In the lead-up to next month’s Just for Laughs festival, Rover is highlighting local comics performing at this year’s event. First up in our series: Derek Seguin.
It was the summer of 2013 and comedian Derek Seguin, discouraged and disappointed, was considering joining Doug Stanhope’s infamous anti-Just For Laughs show, Just For Spite. He’d been told by a JFL programmer that he was just too French for the mostly American industry. “Who’s gonna want a French guy with a heavy accent?”
Another programmer stuck out her neck for him and asked him to audition with his dirty material. He did, with his favourite dirty joke, “Newfie Octopus,” a hilarious account of fellatio that, much like Seguin himself, manages to be endearing and offensive all at once.
He got the call while on the road touring in Ontario. The programmers thought he’d be perfect for The Bleep Show, the closing gala of the fest, hosted by Whitney Cummings. It was a week away. He drove through the night after his last show in London, Ontario to make it to the sound check the next day with “no time for a nice new jacket or to overwork my material.” He had the audience of 3,000 gasping for air in the seconds between laughing, and on their feet at the end of his set; a standing ovation that remains one of the highlights of his comedy career.
Next month, Seguin returns to the JFL stage, this time as part of The Nasty Show, hosted by Bobby Slayton and running from July 9th to the 26th. After two consecutive years of performing “filthy stuff,” Seguin is a bit concerned that people will forget he has “normal and normal-dirty material” too.
Seguin is a perfectly bilingual francophone who performs English stand-up with an exaggerated accent. You may have also heard him on one of his many appearances on CBC’s The Debaters or seen him in the “Language Police” comedy sketch videos that went viral in 2013. He is also an actor who can speak in a perfectly neutral American accent, as he demonstrated in his scene alongside Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx in White House Down. You’ll have to take his word for it though: His only line, “Come with me, Mr. President!” was cut.
Seguin is thrilled to be a part of JFL again, even if it meant having to turn down more lucrative corporate gigs. “I may have to sell my house but it’s worth it.” And to be featured in The Nasty Show, historically the festival’s hottest ticket, is especially prestigious. “Also, I can swear as much as I want,” adds Seguin. As for his career hopes or expectations after this year’s festival? “Honestly, if this is as successful as I get, if I died tomorrow, my kids would have a pretty nice scrapbook of their dad to look back on.”
The scrapbook might start as far back as 1992, when Seguin was a CEGEP student in Creative Arts. He made a short Super 8 film: “There was no soundtrack and I couldn’t afford — and wasn’t good enough – at sound editing to actually edit voice into it, because you had to record it on a separate machine. And sometimes it was an old machine and the film would stretch because it was hot. You could never sync them up! I was like ‘Fuck it!’ so I made it like a silent film. It’s just a girl sitting in a park reading the paper, I go up to her, we go home together. Then it cuts to her taking off her clothes and me putting them on, and then it frames me below the waist, so it’s just a close-up of my cock, flattened out by gross nylons. And that’s where Aerosmith’s ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’ comes in.
“I showed it and everyone was like ‘What the fuck??!!’ And even though it was bad, I thought fuck, this is cool! I have an idea, I can capture it — very unprofessionally, stupidly, amateurishly capture it– on some kind of medium and then show it to people and see their reaction. That was a huge thrill for me. It was in that moment of showing that very, very bad, rude, lewd movie that I knew I really liked coming up with an idea, and then fucking doing it, and then showing people.”
Although he knew he wanted to be a performer, he didn’t think about being a comedian. He wanted to study film, something his more practical-minded parents discouraged. He got a degree in Urban Planning instead and went on to work in advertising.
In 2003, married and with two kids and a house in the suburbs, Seguin met comic Kevin Gasior at a Montreal Gazette Christmas party, who offered to take him to an open mic night if he ever wanted to try it. He did, and was instantly hooked. “I loved it so much. I never thought it could be a job, I just did it for fun.”
Even for those who love it, the industry is not without its stressors. Most comics hone their skills on unpaid open mic stages for years before making any money. Even as a successful, in-demand headliner, the cloud of financial insecurity always hangs overhead. “I hate that my mood is so dependent on my bank account,” says Seguin. Indeed, whether emotionally sensitive types are drawn to comedy – it is, after all, a careful study of human behaviour — or whether the often lonely, unstable and poorly paid field is itself a breeding ground for emotional instability, the fact is that comedians have historically suffered from alcoholism, addictions and depression. “There are mental disorders comedians are sufferings from that haven’t even been discovered yet. We’re inventing them still!” he quips.
Seguin himself dealt with a “terrible” gambling problem in 2005, in the early stages of his career. And though his material is inspired by what’s going on his life, he says “comedy affects my mood more than vice versa. If I go ten days without performing I become a bad person! My kids will say, ‘Dad, have you not done a show in a while? You seem stressed out.’ If I’m feeling bad and then I go do a show, after I’m like, ‘Oh my life’s going great, what am I so worried about?’ ”
As for quitting comedy or moving to Toronto – as many struggling-anythings in Montreal do – Seguin says he never considered giving up comedy, but that he did think about “quitting all the other shit I did.” His position as a divorced father of three puts him in a different situation than many of his unattached cohorts. “The fact that I did this without moving to Toronto or New York or L.A. is even more for me to be proud of. Maybe I could do even better if I could leave, but I like my little house with my pool in Brossard. I have three kids who don’t lack for anything, comic friends who come stay with me when they’re in town — I did something right in another life I guess.”
Derek Seguin will be performing at the Just For Laughs Nasty Show from July 9th to the 26th. Info and tickets here.
Natalie Willett is a Montreal-based freelance writer.