A tape recorder would come in handy in trying to pen the words of comedian Ron James.
He treats a phone conversation the same way he does a live audience, firing out his observations –– be it politics, social issues, or our ever changing world –– like a machine gun assault.
And you don’t want to miss a word, especially when he lets out this beauty about what he’s noticed when travelling through the Okanagan on past tours.
James, who returns to Vernon Thursday, notes the names of golf courses here as being rather peculiar.
“You’ve got these golf courses with names like Grizzly Meadow and Cougar Ridge, but there isn’t a grizzly or cougar to be seen anywhere. There’s condos everywhere.”
James is looking forward to being on the road again after spending the past few years working on his weekly comedy show for CBC.
“You have to embrace the road as a virtue, not a liability,” he says.
He also has a regimen when it comes to preparing for the long haul between province to province, town to town. There’s his stationary rowing machine to keep fit, eating right, and then his “medicinal” kit, which usually includes a shot of Starbucks espresso, and if he can’t find that, a pseudoephedrine fix usually does the job.
James is joking about that last ingredient, of course, but he is known for his rather excitable stage presence.
“Red Bull should sponsor my tour,” he laughs. “It’s important for me to give an audience a bang for their buck. It’s not about hype or spin, it’s about content and honouring the audiences. I like to strike a balance between the artistic needs and the audience’s expectations, even if I am tired.”
Anyone who’s caught his act knows James is not just about skewering the latest political talking head. He tends to go deeper, digging at anything that seems absurd. He has also had some personal setbacks, a separation from his wife three years ago, which he says was the hardest time of his life.
“Keeping busy is what has saved my sanity,” said James. “My material has become more universal. It’s what I’ve been exploring the past 10 years of my career, and how the stories relate to the audience’s stories. It’s an evolution.”
James’ acute observations come from his upbringing and education. Born in a coal mining town on Cape Breton Island, and raised in Halifax, James later attended Acadia University, studying political science and history. However, instead of becoming a teacher or a campaign manager (something he could not even imagine), he veered towards a different path.
“I was always interested in comedy. I went into theatre then started at Second City in the early ‘80s then went to L.A. and then shifted the paradigm to standup.”
After returning from the U.S. after three years of searching for a sitcom deal, James focused his attention to writing and penned a show about the years he spent in L.A.
“I learned in the U.S. how to be an individual and look after myself,” he said.
That philosophy worked as he continued to produce and write his own comedy specials, eventually landing his own TV show.
Airing on CBC Friday nights, The Ron James Show features the comic doing his standup shtick along with sketch comedy numbers.
“It’s been a learning curve,” said James who has gone from being the sole writer on his previous six comedy specials to working with a team of five writers on a weekly TV show.
“TV has an insatiable appetite. With a weekly show, you have no time to hone your material. It goes from the page to the stage,” said James.
The future is also unclear as James is still waiting to hear from CBC whether the show will be renewed for another season.
“We’re going into our fourth season on CBC and I’m not sure what’s going to happen. The government holds the keys to the store in Ottawa, so no one is free of culpability,” he said. “I know that I’m watched by at least 50,000 Canadians on a weekly basis, and my show doesn’t cost much to produce.”
Rather than being at the mercy of government cuts, James says he would rather articulate the positive boons accrued on the road less travelled.
“I’m pumped to be back in B.C. It’s a challenging province to play, but I don’t try to change my act too much to relate to all the regions,” said James. “I think everybody can relate to the things I discuss: hitting a wall at mid-life, changes in science, politics, and of course, feeling like a Luddite in this fast -changing technology. I walk the razor’s edge more with my live show.”
James is at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Thursday, May 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $54, available at the Ticket Seller box office. Call 549-7469 or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.