Kung-fu comedy | Mike Sheer

Canadian stand-up comedian Mike Sheer tells us that his profession of choice is ‘like chess or marital arts’, so it’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with when performing to local audiences come February 8 at the Eden Cinema Comedy Club, St Julian’s.

Mike Sheer: “I find pretty much everything hilarious, and I’d like my act to reflect that.”
Mike Sheer: “I find pretty much everything hilarious, and I’d like my act to reflect that.”

What's funny?

Everything can be funny. The world is so full of hypocrisies, contradictions and awkwardness that, for me, the difficulty a lot of the time is in keeping a straight face. As stand up comics, we can (more or less) control of what nature the funny is. For example, there's 'heh heh' funny, 'ha ha' funny, 'ooooh ha ha ha' funny, 'heh heh huh?' funny, and so on. The fun challenge is in manipulating all those different shades by utilising only you, in an effort to be as funny and unpredictable as life itself.

You've worked in Canada, Australia and most recently the UK. Do you think people find the same things funny across all of these countries, or do you have to make changes? And did touring prove to be a learning process? On that note... what kind of vibe are you expecting from the Maltese crowd?

Fart in front of a group of blokes in Uganda, then do it in front of a group of blokes in Warrington. See what happens and you will know the answer to the first part of that question. How that relates to stand up... you can't really pin down trends in stand up

I think, because by its nature the people doing interesting things are making their own rules, and in this globally connected 'intersphere' we take bits and pieces from all over, culturally speaking.

I'd say the biggest difference is in terms of the style of stand up audiences are used to - but this is more of a city-specific thing than by the country. For example, I find Toronto and Sydney produce stand up comics of a similar ilk, yet Canada and Australia as wholes don't really. I enjoy the London scene because in it you have comics from all over the globe so creatively you don't feel overwhelmed by a particular style. So in London we are a international comedic mosaic, united under the same grey sky.

I have no idea what to expect from you Maltese, but I am always in awe when performing in a non-native English speaking country and seeing the audience comfortably enjoy and understand an English stand up comedy onslaught. We can barely speak our own language.

What does 'working' as a stand-up comedian actually entail, especially when you're still building a reputation for yourself. Take us through some of those crucial, stumbling stages...

I think you summarised it by putting working in quotation marks. Sometimes it's not at all like work, and a lot of the time it's incredibly like work - a grinding slog. But, true to the nature of work, the more you do the more you reap or sow or whatever the expression is (I'm not really sure how to farm).

Stand up comedy never came naturally to me so it was year upon year of being hated and occasionally liked and sometimes even loved by audiences varying from one person to over 500. I like to be thrust into weird situations, so my agent in Toronto would book me for a myriad of spots, ranging from senior citizens' homes to warm-up act for studio audiences composed entirely of tweens. I guess that made me comfortable performing for anyone.

The past four years since I've been in the UK, I've been focusing more on building and doing fringe festival shows, and that involves a lot of trying to drag strangers in to give you an hour of their life. If you can pull it off - which I've managed to do on occasion - you can get praise online or in print which helps the reputation side of things.

Although it seems increasingly people are losing respect for reviewers and online critique, which is fair enough as that culture is getting a bit out of hand. But the most rewarding part is coming up with a lengthy set of material you are proud of and that dismantles certain topics or themes of interest to you, while somehow being funny. The positive feedback is in the laughter.

How is stand-up comedy different to other disciplines (like acting)?

Besides the obvious reasons (outside script and so on), in acting there is usually a fragile structure based on the group. In stand-up you're everything, working with an explicit human physical reaction. There's not really any other discipline like it. I suppose you could make comparisons to chess or martial arts, but it's all very tenuous. A lot of people say it's like jazz - I've always found that pretty ridiculous. Stand up is not like music in any way. I also play bass for an East London ska band called Rags Rudi and when we play there's a lot of smiling but not really any laughter - unless maybe someone's fallen over.

Which topics do you find yourself gravitating towards, and why?

In my act I talk about  where I live, observations on urban life in general, amusing hypocrisies and whatever may pop into my head - which is almost always sex-related. I am also interested in commodification of ourselves and animals, because to me it reveals a savagery that we are desperate to keep concealed. As I said before, I find pretty much everything to be a bit hilarious and I'd like my act to reflect that.

Mike Sheer will be joined by fellow comedians Nathalie Grey, Paddy Lennox and Geoff Whiting on the night. Doors open at 19:00. Tickets at €20 can be purchased from Eden Cinemas or booked online by logging on to Eden's website.

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