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It’s harder than it looks….
When Trevor asked me if I’d be interested in contributing to his blog I jumped at the opportunity, visions of many sugar plum tales dancing in my head, but as I have sat down on numerous occasions to write I have found myself stumped as to what to talk about.
Do I talk about what it was like starting off in comedy 25 years ago – from the perspective of the comedian’s wife? Or how comedy is different 25 years later?
Do I talk about what is involved in running an entertainment agency, a comedy club, full time compared to part time? Or what happens when you step away from being hands on?
Do I talk about the lifestyle of a family where the head of the household is a touring comedian? Or what it is like when that touring comedian no longer tours?
Do I talk about all the different characters we have met through the years? The haters? The fans? The other comedians? Agents? Bill collectors?
Or should I share what it is like to be the wife? To have eleven children? To have gone back to school and to be a lawyer?
The ups and downs of this industry? The highs and lows? Joys and heartbreaks? Loyal friends and unexpected betrayals? (I feel a script for a soap opera coming on….)
I have been reading Trevor’s blog from the beginning and I marvel at how “easy” it appears. It reads like Trevor must just sit down periodically and muse about his day or current life circumstances.
Perhaps it is as difficult for Trevor to decide what to write as it has been for me, or maybe he is just cut out for the task whereas my super powers are better suited to wrangling 11 children through WalMart (yes that has actually happened and I have lived to tell the tale).
And in reflecting upon this, I have finally decided what to write about….how things are not as easy as they seem, including stand up comedy.
For those of you who are not stand up comedians, you may have been to a show or watched a video and considered becoming a comedian. I mean how hard could it be to tell a few jokes? I’m sure you are often the life of the party and people are always telling you how funny you are, so why not?
And yet I can’t begin to tell you how many new comedians have come in and out of our lives (and the industry) after experiencing the relativity of time: five minutes on stage can be an eternity and trying to fill that time with what, when practiced at home in front of their mirror, was for sure a headline set. Or after having realized that being funny and writing “bits” does not just happen through some sort of mysterious osmosis but rather through constant (meaning hourly and by the minute, not just daily) trying of material and tweaking to get the wording, timing, body language just right. Or that being original is not the same as putting on a different accent to someone else’s joke.
Even the business of stand up comedy looks easier than it is. Who wouldn’t want to earn that kind of money for 45 minutes of work? But here’s the reality – Dez spent hours and hours and hours travelling to shows all over Ontario for zero to gas money, just for stage time. Once he started being paid it was rarely enough to pay expenses. Deciding it would be more lucrative to book his own shows, we invested the time and money equivalent of a University degree trademarking, buying supplies, promo material, advertisements, long distance charges (back when there was such a thing!), sound equipment, vehicles, mileage, gas (and gas and more gas), going from bar to bar pitching shows and then paying comics out of our own pockets when shows would cancel or if it was for the door and there was no door or when there’d be some “misunderstanding” as to what the bar was paying for the show.
Even now, more than a quarter of a century into this business, there is far more time spent in finding the shows and audiences than time on stage, meaning “all that money” doesn’t compensate for 45 minutes on stage but rather the 40 or more hours it took to get to that stage.
Over the last few years Dez has concentrated his energy and financial resources on building a comedy scene in Saskatoon. He has provided at least one stage a week for comedians to work out material and hone their craft. He has brought other comedians in from other centres to entertain our city and to inspire our locals. He has endured the betrayals of some who he would have considered friends, and the criticisms of those who see the world differently and seem to be able to be tolerant of everyone and everything but Dez. But he has also built a community of supportive fans, experienced a mentor’s pride seeing his protégées rise to untold heights, and made use of the talents he has been blessed with to bring joy to people through laughter.
It’s been harder than it looks in many ways, some of which are best saved for another entry if Trevor is gracious enough to allow me a second shot at this….but it has also been an incredible journey. I know many of you are on your own incredible journey that is not as easy as you’d like it to be. Be encouraged and be blessed.

Charmaine Panko is an accomplished lawyer and has been married to professional comedian Dez Reed for over 25 years. Her and Dez have 11 (yes, you read that right) children and live in Saskatoon.

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