Former bodybuilder content to flex comedy muscles


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You know what they say about first impressions...

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/04/2010 (4511 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You know what they say about first impressions…

Well, when it comes to winning an audience over, Aaron Berg has a bit of a different approach.

"When I first go onstage, nobody wants to like me," says Berg. "I look like an a–hole; I’ve got tattoos and muscle-y arms, so I look like this alpha male that everybody wants to avoid. But once I acknowledge that and kind of bring (the audience) into my story, I think it opens up the vulnerability to what I’ve done and acknowledges all the self-indulgence and narcissism that led me to this point… and then they can kind of go with me on this journey."

SUPPLIED PHOTO Ex-stripper Aaron Berg wants you to laugh your pants off.

Compact, chrome-domed, hulkingly muscled and heavily tattooed, the 37-year-old Torontonian’s physical appearance doesn’t inspire notions of wacky jocularity. Rather, Berg’s physique — built, years ago, by steroids and sustained by an unending desire to be remarkable, to be noticed — remains more imposing than amusing.

But the former bodybuilder and male exotic dancer says his attitude — once angrily aggressive but now much more inclined to laugh at his shortcomings — is what drives him deeper into the realm of comedic self-examination.

"I was just living this offbeat life," he says, "never knowing that I’d be able to translate these stories into standup comedy."

His appearance in this year’s Winnipeg Comedy Festival, in the form of Underbelly Diaries Redux: Aaron Berg’s One-Man Show (Thursday at 10:30 p.m., Gas Station Theatre), will provide the late-night crowd with an odd comedic amalgam that is equal parts standup, monologue and cautionary tale. Tickets for the show are $17.95, with two-for-one passes that include Berg’s show and the earlier taping of CBC Radio’s Laugh Out Loud ( 8 p.m., Gas Station Theatre) available for $25.

Berg, the product of an upper-middle-class Jewish upbringing, says being an undersized child forced him to find ways to stand out from the rest of the very average crowd.

"I was always small; I’m five-foot-seven, on paper, but realistically more like five-foot-six," he says. "I was a very small kid, so my sense of humour started very early. And then when I started into the steroids, it was like this Napoleon complex, where I had to get bigger and bigger."

Even when his pursuit of a unique identity drove him into bodybuilding — and steroid abuse — and then into the seedy world of stripping (including a brief flirtation with male prostitution), Berg says humour was always part of the equation.

"Stripping was actually the bridge into (standup)," he explains. "I wasn’t always the sexiest stripper, but I was always a funny, entertaining stripper. I’d throw humour into the act whenever I could — it sounds odd, the idea of a guy being a funny stripper, but I was a horrible dancer and I had to find some way to bridge that gap.

"But I think I was a lot less funny when I was on steroids."

It was almost a decade ago when Berg decided to attempt the transition from strip clubs to comedy clubs, beginning with a guest spots at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto. Club founder Mark Breslin liked what he saw, and encouraged Berg to start working out his comedy muscles.

"I started doing standup about nine-and-a-half years ago… doing jokes that I hated doing," he recalls. "They were irrelevant, and just filthy for the sake of being filthy. And then in 2005, Mark Breslin gave me this chance to start doing the show — they would put me on after the headliner; there would be a five-minute break, and then, ‘Here’s a one-man show.’

"It’s been a work in progress for about five years."

After gaining experience and notoriety on the comedy circuit with The Underbelly Diaries, Berg says he’s ready to start expanding his standup. A new, more broadly themed show is in the works, and Berg’s main goal is to keep improving as a performer.

"It’s almost like an addiction now — I have to do it 10 times a week, at least," he says. "If I don’t, I start to get kind of squirrelly. I think all comics have that feeling.

"I still go out to open-mike nights and hit those crappy little bars, just to get up and do it, and to constantly work and dig deeper into myself."


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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