London calling: Comedian parlays distant show into a career

Perry Bergson
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Nigel Lawrence

Never underestimate the value of a safe room to bomb in when it comes to the world of comedy.

Nigel Lawrence has made a living from taking that initial chance.

“The very first standup set that I ever did was in London, Ont., just because I was passing through town there and there was a comedy club,” Lawrence remembers. “I thought this is as good a place as any to eat it and not have anyone recognize me and not have to see anyone again. When will I ever be in London, Ont., again. Never! So I went for it and it went pretty well and that’s what got me hooked.”

The Red Deer comedian, who is now based in Los Angeles, has parlayed that first show into a career that has included standup, writing and some acting.

Lawrence, who co-wrote a season of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, will take the stage at Bailey’s on Thursday.

Those initial appearances while he was a student at the University of Alberta rapidly opened other doors.

“I started doing open mike nights and that kind of thing while I was going to school,” he says. “It came pretty quickly for me. It went from open mike nights to getting paid gigs pretty quick. I worked my way through the standup chain in Canada, bounced around a bit and lived in a few different cities here and then signed with an agent in the U.S.”

A two-month tour of Canada will bring him to Bailey’s in Prince Albert on Thursday evening.

Prince Albert comedian Kelly Taylor, who books the shows, is pleased that Lawrence will be performing, although Taylor has his own gig and will miss the concert.

“Getting him here in P.A. was lucky,” Taylor said. “It was one of those things. He messaged me that he had a run starting on a Friday in Saskatchewan. It always seems that if there is a show that can get you to another show, we’re a community like that.”

Since Taylor is out of town, Jr Koszman will drive up from Saskatoon to open the show.

“I worked with Junior a lot. He can headline or he can host, he can do whatever. He’s a utility man, Rance Mulliniks,” Taylor said with a laugh in reference to the longtime Toronto Blue Jays infielder.

About the same time that Mulliniks was active in the Skydome, Eddie Murphy was reigning atop the comedy universe.

He was an early influence on Lawrence.

“I can remember listening to him,” Lawrence says. “A friend of mine had it on cassette tape. Listening to Eddie Murphy just talking and telling funny stories, we were sort of ‘What is this? People do this?”

After choosing it as a career, Lawrence worked for years in Canada, living in a handful of different cities. He says Canada is a great place to start.

“There are a lot of people who tour nationally so you build a lot of relationships with other comedians,” he says. “Everything is sort of spread out … You’re sort of out there on the road networking. When you start out, when you’re an opener or a feature act, you’re connecting with all of these guys and you get to work with all of the top headliners in Canada. They’re always passing through town and they need an opener or a middle or something. So you get to meet people and work some really hard rooms.”

As a result, Lawrence worked with people like Derek Edwards and Craig Campbell.

“They were genuinely nice people and really helpful with the process of developing your comedy and your career,” he says.

Lawrence says working in California also has its benefits.

“It’s sort of interesting that you can do a show with Ray Romano or Sarah Silverman or Tom Arnold or maybe all of them on the same night,” he says. “You get to cross paths with a lot of people and see them and that’s a nice thing about being there.”

Lawrence lists acerbic comedian Bill Burr, TV star Louis C.K and good friend Jake Johanson among his personal favourites.

Following a comic groan after being asked to describe his own brand of comedy, Lawrence said he incorporates a number of things into his show.

“It’s observational humour; I see things and I talk about them or make fun of them. Some of my stuff is sort of personal life; I like do some jokes and stories. I love improvising; I like to talk about where I am and what’s happening and that sort of thing. I love sticking to my material but when you’re travelling and seeing these different places and people, it’s nice to have some local flavour. I don’t know how much flavour there is in P.A. but I hope it’s a lot.”

Tickets for Thursday’s performance at Bailey’s at 9 p.m. cost $10 and are available in advance at the Best Western Inn front desk or at the door on the night of the show.

Organizations: Prince Albert, University of Alberta, Toronto Blue Jays Western Inn

Geographic location: California, Canada, London, Ont. London P.A. Red Deer Los Angeles U.S. Saskatchewan Saskatoon

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