Stand-up comedian Levi MacDougall, best recognized as the ‘hapless guy’ from the Rogers Wireless commercials, returned to his old stomping grounds in Calgary earlier this month for the second annual YYComedy Festival.
MacDougall was recently declared one of the top three alternative comedians by New York Times Magazine, ranking alongside comics like Andy Kindler
Alternative comedy refers to comics who perform in venues that are not part of the typical comedy club scene, such as small theatres and coffee shops, and attract the “comedy nerds.”
MacDougall recalls an old joke about the scene: “what is alternative, the alternative to comedy?”
“The clubs are now more open than they used to be, and there’s not such a divide of alternative rooms and comedy club comics,”
“The line is kind of blurred, in a good way,” he says.
MacDougall says he always wanted to be a stand-up comedian. When he lived in Calgary, he joined the Loose Moose Theatre Company twice.
The first time was in 1991, when he was 14 years old. He left after two weeks, having felt intimidated by the more senior improvisers.
“I was just an insecure kid.” says MacDougall.
MacDougall returned to Loose Moose three years later and remained there until 2000, when he and three other guys from the theatre moved to Toronto to go to school together.
At the time, Toronto’s Humber College had a one-year post-graduate program on comedy writing. It was in Toronto where MacDougall hit the stage as a stand-up comic for the first time.
“It was a good city to learn in.” he says.
MacDougall explains he was surprised when he started to find that the comedy scene in Canada was so small.
“Before I moved to Toronto, I just assumed it would be so huge and intimidating, and in some ways it was, but then you realize in comedy it’s such a small scene and after a few years you get to know pretty much everybody.”
“It’s a great excuse to get back.” says MacDougall, who travels from his home in Los Angeles to Canada every now and again to shoot another TV spot. He adds that being recognized from the commercials is a “great way to find Canadians”, since he lives in the States.
MacDougall now makes a living as a writer for Important Things with Demetri Martin, and frequently tours with Martin as his show-opener.
Martin approached him after seeing a video of his set from the Comedy Death Ray alternative show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles.
“I held off for a year and a bit before putting it online, not wanting to burn off my jokes.” says MacDougall.
Martin had been looking at writing packages when he stumbled upon the Death Ray clip about half a year after MacDougall posted it online. He was asked by Martin’s head writer to put together a package for them shortly thereafter.
MacDougall has been writing some screenplays with Martin as well, ranging from bigger “more epic” to “smaller, more shootable, indie” stories.
Before I moved to Toronto, I just assumed it would be so huge and intimidating, and in some ways it was, but then you realize in comedy it’s such a small scene and after a few years you get to know pretty much everybody. – Levi MacDougall
He has also been tinkering with a 1973 Volkswagen Thing in his spare time for the past few months.
“I remember looking at them when I got my licence when I was 16 here in Calgary, and it was just so impractical to have a permanent convertible in the winter. I remember thinking ‘I’ll just wear a jacket all the time! I’ll be fine, it’ll be an adventure!’”
He will be hitting the road again in October, when he will tour with Martin for five days in New York.