The cliché is a double-edged sword. It can be comfortably familiar and endearingly conforming, like a university professor wearing an actual wearing a tweed jacket and elbow pads. But flip the coin and it becomes tired and eventually meaningless, like any opinion one might possibly hold on Kony 2012 by now. My night with comedian Dave Merheje and his friends had a bit of both sides.
Unfortunately for Dave Merheje, a 31 year-old Ontarian and winner of the Homegrown Comic award at the Just for Laughs festival in 2011, the positive clichés all belonged to the venue, Montreal Comedyworks on Bishop just south of Ste. Catherine. Tucked into the back of Jimbo’s Bar, this single room covered some classic expectations. There’s the cabaret set-up, each table topped with a little tealight in a decorated glass, and the redbrick backdrop to the stage, the likes of which you’d see on The Simpsons. It’s a formula, and it works.
But for a few years now, a bad cliché has been seeping into stand-up, namely the omnipresence of comedians with a minority heritage whose go-to-gags depend upon it. This style usually culminates in the hilarious impression of a kerraaaaazy parent that sorta talks funny-like. So goes the cliché, so went the evening.
The opening acts mostly adhered to the blueprint. Palestinian comedienne, Eman had some good lines about growing up with an Israeli BFF, friendly emcee Ali Hassan’s quotes from his proud Pakistani father were very moderate. Although born to Canadian parents, Fave Merheje’s recent tour “We Ain’t Terrorists” seemed to fall into the same trend of reliance on cultural stereotyping.
The premise of “Dear Dave,” however, seemed more novel. “Dear Dave” has been billed as this comedian’s ill-advised attempts to answer questions in the style of a “Dear Abby” column, the questions are from acquaintances, pre-recorded and played to Dave live on stage for the first time; his counsel must be improvised.
Though it was conceived and composed by a close friend in an effort to showcase the best of Dave’s comic style and personality – he is noted for his ability to rant a topic into the ground – “Dear Dave” never really took off.
Merheje possesses a lot of what a decent comedian needs. Twitching about the stage in frustrated and full-bladdered thrusts, his giant toothy grin encourages an inclusive, laugh-along affair. He’s as much a stage performer as he is a friend in a bar with an anecdote. The problem is nothing other than a lack of decent content.
Dave lays claim to a prolific gigging output – allegedly he’s played a show every night for the last six years, and has devoted a couple each week to his improv. But where pre-written jokes find an instancy and genuine empathy in his exasperated, incredulous barrage of swears and broken speech, improv is more fragile. Tonight, when Dave stops making sense, everything does. And the fallout is due to desperately embellished stories, perhaps fabricated, and full of logical missteps. Chaotic, off-the-wall tales are only funny when the question raised is ‘why am I laughing’, not ‘why would anyone’. Why would anyone laugh at someone incoherently ranting about this time they were caught taking and pushing pills in a club? “I thought the bouncer was gonna suck my dick!” Why, Dave? Why?
The above was a response to, “Have you ever used drugs?” This, and other such broad and boring queries, which were not in-keeping with the promising “Dear Abby” conceit, were clearly manufactured for maximum wiggle-room to bring in-tried-and-tested material (like oh, I dunno, stuff about having Lebanese parents). “I look like my Dad spun a globe and then fucked it!” beamed Dave. Good one Dave… Ba-dum-ch.