Photo: Marc Lappano
In partnership with the Humber College Comedy Writing and Performance program.
Growing up in Edmonton as a “young, drunk, punk,” The Kids in the Hall comedy great Bruce McCulloch felt alienated. “It felt like it was me and my friends and the rest of the world was ‘them,’” he told the Calgary Herald. “No one got me: Calgary didn’t get me, Edmonton didn’t get me. My friends got me. The music that I listened to understood me.”
Each spring since 2014, McCulloch – author of the memoir Let’s Start a Riot and the creator and star of the new comedy series Young Drunk Punk – has come to Toronto to work with another wave of disaffected youth: second-year students in the Humber College Comedy program. “The thing I like to point out to young comics is that this is your group. The people you are with now, hopefully, you will be in this together for the next 20 years, so lean on each other, learn from each other and, even as you compete, know you are all in this together.”
Now a visiting associate professor in the Humber program, McCulloch enjoys the challenge of teaching comedy. “The thing I like about Humber is that they try to help each person find their own comic voice,” McCulloch says of his work at the college. “They know there that there is no one right way to approach things comically, so they help everyone follow their own unique spark.”
McCulloch’s emphasis on developing voice is a natural fit with the Humber Comedy program. His workshops are highly interactive, with McCulloch joining students on stage to offer feedback on their original sketches.
“I really do love to talk to young artists who are sorting out their place and voice,” says McCulloch. “I think it is good for them to have someone like me who has been through the creative wars and can give them a few things to think about and, more importantly, a few things that may inspire them.”
This year’s crop of comedians was impressed by McCulloch when he visited in March. “It’s invaluable to get feedback from someone who has spent their entire life making people laugh,” says Robbie Woods, a 2016 Humber Comedy graduate. “Bruce is amazingly insightful. He worked intimately with all the writers and performers to make our sketches come alive.”
While McCulloch devotes the first half of his classes to workshopping previously written sketches, he spends the second half on collaborative writing. He leads students in surrealist word games and group writing exercises to generate ideas for new sketches. “As you collaborate with others,” says McCulloch, “you decide that eventually the best idea wins.”
Humber’s comedy students are looking forward to his return next year.
Find out more about the Humber College Comedy Writing and Performance program here.