A funny thing happened to Dave Foley on his way back home to Canada.
OK, it wasn't exactly funny -- it was more painful, frustrating, expensive, and fraught with legal pitfalls that almost prevented him from making the trip at all. But now that he's here, it really is all about the laughs.
"It really has been horrible at times," Foley says of his ongoing legal battle over child-support bills related to his first marriage, which have saddled the Toronto-born actor/writer/director/comedian with a delinquent-payment debt of more than half a million dollars and ongoing costs that he estimates at nearly $40,000 per month. "It doesn't help (the creative process) at all, but at least with standup, I can sort of deal with it directly in my act."
That standup act will make its first appearance in Winnipeg tonight, when Foley opens up a three-night stand at Rumor's Comedy Club (tonight at 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 7:45 p.m and 10:30 p.m.; tickets $20 at Rumor's).
For more than a year, the 49-year-old funnyman was unable to cross the border into Canada, fearing that he would be arrested immediately because of an enforcement order and standing warrant that had been sought by Ontario's Family Responsibility Office after he failed to make payments ordered by that province's family court.
"My first wife (Tabatha Southey, from whom he divorced in 1997 after six years of marriage and two children) opened up the case in California court," he explains. "And according to the California court, it can only be contested in one jurisdiction at a time, so they've told me that it's safe to come back to Canada without being thrown in jail.
"So I can now come up here, which is good, because I was essentially being cut out of about 60 per cent of my potential income because I couldn't come to Canada to work."
Foley, best known as a member of Canada's legendary Kids in the Hall sketch troupe and as star of the long-running NBC sitcom NewsRadio, has recently been reconnecting with the standup roots that fueled his earliest comedy explorations. While he admits the move was driven mostly by financial need, he's quick to add that he really has been enjoying the raw, direct connection that exists between a solo standup artist and his audience.
"Definitely, the family-law ruling was a motivator," says Foley, who has been divorced twice and estimates he must earn about $40,000 a month "just to stay broke" these days (maintenance payments from his first marriage were based on the amount he was earning during his run on NewsRadio; he says his income has dropped sharply since then but he has been unable to convince the Ontario court to adjust his payments accordingly).
"I had to find ways to make a living, and standup was an option. I started doing a few sets around L.A., and the material started coming to me faster than I thought it would. Within a few months, I had enough of an act that I thought I could get out on the road, and I've enjoyed it. It was originally out of necessity, but it's been fun."
When asked to describe the style he employs as a standup-comedy practitioner, Foley responds with the kind of bluntness one might expect from a Kids in the Hall sketch.
"In terms of tone and content, I would say it's true to the Kids in the Hall legacy -- it's filthy and dark, and kind of personal," he said. "It's funny, but it's definitely not jokes about TV commercials. It's sort of political, and I share my thoughts about religion and racism and things like that."
He says the transition from actor and sketch performer to standup comedian has not been as difficult as some might think.
"For me, it's actually quite comfortable," he says. "I've never been as much into doing character stuff as, say, Scott (Thompson) or Mark (McKinney). I've always been comfortable playing versions of myself. It's all about telling jokes, and this is just a different way of telling jokes. The core of it is the same -- it's about the timing of a joke, whether it's standup or sketch or a sitcom or a movie. You can either tell a joke or you can't."
Foley says he's feeling pretty good these days about the state of his relationships with the other Kids in the Hall members -- things had become quite toxic back in the mid-'90s, when the troupe dissolved and the feature film Brain Candy was produced largely as a contractual obligation, but subsequent tour revivals and work on the CBC/HBO series Death Comes to Town, along with an older, wiser overall perspective, have allowed the group to mend fences and reconnect.
"I hope the Kids are a permanent part of my life," he says. "I hope we can keep coming back to Kids in the Hall projects for as long as we're able to work. Right now there are emails going back and forth about maybe getting a tour together, and I would love us to do another series like Death Comes to Town.
"We had always said that we'd never do TV again together, but when Kevin (McDonald) and Bruce (McCulloch) came up with the idea of doing a mini-series, it was like, 'Yeah, we've never done that before; it might work.' We wouldn't be directly comparing ourselves to our past work, and the mini-series format was perfect because it was big enough, at eight episodes, but then it would end."
Foley's return, earlier this TV season, to the world of sitcoms was short -- he had a co-starring role in the CBS series How to Be a Gentleman, which premièred last fall but was cancelled after just three episodes (the network plans to burn off the show's remaining unaired episodes later this spring).
"It just wasn't there yet, but it was getting better as it went along," he says of the short-lived sitcom. "We knew the ratings weren't good, and the reviews weren't good, but the show was improving. And ironically, if it had been on another network, it probably wouldn't have been cancelled. We had double the ratings of (NBC's) Parks and Recreation, which is still on the air; we should have been on NBC, which is so bad that it can't afford to cancel anything."
Foley has been contributing voice-over performances to the upcoming animated sequel Monsters University, and says he'll continue -- ever mindful of his ongoing legal and financial pressures -- to take whatever work comes his way.
"I don't make creative choices; I can't remember the last time I made a choice," he says. "Whatever work comes, I do. That's just the way it is. Over the years, I've always wanted to get into directing more, but I can't afford to turn down any acting work, because directing something takes a whole year and doesn't pay as well. So I have to keep acting constantly, in whatever they'll hire me for and for whatever they're willing to pay."
Tonight at 8 p.m.; Friday & Saturday at 7:45 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Rumor's Comedy Club
Tickets $20 at Rumor's