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Back to basics

Tim Gray is doing comedy old-school

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/11/2016 (1188 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the age of online content distribution, multi-platform digital delivery and limitless lists of YouTube videos, it seems like a quaint notion:

An "album recording."

But for Winnipeg comedian Tim Gray, creating such an old-school rendering of his standup set list feels like the right thing to do.

"Part of the charm of a comedy album is that it’s an audio experience," says Gray, an eight-year veteran of the city’s standup scene and also a member of the hugely popular H.U.N.K.S. sketch troupe. "I’m not hiring a bunch of camera crews, and I’m not going to put something up on YouTube; I want something that’s strictly an audio experience.

"Some of my favourite albums of all time — like Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small and its follow-up (A Wild and Crazy Guy) — are comedy records. I just love listening to them... When I first started getting into comedy, it was through listening to comedy albums by Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce, Elaine May and Mike Nichols and even Jackie "Moms" Mabley. I loved the idea of sitting in a room and having this (comedy) experience, and your imagination has to fill in the blanks when there’s silence or the audience reacts to something that was obviously visual but not spoken."

What makes Gray’s album-recording endeavour doubly interesting is the fact that his evolution as a comic has continually pushed him toward a style of humour that relies almost as heavily on physical movement and sight gags as it does on spoken-word joke delivery.

"My standup has changed quite a lot over the past eight years," he says. "When I first started out, I was kind of trying to rip off Steven Wright, but in the worst way possible... I was going for the weird, wordy kind of jokes, and I wasn’t comfortable with who I was, as a person or as a comedian. That later transformed into doing more straightforward, one-liner types of jokes, using a guitar to fill the silences between the jokes... And then, finally, I started becoming more comfortable as a physical comedian, and I think once my physicality started to dictate where the jokes would go, that’s when I started to really find out who I was as a standup comedian."

If there’s something in Gray’s comedic past that could be described as a turning point, it might be a performance nearly four years ago at The Cheer (now Jekyll & Hyde’s Freehouse in Osborne Village), when the tech guy in charge of the comics’ walk-on music let his intro play a bit longer and louder than usual.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Tim Gray will tape his comedy album tonight at Park Theatre.</p>


Tim Gray will tape his comedy album tonight at Park Theatre.

"When I went on stage, I just started to dance around, moving physically and comedically, and I didn’t say a single word for about four minutes," he recalls. "And all that physical movement went better than any joke I’ve ever written. So now, what I’ve been struggling with for the past year is how to maintain that spontaneity and the improvisational aspect of the physical comedy while still respecting the form and the written jokes. I still love writing jokes, so it’s a matter of fusing the spontaneity and the physical comedy with the written material."

Gray, a 29-year-old native of Stonewall who moved to Winnipeg as a teenager to attend the University of Manitoba (where a solo-performance exercise in an acting class inspired his shift into comedy), continues to perform regularly with H.U.N.K.S. (which travel next year to the sketch-comedy festivals in San Francisco and Chicago) and says that the two comedic forms — sketch and standup — are complementary rather than in conflict.

"I’ve never been part of anything more successful than H.U.N.K.S. sketch comedy, and having five different minds with five different points of view attack a joke makes it way stronger than it could ever be when just one person is putting together a show," he says. "But the thing about solo performing is that there’s no diluting of the voice — it’s one vision and one strong voice, rather than a series of opinions.

"In terms of the quality of the writing and the execution, you can’t beat the group dynamic, but when it comes to pure performance and displaying a point of view, that’s where I delight in the solo standup."

Gray says the comedy album — which carries the tentative title You Gotta Laugh — will be released on CD and (hopefully) vinyl; he’s also planning to upload the recording onto branded flash drives that will be available through his website (timgraycomedy.com), and hopes eventually to have the album available through larger content distributors such as iTunes and Google Play.

Gray adds that the content of the show, which he’s been assembling since last spring, is intended to give audience members the feeling that they’re part of something that will last much longer than the performance itself.

"It was probably around July, when I started to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and figure out what I was going to create, that the idea of an album really started to excite me," he says. "I thought, ‘What if I sold this as an experience, not just as a comedy album I could make available in the future, but also for the audience in the room that night, so that they could feel like they were engaged in something, and that we were co-creating it together?’ That was very exciting to me."

The album-taping show will be directed by fellow H.U.N.K.S. member Rory Fallis, and will feature warm-up performances by Jordan Welwood, Matt Nightingale and Dana Smith. Tickets are $15, available at the Park Theatre and ticketfly.com.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald


Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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