On touring

Just For Laughs Comedy Tour 2010: Gina Yashere, Ryan Hamilton, Bob Arno, Robert Kelly, Frank Spadone, and Jeremy Hotz (not pictured)
Just For Laughs Comedy Tour 2010: Gina Yashere, Ryan Hamilton, Bob Arno, Robert Kelly, Frank Spadone, and Jeremy Hotz (not pictured)

Bob and I are presently touring. It’s just three weeks across Canada—nothing long or exotic. We’re not roughing it, either. Well…15 cities in 21 days is a little rough.

We’re part of the Just For Laughs Comedy Tour—bringing raucous humor to large and small cities from east to west. The tour has been organized to the smallest detail with the dual goal of putting on fabulous shows almost every night and making it as easy and pleasant as possible for the artists. That means our hotel rooms are ready no matter how early we arrive. Keys are handed out without our needing to check in. Our frequent flyer numbers and hotel loyalty program numbers have been entered for us. We’re pre-checked in for flights, and cars, vans, and buses are always ready when we are.

National Arts Centre Theatre in Ottawa
National Arts Centre Theatre in Ottawa

When we get to each theater, our names are on the dressing room doors and our favorite snacks and drinks are backstage in the green room. Our own secure wifi network has been set up. The backstage ambiance is relaxed at first, but energy quickly builds as the comedians gear themselves up for their sets. Each has his or her own way of mentally preparing. One sings and does little dance steps. One reviews notes. One snipes at anyone he sets eyes on, warming himself up. And one doubles over with stomach cramps from anxiety. Each is a seasoned professional and hits the stage in attack mode, ready to tear the audience apart.

New to Canada, we never know what to expect as to theater or audience demographic. It’s fun to experience the differences. The theaters range from beautiful, old, traditional ones like the Capitol Theatre in Moncton, New Brunswick, to the big beer-barn of Centennial Hall in London, Ontario, to the enormous Massey Hall in Toronto. Our audiences, from 800 to 3,000 people each night, have paid to see us and are therefore vastly different from the corporate attendees who basically challenge us with “go ahead—prove yourself.”

The Just For Laughs Comedy Tour stage set at rehearsal.
The Just For Laughs Comedy Tour stage set at rehearsal.

We’re no strangers to life on the road. 200 to 250 nights a year in beds not-our-own, for the past 17 years is the experience I speak from. This tour is high-intensity-travel.

We’re in a different hotel every night or two. After the third or fourth hotel, I lost track of our room number and now make notes for my pocket every day. Yesterday we actually entered the wrong room. Housekeeping was there and let us walk on in. We saw other people’s stuff and realized we were on the wrong floor. Such a weakness in hotel security. We keep the do-not-disturb sign on our door.

Inside the Just For Laughs tour bus
Inside the Just For Laughs tour bus

Road food is tiresome. We want a breakfast better than Starbucks, but not as big and bland as hotel buffets. We found a good restaurant chain for breakfast, then got sick of it. It’s a struggle to find an independent restaurant or diner we can walk to with so little time to spare. Dinners are mostly impossible. We leave for the theater at 5:00 or so, and are busy until 10 or later—exactly restaurant dinner hours in all but the biggest Canadian cities. We usually manage a decent lunch; sometimes very good ones. Since we stay in city centers, we must usually be sure to go for lunch before the joints close up at 2 pm.

Artists, staff, and some crew board our little jet
Artists, staff, and some crew board our little jet

Mostly, we fly from city to city. We’ve also traveled by tour bus, the big comfortable kind with sofas, bunks, kitchen, bathroom, and internet. Between Prince Edward Island and Halifax, we took a private chartered jet.

While we were flying among the Maritimes, all the tour gear and sets also flew, or was driven overnight. We used smaller, packable sets and limited sound and light equipment. Now we have an 18-wheeler that carries the huge Just For Laughs set pieces, sound, lighting, catering, and office. I can’t imagine what’s in the many, many trunks that are unloaded every day and packed up at the end of each city’s gig.


The truck doesn't fit into one photo
The truck doesn't fit into one photo.

For us, it’s important to have packed every thing we want or need, but nothing else. Packing every single morning makes you think about what you really want to unpack. What you really want to unpack varies vastly from person to person. Especially from Bob to me. I am the minimalist in our family. He brought his espresso machine. Touring in cold weather is an extra complication, having to look after such easily losable items as gloves and scarves.

Just a few of the sea of trunks and set pieces carried by the truck.
Just a few of the sea of trunks and set pieces carried by the truck.

We thoroughly enjoy the company of the other comedians in the show, as well as the staff and crew. We don’t sense any of the competitiveness or jealousy common among magicians. From our perspective, the mix of personalities on this tour is harmonious, and the beginning of lasting friendships.

© Copyright 2008-2010 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Terrific to get a little insight into what it’s like to tour. But it does sound exhausting, even with the special conveniences. With all you have to carry with you, it’s hilarious that Bob took a coffee machine. Do you feel like a llama?

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