This hometown boy hit the highway 10 years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Happenings catches up with Chris Heward, who is really starting to blaze a trail on the comedy circuit and has gone from dabbling in acting to appearing in major productions and much more. Opportunities always seem to come his way — he’s like the king of being in the right place at the right time! He’ll be working some of those opportunities and experiences from his career into his standup routine this weekend at the North Hill Inn. He recently took some time out to do this Q & A session…
Frank: I hear you’re coming back home for more than just a Christmas visit.
Chris: My tour schedule is bringing me into my home area of Brandon near Christmas and I thought it would be fun to do another show while I am in the area. I found a venue (North Hill Inn) that was willing to do fair deal on the show. Little Italy Pizza has offered to box top some flyers for me to advertise and they are also helping to sell tickets from their location. I have a great tour lined up that ends Dec. 15 in Saskatchewan. Then I am going home for Christmas. So I thought it would be amazing fun to have this show the next day (Sunday, Dec. 16). I am pumped about it. Although my tour has a lot bigger shows, I seem to be the most worried about this one because I am actually producing it and trying to bring some comedy home. I have been asking locals to Facebook and social media this event, which has been my main advertising on this one.
I’m sure many people will remember you from your Hollywood to home show from a few years back. I have fond memories of that show you did at the WMCA.
Yes, the last time I was in Brandon was my first time playing my home town. I produced that show as well at the Centennial Auditorium and called it the "Hollywood Home Tour." I had a LOT of fun on that one.
That’s the one you had me MC but then I found out I was to do five or 10 minutes. Then during the interview on my morning show the day of the event, Mike MacDonald said I was to do 20 minutes. He scared the hell out of me because he deadpanned the delivery on it so well I though he was serious! That was when you guys were all in studio plugging the show.
We did the radio interview with you and had the most fun. I had brought some of my favourite comedians back from Hollywood with me because that was my first show ever in my home town Brandon. There is a new level of pressure when you play your home town. I had done comedy for years before that show, I had travelled all over Canada as well as New York to L.A., I had been rubbing elbows with everyone you see on TV like George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Mike MacDonald, Russell Peters, Jon Lovitz, Dane Cook, Tim Allen, etc. But playing Brandon was the one I wouldn’t do until I knew I was really, really ready. Then I came home to the Centennial Auditorium and wow! — did we have fun at the Hollywood Home Tour! You were awesome as the MC. And it was funny when Mike was pulling your chain about how long we would get you to do. But we were impressed with your act. We knew you were the top radio host in Westman and a hell of a drummer, but you were also a great MC.
Chris, you are too kind. I just remember doing five or six minutes. It was like an extended version of the Showbizz Buzz I do on my morning show. But it went like a flash and it was a total trip! What was your first live on-stage comedy moment like?
My first comedy moment was at Yuk Yuks, I was forced to enter a comedy competition. I was disqualified for going longer than the time limit. I thought it would be a one time thing but Yuk Yuks liked me and quickly added me to the roster and asked me to keep doing it. But the first cool moment I had was meeting Canadian Comedy legend Mike MacDonald — then going on tour with him for a month around Western Canada. Travelling with someone you had seen on television so many times had me in awe!
What a great opportunity! You quickly went on to bigger and better rooms and many more milestones in your career. What are some of the ones that stand out the most?
Yes, moments like that started to chain reaction and snowball into one amazingly fun ride that has me playing Hollywood clubs like the world famous Laugh Factory — that is like the NHL of comedy. Very few comics ever make it into that type of room.
You recently delved into acting and you’ve been doing more and more of that. Between that and your standup, you must be quite busy. Do you have many projects on the go now and how did that all materialize for you?
I did a Gemini-winning reality show right at the beginning called "Taking It Off’ which was a great experience. Then I started getting some background work in movies. I’ve also started getting in some commercials, then an animation series which just finished its second season in the U.S. I now train in LA with top level voice coaches and actors in the top animation TV series and movies. I built a studio at my house (in Edmonton) with the help of George Wittham. He builds all the top home studios for the big names, including "the voice of god" Don Lafontaine. This kind of stuff has made it a very fun year for me. I was distracted a bit in the beginning of the year because I was asked to run in the election as an MLA. I accepted the offer and took it seriously. I learned a lot from that, then got back to entertainment and poured on the comedy. I have opened up a lot this year on stage and learned to really relax and open up on stage and just have fun.
So which do you prefer — acting or standup comedy?
My main inroads in Hollywood right now is comedy, so I have been really working on that this year. The owner of the Hollywood Laugh factory, Jaime, told me that on any given night he has seven to 12 people in his audience that could completely change my life. He has said to just keep doing what I am doing and one of these nights that I am down there, one of these guys will walk up to him and ask who I am. Then Jaime said at that point we go for coffee next door at Greenblatts "and it’s done!" So, I have been working on having a string of solid sets on stage. I only wish I could afford to be in LA more often. So each time I am there, I really need to make it count. Shows like this one coming up this Sunday in Brandon are what keep me sharp.
Well, I know I`m looking forward to it. What topics have you been riffing on in your standup routine?
Relationships, observations, and life experiences are in the act. My manager says the content of my show is sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll — even though I don’t really get any of those descriptions.
When it comes to standup, who do you usually get compared with?
This is the first year I have been compared to anyone, and the comparisons have been so random like: Joe Rogan, Jerry Seinfeld, and Dane Cook.
They say there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I guess the same thing can be said for standup and acting.
Comedy attracts a lot of insanity, which can make it a dangerous environment to be in and you really, really need to choose your experiences carefully. It is an almost impossible business to "make it" in. In fact no one that I know of from where I am (in Edmonton) has ever "made it" yet. There are working comics but none that have done much more than become working comics. And there is talent, but "making it" is unseen here so far. I think a big part of that is that people can easily choose the wrong insanity path in this business.
Speaking of insane, you received your first standing ovation in of all places, Hollywood. Tell our readers about that experience.
I have had my best shows in Hollywood clubs; however, I have had my worst shows there, too! But there’ve been much more good than bad. I received my first standing ovation in Hollywood, and I could have taken my first encore in Hollywood as well. But I declined the encore because I didn’t want to take a chance of changing an incredible memory of a show. I have since done encores and it is an amazing feeling.
You recently entertained some of our troops. How was that experience?
I did a show recently for our troops right when they came back from Afghanistan. I was invited after the show into the private lounge for troops only. They said I was the first comic they invited down after the show. They told me that the stuff they saw over there will change them forever, and for some of the guys, they may never be the same. But they said that my show was the first chance they had to laugh in a long troubled tour. They thanked me for that moment to help them transition back to real life at home. Life has a lot of tough and sometimes crappy times, and comedy is fun and I see people have a moment where they can forget the problems even if just for a moment and laugh. And that can change a day, week, or lifetime for some people.
What’s the main difference between say, Brandon and some of the bigger markets you’ve performed in?
Brandon is a tough town to bring entertainment to ticket sales wise, but I hope I get a crowd. And if I do, I am going to have fun with them and see where it goes. Home town is more scary than Hollywood to me!
In your line of work, do you prefer the States or Canada?
If I could afford it, I would move to LA. I have people there that have expressed interest in wanting to get more involved with me in management and agencies, but they want you there full time.
Sounds like you need to do a full fledged Canadian comedy tour to finance a longer stay in LA.
Therein lies the rub — Canadian comedy doesn’t pay great. If you’re lucky, you can live off it, but not much more. The majority of the money comes right around Christmas. The rest of the year is a budget trick. Canadian crowds are hard to motivate to support entertainment until you have become big in the USA. Kind of a Catch-22, I’d say. Also, in Canada you have to drive so far to get to gigs. It is not that easy succeeding in Canada. In the States, I met the top guy at Universal Studios on my second trip to LA. In Canada it is hard to get even just a casting agent to come to a show or even set up a meeting to introduce yourself. I would like to produce more of my own shows but that takes away money from being able to go to LA — and it all becomes a vicious circle! But right now I concentrate on having fun at this show. I just hope that some people in Brandon come.
Well, here’s hoping you enjoy many more outstanding shows and standing-o’s, Chris — including this Sunday in front of a home town audience. How about some show time and ticket info?
Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Get advance tickets at Little Italy Pizza on 10th Street or at the North Hill Inn. Anyone who gets their tickets at the door and says "Frank McGwire" can get $5 off their tickets at the door. No, they can get two-for-one tickets at the door! Show starts at 8 p.m., doors open at 7, then an after-party for awhile afterwards.
Are you sure about that, Chris — the code word deal?
Ya, put it out there! Promo code "Frank McGwire" at the door gets you two-for-one tickets.
Done. See you at the show!
Thank you for the interview — I really really appreciate the support!
Frank McGwire is a radio personality and booster of the music scene in Brandon and Westman.