The humor of Canada has long enjoyed a special affection from its American cousins, having imported countless comedy gems to America through programs like Second City and its popular television sketch series “SCTV.” One of Canada’s greatest successes, Ron James, cut his teeth at Second City before developing as a stand-up comedian and writer. His new memoir, “All Over the Map: Rambles and Ruminations from the Canadian Road,” is out now, and the comedian joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to share highlights from the book and other memories from his life.
Misadventures trying to make it in L.A.:
“I’d throw my name in the hat and share the stage with thirty other hopefuls looking to do their five-to-eight minutes and grab some corner of the American dream to call their own. I always said that I shared the stage with the illegitimate spawn of the Charles Manson clan, who wandered in from their Chatsworth warrens with their poetry and prose, looking for the love that Charlie never gave,” said James.
“I learned hard and fast lessons in America; that ultimately, the individual is responsible for their own happiness. And when the Visa became difficult to get renewed because there was no work on the horizon – I don’t know how many actors are guaranteed that – I came home and wrote a one-man show about my time in Los Angeles called, ‘Up and Down in Shaky-Town: One Man’s Journey through the California Dream.'”
James’ time with Canadian improv pioneers Second City, from the early days to primetime T.V.:
“The only difference between six actors, a stage manager, and a piano player in a van… and German submariners in ‘Das Boot’ was that we weren’t speaking German. It was a great time to be young and doing what you were meant to do,” said James.
“When we got promoted to the mainstage, the pressure became different,” said James. “You were constantly being measured against the standards of our own idols on SCTV. It didn’t seem to be as much fun; the freedom wasn’t quite there. There was always a standard, or a box, one had to fit into.”
“What frustrated me about Second City was, your ideas always had to be filtered through five other people and had to be sanctioned through them before they hit the stage. It depended on the political balance backstage as much as it did the talent onstage,” James said. “In the book, I said, ‘An improv group is the same as six Bolsheviks on a Communist farm trying to decide the color of a tractor, where, a stand-up is an enlightened dictatorship.'”
James waxes poetic on Americans of the ’60s and ’70s:
“We would meet Americans; they were up there. There were an awful lot of draft dodgers seeking sanctuary in Northern Cape Breton in those days. I guess Clyburn Brook had a healthier ring than the Mekong Delta. The roads were filled with knapsacked, tye-dyed travelers. It was also an end-of-the-road for people who’d thrown their thumb to the merciful hum of the highway, as well as the affluents that came to summer at the iconic Celtic Lodge, on this promontory of a hill that one was owned by an Ohio rubber baron, and it looked like the hotel in ‘The Shining.’ But I would watch people who personified post-war prosperity at its finest step out of their avocado Oldsmobiles and Delta 88’s and Cadillacs, with their wives, and caramel-tanned legs in tennis skirts, and men with this magnanimous stride, and this wonderful ‘Welcome’ to their generosity, and that was an image of America that stayed with me.”
Ron James’ new memoir “All Over the Map: Rambles and Ruminations from the Canadian Road” is available now from all major booksellers. More information on James, his memoir, and his upcoming performances are available at http://www.ronjames.ca/.