Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The aggressive voice of experience

Pitbull of Comedy Bobby Slayton has 35 years on the road to draw laughs from... and he's not happy about it

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If nothing else, the outcome of this week's U.S. presidential election made it a lot easier for Bobby Slayton to pack for his trip to Winnipeg.

"If (Mitt) Romney wins, I'm claiming refugee status," says the veteran U.S. comic, during a Tuesday telephone interview on the day his country was going to the polls. "I'm coming up there, and I'm going to the embassy. I'm not coming back. "

Of course, Romney didn't win; President Barack Obama was returned to office for another term as commander in chief, which means Slayton will be comfortable returning to his home in L.A. after his three-night stand at Rumor's.

But given the Republican party nominee's lacklustre, flip-flop-filled campaign, some observers might be surprised that the race for the White House turned out as close as it did.

Not Slayton.

"You have to remember that this country made the Olive Garden one of its top restaurants," he says, "and made Jeff Dunham and his puppets and Carrot Top two of the top comedians, and made Journey a top rock 'n' roll band. Some people here thrive on mediocrity."

While it's been nearly two decades since Slayton, 57, last performed in this city, there's no disputing the fact the New York native has developed quite a deep affection for Canada, its people and its comedy community.

The performer known among his peers as The Pitbull of Comedy and (drawing on his ethnic background) Yid Vicious has hosted the Just For Laughs festival's edgy but insanely popular Nasty Show most of the past two decades.

It's probably as close to a natural comedy habitat as Slayton has ever had. Known for his direct and occasionally confrontational style, Slayton has built a career on a tireless work ethic and a willingness to keep grinding it out on the road, criss-crossing North America from the Punchline in Atlanta to Zanies in Chicago to the Funny Bone in Dayton to Rumor's in Winnipeg.

"Basically, what it comes down to is if you're not on TV and you're not famous, you're playing clubs," says Slayton, who actually has worked frequently in TV and movies, most notably portraying Joey Bishop in the 1998 HBO feature The Rat Pack. "It has forced me to work harder and harder and harder; I think one of the reasons I haven't done as many movies and TV shows as I should is that every time I get a callback about something I've auditioned for, I'm back out on the road.

"It's frustrating sometimes, but that frustration makes me work harder..."

In fact, Slayton is working on a book that chronicles his 31/2-decade comedy-road odyssey, giving it the pitbull-appropriate title If You Can't Laugh At Yourself, Make Fun of Other People -- My 35 Years in Showbiz Hell.

"There are a lot of comedians, a lot of celebrities, a lot of athletes who are much more famous and have much bigger stories than I have, but nobody else has written a book about what it's like to be out on the road, doing standup, for 35 years," he says. "There are some really funny stories. But hey, I'm not Frank Sinatra, and I didn't sleep with Ava Gardner, and I'm not in any hall of fame; I didn't break Mickey Mantle's home-run record. So my stories better be pretty funny."

Out there on the seemingly endless road, Slayton's goal is as simple as it could possibly be: bring the funny, in large, aggressive doses, every single night.

"Standup comedy is like playing guitar -- you can be happy being a backup musician in a cover band, or you can go out there and keep trying to get better. Even Eric Clapton and B.B. King both think they suck as guitar players; as far as we're concerned, they're great, but they're always trying to get better. Clapton doesn't think he's nearly as good as B.B. King, and B.B. King wishes he could be as good as Clapton." Twitter: @BradOswald

Sample Bobby Slayton's standup here (NOTE: LANGUAGE WARNING):

Comedy talk at the café

Bobby Slayton will join Free Press entertainment writer Brad Oswald Nov. 8 at noon at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café for a lunch-hour chat about comedy, life on the road and 35 years in the business of being funny. Join us at the café, or watch it live online at


Bobby Slayton

óè Thursday to Saturday

óè Rumor's Comedy Club

óè Tickets $20 at Rumor's

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2012 C3

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