What a difference two years makes.
It was May, 2012 when ranting and raving comic Ron James was last in these parts.
The world has since revolved, and not exactly evolved, at a nanosecond rate, and that’s why James is taking no prisoners with his latest tour. Even if you haven’t seen the diminutive-sized James jumping up and down live on stage, most Canadians have seen and heard him spouting out his wily observations in a steady stream —with no intake of air, no less— on his CBC television show.
With the fifth season of The Ron James Show just wrapped up, and an uncertain future at the mothership, James is back doing what he loves best, performing live in theatres around the country.
He launches the B.C. portion of his Take No Prisoners tour at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Saturday.
“Vernon is a great place to kick off the tour with its beautiful theatre,” said James. “Vernon also comes to laugh. And as I like to say, if the ushers are wiping down the seats afterwards, then I’ve done my job.”
James calls his live tour a boutique operation, in that he usually drives himself to all his shows, including the 25 dates he just completed in Ontario this past winter.
“I was white-knuckling it on the widow- maker of asphalt that is the (Highway) 401 in the wake of winter,” he says, in his own eloquent way. “It keeps the costs down. I’ve always been that way. It gives me a chance to clear my head and prepare for the show.”
A music fan, James also likes the fact that he can cruise down the highway playing his favourite tunes by Johnny Cash and Steve Earle, along with Canadian faves Neil Young, Ian Tyson and Gordon Lightfoot.
“I am also a fan of new alternative, young bands such as Matt Mays, Ron Sexsmith, and Whitehorse. I listen to CBC Radio 2 a lot. I really like (the show) Deep Roots.”
Mention the recently announced cutbacks at the CBC, and James has a lot to say, as you can well imagine. His last episode for season five aired April 14, and he says he is unsure about the future of the show.
“The CBC is a place dying of a thousand paper cuts. The government has been busy shutting down the voices of dissent. It’s the fractured nature of the media landscape, which is changing nanoseconds fast,” said James. “Having five seasons of a show where I could be affably subversive has been nice. It would have been even nicer to have few more bucks to push publicity, but I’ve had a myriad number of accolades when walking the street and I had a great room of writers, which was a shift of the paradigm. Before I wrote six specials myself, including Up and Down in Shaky Town, so I am looking forward to a new adventure.”
Although he finds himself at a crossroads, James says his true path is performing as a stand-up comedian and calling Canada home.
“I came back from L.A. in ‘93 as an actor, not a comedian. It was then that I made a promise to embrace what makes us Canadian and that iconography. I did that through comedy,” he said, adding, “Initially it bothered me that Americans didn’t get me. We are suckers for being put on the altar for Americans, and getting that validation from them. For the last 15 years, I have been proud to sing a song about the comedic mileage taken from being Canadian to a rapidly changing room.”
And as alluded to before, James’ cup runneth over with what he sees as absurd incidents that have taken place in his home country the past two years. (The senate scandal and a certain Toronto mayor are just two that come to mind.)
“We have a mayor in Montreal in jail from corruption. The Montreal council should change its name to Cell Block 9. Everybody wants it all and they want it right away. There’s that sense of entitlement. When you have that culture existing at the top, it can’t help but affect the party itself.”
That goes triple for Ford, says James.
“Every time the guy walks out the door, he makes an episode of Breaking Bad come out like that of someone making an Amish quilt. It’s that clown that broke the stereotype of how Canadians are perceived. It used to be the picture of a moose in sunglasses with the title ‘Canada is cool.’ This dysfunctional oaf is a spawn of reality TV. The Fords see themselves as the Kennedy clan, when in fact they resemble Honey Boo Boo.”
Instead of that quick fix of fame, warranted or not, James says he has been happy to take the slow and steady route. His latest adventure is about finding the balance point and walking through the rapidly changing landscape relatively unscathed.
“I like that it’s about the long haul. There are no shorts cuts. When a carpenter buys a hammer, he doesn’t build a mansion right away. Fame comes now with virtually no content and has a lot to do with social media. It’s spawned a generation of very needy people. That’s what comedy does, it holds a mirror to society and gets everyone on the same page.”
And as rewarding as TV has been, James says he gets his kicks most out of performing live and getting that instant gratification through laughter.
“That’s why Seinfeld, Cosby and Carlin, kept touring. In Carlin’s case, it ended when they put the pennies on his eyes. It validates the life we chose and that we can still stay in the game.”
Ron James brings his Take No Prisoners tour to the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $56 and available at the Ticket Seller box office. Call 250-549-7469 or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.