Comedian, Crooner, Cobbler. (Zaiden)
The day after I first met Rhiannon Archer I drove Gordie Howe around Toronto in a borrowed Escalade. Those were simpler times. She was my boss, sort of. Everyone was. I was still in journalism school, a kid, and got offered a gig working the NHL Awards for television. Guest wrangling. Prop shuffling. Seat-filling. That bit. Picking Mr. Hockey up at the airport was a highlight. So was working with Rhiannon. Her job was in admin and she took it lightly. I remember her wicked laugh. And that she seemed to like making people use theirs. That was in 2007. So Rhiannon’s been funny a while. This year, Archer is nominated for her first Canadian Comedy Award in the Best Stand-Up Newcomer category. They ramp up with a series of shows in Toronto culminating in the awards ceremony October 17. That gala experience might come in handy.
We met over toast and salad to talk life, death and dogs that look like little gentlemen.
What do you do all day on a show day?
Usually I’ll try to get to a show half an hour to an hour prior and think about what jokes I’m going to do. Get a tag or write a joke really fast. I’m a procrastinator. Since I was in elementary school or high school or even college… I can’t think ahead of time. But when I put pressure on myself: ‘You haven’t done anything. You have half an hour.’ I find I work better. If it’s a big show – like that people are actually paying for; that I might get paid for – I’ll at least take three hours. Those shows tend to have longer sets so I have to really organize how I get from Point A to Point B. Tonight, I’m doing 20 minutes. So I can’t very well get there half an hour early and figure out what I’m going to do. That’s like 1:15 per minute to think about what joke I’m going to do! It’s not going to work. Normally, I have to work, too. Trust me, I don’t do stuff that should take that much of my attention. But the jobs I’ve done are so creatively draining that I can’t write at work. It’s like murder for stand-up! Then maybe I’ll get some food. Clean a bit. Keep myself busy…
Take it to the end of the day. C’mon!
When I’m at the show, I’m having fun. I’m seeing a lot of my friends, the other acts, what people are doing, what they’re talking about, how they’re telling their jokes. Judging, basically. (Laughs). But not in a negative way. That’s not my style.
After the show, depending on if I did really badly or really well, I’ll either go out and have fun or I’ll go home and lie in bed. Usuallys I hang out. A lot of comics will do their sets and leave right after they’re done. And I hate that! Because sometimes you’re last and everybody else has left and you’re like, ‘…I had to stay for you guys.’ And I like to hang around the shows. I think one of the best parts of comedy is the people you work with. A lot of the people are shit. Terrible human beings. But I like getting to know the other comics. Because they’re naturally funny. Well, some of them. But we’re all in this together. And I like hanging around. A lot of people see a female doing that and they’ll think it’s a networking thing. But it’s not. It’s genuine. I get called on that a lot. ‘She’s a networker.’ No… I’m just social. NEXT!
(Laughs). Do you think people are born funny or is it learned?
I think it’s both. Some of the funniest people in the world, to me, are non-comics. That creepy guy at work who doesn’t realize how he acts, how he is. Not in a mean way. It’s not picking at them. When people are really deadpan, that kills me. Or when they’re overly happy. But I don’t believe that somebody who wakes up one day and goes, ‘I want to be a comic,’ but doesn’t have a funny bone in their body, will have an outlook or a perspective on life that’s a different way of thinking. Or be able to find the funny in that. Anybody can tell a joke. But if you’re not funny in day-to-day conversation, you can’t learn that. And that’s fine! But it is an art form. You have to be self-aware. And if you’re not self-aware you’re going to look like an ass. You have to have that connection. If you can’t do that, then you can’t do that. Maybe it’s not for you. I never went to a comedy school. I found comics I liked and asked them to teach me. But I think you can. Because I believe you can learn to harness your raw, funny talent and you can lean how to be funnier. But I don’t think you can create it out of nothing. It’s like singing. If you can’t hit a note and your voice just sounds bad, it doesn’t matter how much training you get, you’re still not going to be a singer.
How do you know when a joke is done?
When I’m bored with it. You always pick up tags and things you can fit into jokes. I’m known for this: if a joke can be three words I’ll make it ten. You can put too much explanation into a joke. But you have a feeling. You have: ‘OK, this joke is done.’ Then once you start doing it more and more, you get bored. You can bank it…but sometimes they can be done. You can change the way you say it. You can change your inflection. You can mess around with it as long as you want. But when you’re happy with it, and you enjoy telling it, then it’s done. And then you’ve got to go onto the next one. There are some people who will hold onto that joke and say it for the next 15 years. But they get dated. And then they need to go.
I heard Louis CK say once he did the same act for years until he saw George Carlin change his act every year for his live specials. That made Louis think he had to do it. No matter how hard it was. He had to throw it away. Had to destroy those jokes.
The thing that’s amazing about him is that he actually does that. To write an hour a year and throw it away? Oh my God!I sit there and think about that… I saw Louis CK talk and it was amazing. I thought: “I’m going to try that. Even though I’ve been doing it two years and he’s been doing it thirty.’ So I’ve set myself for 20 new minutes a year. I don’t do jokes that I know do well. That ‘kill.’ I just won’t do them much anymore. I think it’s a brilliant way to get better. And write faster. But that is hard! It’s hard to come up with seven new minutes – let alone an hour – a year. But it’s amazing. And it’s something I think everyone should do and everyone should strive for. Because it’d make everybody a better comic. I’m going to get there.
Why are dogs so much better than cats?
An age-old question. I will do my best. Dogs aren’t better than cats! And cats aren’t better than dogs. I believe in a world of equality, regardless of race or species. I have two cats. Billie and Patches. If you need a photo, I will be happy to give you one. Unfortunately, being a comic, you’re out late; you’re working hard; this doesn’t necessarily allow you to have relationships – romantic or even friendships – a lot. So I really like my cats. I can leave them for a day. I would love to have a dog. Because they’re hilarious. They’re cute. They’re funny. And you can walk them. My cats do not like being walked. But it gets you outside! My mom has a dog and he’s my best friend. But if I had him, it would not be fair to him. Cats, they’re on their own. They don’t need me. If I ever, heaven forbid, get knocked up, maybe I’ll get a dog because I’ll be forced to stay in. You can’t really go out. Nobody wants to hear ghost jokes from a pregnant lady, you know? So I’ll have to stay home. I’ll probably write jokes about being pregnant, though. I’ll use that as a crutch. ‘Why aren’t you guys laughing at me? I’m a pregnant lady!’ I ogle dogs more than I ogle cats though. The ones that wear the little hammies…
Pick a side.
Do you ever think about how you want to die and will it be hilarious?
My funeral will be hilarious! I talk about this in my act. I have one psychic ability. But it’s the worst psychic ability that someone can have. I can tell you when you’re going to die. And how you’re going to die! And I haven’t been wrong yet. But people don’t listen to me when I tell them. I’ll never tell someone when they’re going to die. But, just know, I have been right every time. Every time you tell someone you’re psychic they’re like, ‘Oh my God, am I going to meet Mr. Right? Am I going to get married?’ And I look at them like, “…Are you going to do it in the next three months?”
Nobody listens. And that’s what happens. I know it’s weird but that’s who I am. And I accept it. I’m going to die at 86. And I’m going to die in my sleep. Boring!
Hey, that’s a good run.
That is a good run. And in my sleep? I’m fine with that! But my funeral… I was thinking about this the other day. I’m going to make a video of me now being like, ‘Oh, great. I died.’ Play that at my funeral. Then unload every secret possible. Everybody tells me everything. And it is a terrible burden. I know when they’re going to die and I know all their secrets. It’s horrible. I will probably make the video and order bouncers and if anybody’s crying from anything other than laughter they get a punch in the gut. All my favourite food would be there…
I’ve got, like, 51 years left. So I have to get on this. It’ll be like Andy Kaufman. Things will go wrong. Happen. Like, I’ll hire actors. A bride and groom to open the church doors and say, “ Oh, sorry!’ (Laughs). I’ve got to make a big list. That’s a great premise for a joke. I know Nick Swardson has one like that but I’m going to do it. That’s what I’m going to do with my day before the show tonight!