Arts & Life, Comedy

Interview: Winnipeg comedian Nelson Mayer

The Winnipeg comedy scene is vibrant and full of talent, but it’s also a small community, so you end up running into everyone at one point or another if you get involved in comedy. One person who I have come to know, and who I was curious about is a guy named Nelson Mayer. I approached him about doing an interview and learned a surprising amount of stuff.

He’s performed in Los Angeles at the Comedy Store, ended up backstage at Jimmy Kimmel and has met and shared the stage with a dizzying number of the top comedians in North America. On top of this, he is gainfully employed which puts him in a different category than most comedians, he is married and has six kids. And as if this wasn’t enough, he promotes shows in Winnipeg, and started the now infamous Rez Dogs comedy road show featuring veteran comic Don Burnstick.

His style? Well, it’s brash, not always politically correct, a bit naughty, a bit rough and tumble, street alley. But, underneath any joke, no matter how offensive it may come across as being is a great, nice guy with a good head on his shoulders and a dedication to his craft, his work and most importantly, his family.

So, without further adieu, here is the raw, unedited, full on Nelson Mayer interview:

Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do?

“Who is Naven R. Johnson”?…..sorry my mind often drifts into movie quotes. My name is Nelson Mayer.  I’m from Winnipeg, born and mostly raised here with a couple side ventures to Dauphin Manitoba and Vancouver.  I’m a father, a social worker and a comedian.  I list father first because that really is the most important part of my identity.  I have six children who are a constant inspiration for my comedy.  I work as a policy analyst in the field of child welfare.

When did you start doing comedy? What was your first time on stage like?

My first time on stage was June 13, 2010 at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles.  I signed up to do a 3 minute open mic set.  I got on stage did about 90 seconds and then looked to see if the light was on yet.  I wanted off that stage!  I wrote a few jokes and then spent an entire day repeating them over and over again so I wouldn’t lose track of my set.  Then I got on stage and threw that set out the window and tried to go off the top of my head.  The room had maybe 5 people in the audience and then about 30 comedians at the back of the room.  I told one joke that got the comics to laugh and I was hooked.  I messed up my next joke which was about homeless people in Los Angeles.  The three jokes that would have followed were based on that one so they were now out the window.  That’s when I looked for the light to save me.  So yeah, my first time on stage was definitely one that I bombed.  That one laugh though, that made it all worthwhile and I wanted to go again.

Why did you start doing comedy?

How deep should we go with this?  I have a joke where I say that strippers and comedians are kindred spirits.  Comedians get on stage because our fathers didn’t pay enough attention to us…..strippers get on stage because their fathers paid TOO much attention to them. So the deeper answer is that most comedians are attention whores.  Daddy didn’t play catch with us enough, we were picked last for the team…it’s almost like a defense mechanism…..I may not have been the best in sports but I could make people laugh.  I think what actually inspired me to get up on stage though was Facebook.

I joined facebook at the request of a friend and after sometime I began posting status updates.  I’ve always had a rather odd sense of humor but now I had this new forum to reach a wider audience.  People would click the like button and comment with their LOLs and occasionally someone would say, “You should do comedy”….or “Have you ever tried stand up”.  Being exceptionally shy and a bit of my own worst enemy I thought, “no way….I would NEVER get on stage….besides…Ii’m not funny”.  After hearing it enough times I decided , “hmmm, maybe I am funny”.

I’ve also always been the funny guy at the office and one day a coworker brought me an ad for the Winnipeg’s Gone Wacky contest.  I decided to sign up and give it a shot.  The first year I tried out I submitted my video and then subsequently spent the next few weeks voting my video as low as possible because I did NOT want to make the final.  When the results were in I got a phone call informing me that despite my best self sabotaging efforts I was 11th in voting, (top ten moved on to the final). They wanted to know if I would be available for the show should someone back out.  I was on the hook so I said fine.  Turned out no one did drop out and Cara Lytwyn went on to win.  The next year I had a bit more nerve so I signed up for Rumors funniest person with a day job and made the finals, then I signed up for Winnipeg’s Gone Wacky and made the finals….then day job again the following year and again made the finals…..gone wacky the following year….again….made the finals.

I was having a lot of fun but I had become what’s known as a “contest guy”.  Someone not to be taken seriously.  I intended to get out to the open mics and work a lot harder but with six kids, it’s not easy.  Half the time I don’t even make it to my own open mic.

When did you begin to promote comedy? Why did you decide to do this?

The first show I helped promote was September 12, 2012.  I kind of fell into it actually.  I was contacted by a promoter who wanted me to do a show and that show fell apart.  Several months later he contacted me again and requested I do a show.  He wasn’t the most organized guy so I offered to help.  At first it was small, “I’ll pick up the tickets from the printer”….then I offered to find a couple comics to do the show, then I was making the poster and getting the tickets out to the comics.  I worked with him on the first few shows I did but felt he didn’t bring anything to the table so I took over.

At the time I didn’t feel the Winnipeg comedy scene was very receptive to the idea that new people could also be funny and needed a chance to grow.  Every event I was invited to featured the same comics. Having watched from the sidelines for a couple of years I knew there were other comics who I felt were funny and should get more stage time.  So I kind of wanted my shows to be a place where newer comics could get a chance to perform in front of a real crowd.  At first I had to rely on the advice of others regarding who to put in shows and sometimes other peoples definition of funny was vastly different from mine so we had some bumps on the road.

What comedy projects do you have on the go right now, either promoting or creating?

I run an open mic show every Sunday night at Finn’s pub at the forks, I run the Shut up and Laugh Comedy Showcase shows which are biweekly, primarily at Finn’sPub but we do branch out to other venues.  I run monthly shows called the Canadian Comedy Invasion in Grand Forks North Dakota at a bar called the Hub.  Myself and Bill Burfoot have a podcast called Who’s Your Daddies…which is our views on parenting, fatherhood and anything else we decide to discuss.  I have a cheesy YouTube show called the Nelson, Marc and Kyle show which is basically just me being a giant asshole to my friend Marc.  I am currently helping organize a university/college tour that will feature myself and several other local comics and I tour with Don Burnstick and Chad Anderson as the Rez Dogs.

Who are some of the comedians that have influenced you?

I watched Andrew Dice Clay when I was 11 years old and had no business watching ADC.  He is one of my personal favorites.  Also Eddie Murphy, when I was six my father and uncles kicked us kids out of the house so they could watch Delirious, then they invited us back in the house when it was over and subsequently repeated all the jokes from the movie… much for protecting our virgin ears!  I’m also a fan of Andy Kaufmann, Bill Hicks, Louis C.K., Jim Norton and of course Richard Pryor.  Richard Pryor was brilliant.

You tend to do very adult material. Why have you chosen this root?

I tend to do material that I find funny, it can be clean and often times it actually is.  When I tour with Don Burnstick we make a point not to swear in our acts and so I don’t.  Not a single F-bomb in those shows.  At the open mics, which is where you would have seen me, its very unpolished.  Half the time I don’t know what I’m going to say until I say it.  I admittedly swear a lot when I talk so that will come out on stage at an open mic however, if I find something that works once I present it at a show it ‘s more polished and I’d drop any unnecessary vulgarity.  Having said that, I do still do a lot of darker material simply because that’s the material that I find funny.  I’m often told that I say a lot of things that other people only think.  The stage gives us that freedom, I can be a bit of an asshole if I want to be.

I love my children but when I get on stage I’m gonna share those day to day taboo frustrations that many of us share…..sometimes it would be nice to shake our babies…..just a little bit.

You will often stray into extremely taboo territory, including rape jokes. Why? And what is your view on the controversy surrounding these types of jokes (eg, Daniel Tosh)?

“I like rape”…..sorry movie quote again.  I used to do the rape jokes a lot more often, when I first started out I had four or five that might appear in the same show.  One time I did a joke and an entire table of women stone faced me and I thought it was funny that I lost the entire table and so the next joke (another rape joke) I told directly to that table.  I thought it was funny at the time but later that evening I thought to myself, what if the reason they were so offended was because one of them had been raped?  There I stood re-traumatizing them again out of my own ignorance.  So in shows I don’t do rape jokes anymore.  However….once again I have to say that my mind does go to some dark and twisted places.  Is rape funny, fuck no…..neither is abortion, murder, spousal abuse, ADHD, obesity, diabetes, depression and on and on but to me comedy is therapy.

As far as my view on the controversy.  I think Daniel Tosh has a right to make that joke but the audience also has the right to be offended.  People try to hide behind the “but I’m a comic I can say what I want” argument.  Yes you can, but other people are gonna call you out on it from time to time.  My opinion then is you have to own what you say.  Don’t apologize for it unless you have seriously contemplated it and believe you were wrong.  When I do religious humor I fully expect that one day some Jesus freak is gonna stab me in the parking lot.

Do you think there is anything that is off limits when it comes to comedy?

George Carlin answered this years ago with his “Rape can be funny” bit.  “If you don’t think rape can be funny, picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd.”

Humor can be found in everything, does that mean everyone will appreciate it?  Hell no, people will get offended and that is their right. As much as it’s my right not to give a shit. People get a little hypocritical when it comes to comedy, they’ll laugh at your fat jokes, maybe even jokes about child abuse or suicide but nope not Alzheimer’s because grandma has that so it affects them personally. Having said that some common sense should be used, if you’re booked to do a show for a bunch of ex prostitutes it’s probably not a good idea to tell your story about Tijuana’s red light district.

You’ve toured with Don Burnstick as part of a Rez Dogs tour. How did this come about? With the tour you have gone to all kinds of Northern communities. How has this experience been?

It started out as one of my theme shows.  I wanted to put together a show of all aboriginal comics and call it 50 shades of redskin.  Don Burnstick had done a charity show for me to help raise money for prostate cancer research so I asked him and he said yes.  Don liked the name Rez Dogs and since some other comics weren’t available we went ahead and just did the show with the three of us.  The show sold out quickly and was a big hit.  Don started getting calls from people who wanted to book the Rez Dogs and it’s just kinda grown from there.  Every time we do a show word of mouth spreads and we get more bookings.  It’s been an incredible experience.  Don and Chad are a lot of fun to travel with we pick on each other a lot and sometimes material ends up getting written just about stuff that happens on the way to the shows.  I love performing in aboriginal communities because aboriginal people have a unique sense of humor….a lot of teasing goes over well so that’s helped me to develop my crowd work a lot more.


Chris Hearn writes and posts videos for Spectator Tribune. 

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