seat of my pants. Luckily, my coat is long enough to cover it, although the sudden breeze to my posterior unnerves me. But, the show must go on; I walk out on stage. Well, when I say “walk,” it was actually more of a strange limp, because I have tucked the seat of my trousers into my buttocks, and am clenching with all my gluteus maximus might. I do my first bit of business. The crowd laughs. A big laugh! A feeling I have never experienced before rushes through my body. My heart pounds, my nerve endings scream. I love it! Screw marine biology!
Was the guy who said on his deathbed “Dying is easy, comedy is hard” right?
Yes. Everyone dies, but not everyone has a good ten minutes on airplane food. It has always disturbed me that comedy never seems to get the respect it deserves. I suppose it is because there seems to be a surplus of funny people—the one who can tell a good joke, the one who gets laughs rolling at the kitchen party, the one at work always ready with a quip. Nothing against those people, because usually they are funny; but it is an entirely different thing to get laughs from friends and to get laughs from an audience which has paid money to be entertained. And don’t even talk to me about getting laughs from friends who have paid to be entertained. Humour is such a personal thing that to get an entire audience to laugh at the same thing is extremely difficult. Take a poll of twenty friends to see what they find funny and it ranges everywhere from Frasier to Married with Children or from a convoluted Shakespearean pun to someone being hit in a sensitive area by a baseball. This is a wide range of styles in which to find common ground, although the sight of someone falling to the ground in pain after a smart whack to the genitals is universally a guaranteed chuckle getter.
Who or what makes you laugh?
John Cleese, early Bob Hope movies, Jack Benny, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, All in the Family, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and the guy who told me my entire house could be renovated in three months.
Why do you look so much better in person?
The camera adds ten pounds, takes four inches off your height, and doesn’t always photograph hair. Which is why my fans are sometimes taken aback when encountering a 6’ 2” bronze god with an Afro.
What is the definition of the word “lecanoscopy”?
Lecanoscopy is the act of hypnotizing yourself by staring into a sink filled with water. You would be amazed at how often I am asked that question. Thank goodness for the Canadian education system.
Do you have tips for young people who want to get into this business?
I have five rules that have helped me. Use them or ignore them. I really don’t care. To tell the truth, I don’t need the competition.
Rule #1: Develop a Healthy Ego and a Thick Skin
Being in comedy is a study in extremes. There is no high like it when it works and no more excruciating low when it doesn’t. Having gone through both, I can confirm that the high is a lot better. Once I had to dress up as a giant chicken for a fast food franchise and be transported to radio stations in a VW Beetle so the DJs could make fun of my legs while I clucked pathetically. It was only afterwards that I wondered why I had to wear a chicken outfit for radio spots. Still, that was better than being attacked by a Doberman as I was handing out flyers. It was tough to stay in character.
Rule #2: Do It Often and Anywhere You Can
This rule actually applies to two of my major interests, both of which garner big laughs and applause. You may want to write this next part down: the thing about comedy is you need an audience. Not only to find out if other people think you are as funny as you think, but also to help you hone your craft. The more you perform in front of a crowd, the more you learn about how to take control of the stage. I would recommend crowds of six and up. Significant others grow tired of comedy fairly quickly.
Rule #3: Stay With It for As Long as You Can
Sooner or later the other guys quit or die.
Rule #4: Lots of Luck is Important, but Be Ready When the Big Break Comes
The most hated of rules. People think hard work will get you anywhere. Heee heee heeee. Good one. It is possible, of course, to have hard work pay off. I have known many people who have advanced through hard work and perseverance. But one of the main ingredients in achieving a successful career in comedy is luck. I have been incredibly lucky, getting at least two breaks. My first performance on Whose Line… how can I put this? Oh, yes—it sucked. I met the other improvisers two hours before we shot the show. I totally psyched myself out. Before the show, producer Dan Patterson said “Colin, if the show goes well, you can do the Sunday show tomorrow.” After the debacle, he said, “So you leave on Monday, do you?”
Then came my second big break. They were doing the show in New York and needed North Americans. My friend Ryan Stiles spoke on my behalf and got me on the show. As an added bonus, my scenes were with him—someone I had known, loved, and worked with for more than twenty years. The rest is history. Or at least Social Studies.
Rule #5: Wear Sensible Shoes
Okay, I admit I’m padding here. Five rules seem more impressive than four. Still, sensible shoes can’t hurt. And anyway, you’re reading a pamphlet. Do you have the time for five actual rules? I thought not.
What is the best way to end an article on yourself—a humourous anecdote or an inspirational message?
I don’t know.