Tragedy Plus Time Volume 5 – Phil Hanley


“Comedy is tragedy plus time.”
It’s been said many times by many comedians. I believe the original usage dates back to the great Carol Burnett. It’s a quote I have borrowed from to title this column about the wonderful talent in the comedy community right here in Vancouver.

Since I’ve lived in Vancouver, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they had a bad experience at a comedy show and never went back. This is as ridiculous as swearing off restaurants as a whole because of one case of food poisoning. It’s my hope, that the profiles here will bring back those who have turned away or open the door for those who have never seen live comedy.

Finally, for those out there that don’t like to laugh, they might be best served by a quote from another lady of show business, Julia Roberts:
“Show me a person who doesn’t like to laugh and I’ll show you a person with a toe tag.”


I have always been a fan of the comedy uniform. When a comedian wears a particular outfit that expresses something about them before they ever have occasion to speak.
The tailored suits of the Kings of Comedy let you know that the performers involved believe the show to be nothing less than an event. The ever-present chinos, loose fitting sweater and runners combo that adorn Larry David in every episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm let you know right away that Mr. David is someone who lives a life of leisure and has nothing but time for trouble.
If you’ve ever seen Phil Hanley, you know he follows this mold in the form of a cardigan. What does the cardigan mean? It’s buttoned down. It’s casual but not sloppy. It is a simple garment that seems to say it’s low energy. It sets the stage nicely. I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen Phil on stage without one. In fact, I could sooner imagine him onstage without his dry wit than sans cardigan. To see Phil Hanley at first, you would think you were in for a night of low energy comedy where you are engaged by Hanley’s short form jokes (“I’m a stay at home son”). His jokes, that when he started out in comedy used to be about all manner of things, now have truth in Hanley’s life as their jumping off point. He talks about his youth, his arrested development and his dating life.
Then comes the point in his act where he talks to someone in the audience. This is when the show takes off. Hanley’s got a naturally adversarial relationship with the audience. He baits them by flirting with them or challenging them to fights all in the most tongue in cheek fashion imaginable. His pre-written bits mingle with these off the cuff conversations, creating a different show every time you see him. The cardigan, it would seem, is the only constant.

You can see Phil at The Comedy Mix this weekend (Aug 5-7) and if you want learn more you can go to

These days, Phil splits his time between New York and Vancouver and while in town he was kind enough to answer some questions for Vancouver Is Awesome.

When was the last time you laughed until you cried?
For my birthday I got this Alessi Q-tip holder. It’s this cartoon man peering out of cup. When you lift it up you see that’s he’s anatomically correct. My dad was looking at it but he didn’t notice that he had a penis so every time he lifted the man out of the cup, my mom and I would start laughing and he’d say “what?” He must have done in ten times before he got frustrated and put it down. Then he said “You’re not suppose to put those things in your ears anyway”. Which is true if he knew what we were laughing at or not.

You are splitting your time between New York and Vancouver. Besides size, what are the differences between the two, comedy wise?
In New York there’s a lot more at stake because you never know who’s in the crowd, and because there’s so many comics you only do certain shows a few times a year. That also makes you want to do well. In Vancouver there’s more of a “There’s always next week kind of attitude” I feel fortunate to be able to perform in both environments.

What is your dream comedy venue?
The Late Show with David Letterman.

What is one myth about stand up comedy you’d like to dispel?
That women aren’t as funny as men. One the greatest stand ups on the planet is Maria Bamford and I think Amy Sedaris may be the most naturally funny person alive. My sister’s super funny too.

Why is Vancouver a good place for comedy?
You get to perform in front of such a varied audience. If a joke works at the club downtown, a bar in Kits and an El Salvadoran restaurant on Commercial. You know you got something… especially if you ate at the El Salvadoran restaurant.

Who is one performer/group of performers you think everyone should see at least once?
The Upright Citizen’s Brigade. They do a long form improv show every Sunday night in New York called ASSCAT. It’s been sold every week for tens years.
How important is talking to a crowd during a show?
It’s always the most fun part of a show for me because once I start talking to someone I don’t really know what’s going to happen next. It creates a very different energy then when I’m just sticking to the script. I find combining crowd work with joke telling complements both. I know I’ve had a good show when someone asks me if I had plants in the audience.

Every article about comedy has to have a pun in the title. What would you like yours to be?
Phil your life with laughter if you can Hanley it.
Where would you like to be in comedy a decade from now?
I’d like to be playing to audiences that specifically came to the show to see me. I had a show recently interrupted by a guy who angrily suggested that I talk about female anatomy. (That’s not the terminology he used.) That guy clearly shouldn’t have come to see me. He should have gone to see Sue Johanson.

What is a comedic premise you think needs to be retired?
Jokes about homeless people. It’s one thing if there’s a specific story about someone who happens to be homeless, but poking fun at the trials and tribulations of someone that’s less fortunate then you is just lame.