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Selkirk-born comic Trevor Boris makes his U.S. talk-show debut on Conan this week

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For comedians of a certain generation, getting booked on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was the showbiz equivalent of the Holy Grail.

That generation belonged to Trevor Boris's parents. The Selkirk-born comic makes his U.S. talk-show debut this week, on Tuesday night's edition of Conan (which airs at 2 a.m. on Comedy), and he can't think of anywhere else on TV he'd rather be.

"I'm a huge Conan fan. Of all the late-night shows, I'm so excited that his is the one I'm doing," Boris said in a recent telephone interview from Toronto, his home for most of the past decade. "I think it has the most cachet, it's got the youngest (audience) demo, and he puts the edgiest comics on. They're actually letting me do some pretty edgy jokes that I wouldn't be able to do on most of the other shows."

To say the booking took a long time to develop, even by the glacial-paced standards of the TV talk-show biz, would be something of an understatement.

"The booker on the show, J.P. Buck, saw me at the Vancouver Comedy Festival, like, six years ago," Boris explained. "I sort of forgot about it, and then I was contacted a few months ago about possibly doing the show. It didn't seem real -- I had just sent my manager an email saying, 'Why aren't you getting me anything?' and he called the next day and said, 'Well, Conan's interested.' And I was like, 'Yeah, sure they are.'"

They were. Boris's manager eventually submitted three TV-ready sets on tape -- two of which were recorded when the comic was opening for Louie Anderson last summer at Rumor's Comedy Club -- and notes, e-mails and phone calls were exchanged for several more weeks. Eventually, another set was recorded at Yuk Yuk's in Toronto, and that material formed the framework for what Boris will perform on Conan this week.

"It never felt real at all, but obviously, he must have been interested," said Boris, 33. "He was timing the jokes, and sending notes -- he was putting a lot more effort into it than I was -- and I did the show at Yuk's and sent that, and a week later we got the offer."

Asked if he was feeling the pressure of this very big late-night appearance, Boris admitted that he hadn't really had time to think about the Conan gig, let alone worry. For the past several months, he has been working as a producer/writer on Canada's Got Talent, and that behind-the-camera job was an all-consuming task.

"I love standup, but I've always looked at my career as equal parts standup, on-air (in shows like MuchMusic's Video on Trial), writer and producer," he said. "And I love all those parts, but it's been fun to take the producing part a bit further."

Now that the Citytv reality/competition show has completed its first season (with the Manitoban trio Sagkeeng's Finest taking home the title and grand-prize haul), Boris will have a little more time to consider the significance of landing a spot on Conan.

"When I started out in Winnipeg, I didn't really know much about standup, other than what I saw on TV and the comics who came through Rumor's," he explained. "For me, the lofty goals at the time were getting a Comedy Now! (on CTV), a Just For Laughs, and a Letterman or something. Those were the three things I thought would let me feel like I was a comic. So I've done the other two, and now doing this is a pretty big deal.

"I know this could be a game-changer; it could really open things up for me in the States. But the most exciting part, for me, is knowing that Conan is going to be sitting at the desk, listening. It's going to be really hard not to peek over if I hear him laughing."

Boris said he's particularly gratified that he was able to earn an appearance on a U.S. talk show without having made the all-too-familiar uproot-and-move-to-L.A. decision.

"I've got friends who moved to the States years ago, and they kind of had to start over when they got there," he said. "But I've always been lucky -- I'm very busy and very happy here, and I've never felt the need to go to L.A. I've always hoped to get a foot in the door, but I didn't want to go down there and start from scratch. Hopefully, this is that opportunity -- I've got a bunch of other meetings set up when I'm down there, and there are a few things I would definitely love this to lead to."

After Conan, Boris begins a standup-filled summer that includes a headlining gig at Rumor's (July 17 to 21), followed by his fourth appearance at Montreal's Just For Laughs (including his second gala-show gig).

He said he's particularly excited about returning to the room where he began his comedy career.

"It's still the home club for me," he said. "And the more clubs I see, the more I realize that Rumor's really is a great club. (Late owner) Ross Rumberg always used to tell me that I'd get spoiled by working there, and then I remember when I moved to Toronto and I got my first (club) set, on a Thursday, and there were, like, 18 people there. At Rumor's, you can get 200 people on a Tuesday. For them to do that, seven shows a week, all year round, is pretty amazing. It's always fun to come back."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2012 G1

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