TRAGEDY PLUS TIME VOLUME 22 – TAZ VANRASSEL

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“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.”

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Buster Keaton did an interview with CBC’s Fletcher Markel towards the end of his life. Reflecting on his famous deadpan face, he said “I’d simply learned that I was the type of comic that if I laughed at what I did, the audience didn’t”.

I feel that this is an appropriate way to introduce you to the stage persona of Taz Vanrassel. It’s not that he doesn’t smile ever, but it is a rarity to see him do so while in on stage. He is often straight without being dour, a bit hangdog without the depression.

In volume 20 of this column, I introduced you to Bita Joudaki (http://vancouverisawesome.com/2010/11/17/tragedy-plus-time-volume-20-bita-joudaki/) an individual who was the opposite type of experience from a Vanrassel in terms of composure. Both are completely enjoyable in their respective strengths.

Perhaps what is most impressive about Taz and his deadpan way is how well it translates for so many different types of audiences. He can play to the Granville Island crowd at Vancouver Theatre Sports, the younger- college type crowd at the Hennessey with his phenomenal improv group The Sunday Service and play to an elementary school all in the same week.

This is not to mention the broad range of people he has taught the craft of improv to over the years.

Vanrassel was one of the three gentlemen (along with Alistair Cook and Ryan Biel) that started !nstant Theatre, a theatre company dedicated to improvisational theatre whose productions would eventually morph into the Vancouver International Improv Festival.

While Taz’s reputation as a solid and adaptable performer is secure in Vancouver, he has been making steady progress across Canada and beyond. Most years, he is the lone live performer representing the entire west coast at the Canadian Comedy Awards.

He has been nominated as “Best Male Improvisor” 5 years in a row and I would like to be at the awards on the night he takes it home… mostly to see if he cracks a smile.

If you would like to know more you can go to: http://thesundayservice.ca/

Taz was kind enough to answer some questions for Vancouver Is Awesome.

When was the last time you laughed until you cried?

This past summer in Edmonton, Alberta. The Sunday Service was out there performing in Improvaganza put on by Rapidfire Theatre. On the final night they had a big party in the theatre, a large projection of The Graduate was playing on the backdrop of the stage. Aaron Read, of the Serv, began grabbing at every characters boobs and junk whenever anyone was on screen. At first it was kind of cute in an immature kind of way, but he never stopped. Waiting like a coiled cat for the next crotch to appear so he could slap it.  I mingled around the party for a while then came back forty minutes later, he was still doing it. So I took a seat and slowly lost it over his commitment to buffoonery.

What is one myth about live comedy you’d like to dispel?

It’s not just stand up. I love stand up, but I don’t do it. I tried it twice, too hard. Vancouver used to be a lot worse for this, but now you find all realms of comedy like stand up, sketch, improv, mixed media, musical etc. co-habiting at many comedy nights around town. It’s nice to see everyone together, unlike the old days when knife fights and baseball-bat raids were the norm in the cities comedy clubs.

What would be your idea of a perfect venue?

I secretly enjoy all venues. Whether it’s a gymnasium full of kids, a theatre or a bar. These are all places that performers should be comfortable in, they all build character. If I had to choose though, it would be a theatre venue with good lighting, acoustics (no need for head mics) and no margaritas or loud conversations about UFC fights being made in the general vicinity of the stage.

How did you decide that the world of comedy was for you?

I think my mother groomed me for it. She was dressing me up in homemade clown and bunny outfits from an early age. Apparently I would request to wear these on any given day and just parade around getting attention. Then I went to elementary school and got really shy for 7 years. In high school I was lucky enough to find the Canadian Improv Games which really opened my eyes to the world of improv. I had been going to Vancouver TheatreSports League since I was a kid but never really thought I could do it myself.  So, short answer, I always enjoyed attention but it wasn’t until high school that I figured out I could talk to girls easier and not get beat up by bullies if I made them laugh.

You both perform and teach improv. What do you get from teaching that you can’t get from performing?

With teaching I am constantly reminding myself how lazy a performer I can be. I run my students through drills, exercises, theory etc., and I don’t even want to do a rehearsal or any sort of warm up before a show. Also, I get the power of telling people that they’re doing it wrong!

You have performed in front of audiences of all ages, including school kids. What are the best audiences in terms of audience response?

They all differ. I change my persona for each audience. Elementary schools get big faces and boys kissing boys. High schools get sarcasm and boys kissing boys. Bar shows get swearing and boys kissing boys. The best audience is one that can’t believe a boy is kissing a boy!  Maybe I should start playing gay clubs where they will not care at all.

You have helped run the Sunday Service for years. What are the rewards of running your own show?

So much money! Your own TV show! Girls! The feeling of accomplishment is pretty great too. Seeing a full house at a show you helped develop, produce and advertise is always nice. When you run your own show you don’t have to answer to anyone, you make your own mistakes and solve your own problems. I do many shows where I just show up and perform which I also enjoy, but I’ve learned way more over the years by the DIY method.

Why is Vancouver a good place for comedy?

If you can compete with skiing, rollerblading and all other things I don’t know how to do, then you’ll be fine in other cities. This has been said a lot by other comedians but this really is a ‘tough crowd city’ sometimes. Whenever I go to other cities they all seem so nice and welcoming. Not that Vancouver is a bitch, she’s just really busy doing yoga and eating Japa-dogs.

Who is one performer/group of performers you think everyone should see at least once?

Pajama Men from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
R.Kelly
and Aaron Read   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjVe31M5s7M

What is your favorite joke (street or otherwise)?

Two peanuts went out one night, one was assaulted! I heard that on America’s funniest people when I was a kid and it stuck.

Every article about comedy has to have a pun in the title. What would you like yours to be?

VanRassel is the VinDiesel of comedy, 2 crass 2 hilarious.

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