If you don’t know the name Ryan McMahon yet, then we can’t be friends.
But don’t worry! It’s the kind of thing that can be fixed! Our friendship can be saved!
Now that we’ve dodged that bullet, I’d like to share something pretty special with you. I got to watch the man eat crepes at cafe in Downtown Montreal during the Just For Laughs Festival, and we may have chatted a bit too. I’m an old-fashioned girl and figure you shouldn’t interview on a first meeting, or maybe I was just too chicken to whip out a notepad and start recording our talk, so I followed up with the Treaty 3 comedian yesterday.
Ryan McMahon is nice enough to answer my questions
How did you get your start in comedy? I mean, there’s some sort of affirmative action for native comedians, right? You get guaranteed spots on Canadian television and radio and at venues, whether you’re funny or not? Some non-native comedian is sitting in his mom’s basement right now crying his eyes out because you got a spot that should have gone to him or something?
I half stumbled into it. For the LONG version of this you can visit this page on my site. For the short version – essentially, I was fresh out of Theatre School and ready to work. Once I started working as an actor – I hated it. I was voiceless and not being represented. I didn’t connect with any of the work. AND. Yes. I feel a lot of mainstream comedians look at me as “the native comedian” and that I was given my comedy special and my other spots because of that. They got the land – I got a festival spot 500 years later.
What’s the “normal” way to go about getting exposure and gigs as a comedian?
I think the “normal” way to get exposure and gigs as a comedian is to toil in club obscurity until someone says you’re good enough to open for them. You do that for five, six, seven years and you either quit or you become so jaded that you become one of those miserable artists that has an excuse for everything.
Honestly, I’ve never really done the “comedy thing” the normal way. There are a lot of young comedians charting their own path now. I’m proud to call myself one of them. I think people pay attention to me because I’m saying/doing things that haven’t really been done before. I’m making people come to me. It feels good, and I appreciate EVERY SINGLE PERSON that supports my work.
You are really involved in social media, you’re all over Facebook and Twitter and you have your own website, newsletter, podcasts, iTune and Amazon apps and so on. To be honest, it seems like a lot of work. Why did you choose this way to promote yourself?
It’s an incredible amount of work. It’s tiring and disgusting. I am my own pimp, to be honest – if I’m not promoting myself, who is? I don’t have an agent or a management company looking after me. All of my online work (videos/podcasts/blogs) are extension of my brand – almost like a funny business card if you will.
The podcast has really changed my comedy. It’s also changed my fanbase. I don’t have the most followers on Twitter or Facebook but I have the most loyal fans and followers I could ever ask for. I’ve found people that care – I have to nurture that relationship, be grateful, remain humble and continue giving back to those that support me.
You were the first native comedian to get a comedy special on CBC Television. How did that happen? Did you just blockade a bunch of roads until the CBC gave in?
It was a huge honour and I actually didn’t realize that until my CBC Producers told me this. They believed in me. They saw what I was talking about. They saw what I was trying to say. They compared me to Chris Rock and George Carlin. They helped me see my place in the landscape.
It hit me. Something big was happening. Something really, really big. And again – I don’t feel like it’s been celebrated at all by the mainstream and barely by Indian Country. Those that have celebrated the accomplishment have been my fans and followers. They get it. Also – I want to be on record for thanking CBC TV/Radio and CBC Aboriginal and CBC Manitoba for their continued support. CBC produces amazing Indigenous content and are really pushing the conversation forward in this country.
Powwow Shades of Grey. Wut. How. WHY!?
LOL. Total accident. My best projects have been total accidents. My first two podcasts. Clarence Two Toes. Powwow Shades of Grey. I did it for a few reasons. The first few tweets were just goofs. Then the RTs came in and didn’t stop. So I kept writing. The thing was read around the world. It was mind blowing.
I got a call from the New Yorker and they were going to run a follow up piece on Twitter Fiction that had run before, but they wanted to expand the piece by looking at “Niche Market Writing.” The piece didn’t run, BUT, as far as making the mainstream come to you as an Artist – it doesn’t get much bigger than the New Yorker asking to talk to you.
I’m going to continue to write it. I like the pop culture jamming aspect to it. I like it when our people find themselves within mainstream works. And it’s funny. And sexual. BDSM, sweetgrass and handdrums – what’s better than that?
Recently you were here in Montreal for the Just For Laughs Festival as one of their “Up and Comers”. What was that experience like for you?
Surreal. Overwhelming. Humbling. I learned a lot. I didn’t have amazing sets while there – but I’m not ashamed of what I did. My spots were 7-8 minute spots and I’ve never worked short sets like that. I learned I need to work on that. If Conan called, I’d need a 7 minute piece of work.
I also learned that I belong onstage next to anyone. I talked with some incredible comics there – the name of one particular comic I talked to will remain with me – but he’s one of the tops on the planet. I tweeted at him and asked him for breakfast. I asked him one question – should I be self conscious of being a “Native Comedian?” We talked for nearly an hour. Basically, we came to the conclusion that in art, comedy, music – everything is niche. Whether you’re a lesbian comic, a Black comic or a Native comic – everything is niche. The most important thing is what comes out of your mouth. That’s my job. Say funny things, mean what you say, and leave them thinking. The conversation that day changed my life. I’m still processing it.
Your UnReserved Tour launches on September 12 in Victoria and you’re going to be on the road for six weeks, hitting 26 different cities. In your video you describe why you took on so many venues and what kinds of expenses you’re facing. To be honest, I’m scared shitless on your behalf, I mean this is HUGE! How are you doing this and how are you coping with the pressure?
I started planning it as a “Thank You,” to everyone that supported me leading up to the comedy special and the Just for Laughs spot. I was going to book 8 or 10 shows and do new material as a way to say thanks. It was going to be more of a fuck-around-thing.
I announced I was doing the tour and the internet exploded on my lap. I was getting show requests from everywhere. I was floored. I couldn’t believe the reaction. But going back to how I feel about my fans and followers – they’re the best and they wanted to celebrate with me. So we are – I started asking the internet where I should go, and I’ve made it happen. Barely. But I’ve made it happen.
I’m a little too old to be driving across the country, but I am. I want to do comedy for the people that want to see me. I’m working out deals with each venue in every city based on what they’re willing to do. Some rentals are very expensive and some venues are doing door deals. I have THOUSANDS of dollars in damage deposits and rental fees on my credit card.
I’m counting on the people that are excited about my comedy and where I’m heading with it to bring their friends to the live show. I’m using social media to help spread the word and I’m begging for help through various media that are willing to run a story or put something on the radio for me. I can’t afford a publicist – so I’m putting in long days and long nights. It’s the most intense thing I’ve ever worked on. It’s so damn big.
So I’m a little confused, because here I am in Montreal, wanting to make sure I don’t miss your show, and I go on a website to get tickets. I scroll down to the Montreal show on September 24th and see a button that says “register”, but it’s free? Is that just because a venue hasn’t been completely set yet? I notice that other shows have fixed costs and I can buy those tickets online. For the Montreal show am I just saying, “Hey I’ll be there” when I register?
In that example – YES – it’s because the venue hasn’t been set (I’ve lost two venues in Montreal thus far) but I still wanted to list the show. All cities listed, whether the venue is named or not, are booked. Most of the “releasing of tickets/venue info” is legal and once the paperwork is done – the event goes live.
You recently launched a crowd-funding campaign through Indiegogo, and there are all these crazy perks you can claim when you contribute. The campaign confuses me a little too. A lot of the perks involve tickets to your shows, but there is also a lot of swag being promised like signed posters and shirts and so on. How are people going to get those tickets and swag? Would you prefer people got their tickets this way rather than going through the sales website?
The Indiegogo campaign is to help me offset the costs of venue rentals and paying the tech people that work in those spaces. The perks for supporting the tour on Indigegogo are for those with a little more money in their pocket and want the merch or the extra perks. People will get into the live shows and I’m working on distribution now and fulfilling the merch side of the campaign.
Logistically it might be impossible to get the physical merch into everyone’s hands at the show but my distribution partner and I have a plan to send all the merch out after the tour. That side of the campaign continues.
If you won the lottery and were mad rich, and you got to set up any project your little heart desired, what would it be?
I would produce my podcast into a live touring show, shoot it for television and record it for radio (Stuart McLean style mixed with Jian Ghomeshi Q typed show) and feature guests, musicians, artists, community leaders, Youth, and organizers that are working on their own vision of decolonization. That movement will only happen on the ground – that’s where I want my work to remain.
One more question. Possibly the most important yet. Toilet paper roll to the inside (underhand), or outside (overhand)?
Outside. All day, e’rrrday.