The Van Mag Q&A: Kevin Banner

Sunday night, he opened for Bill Burr at the Orpheum. On Monday, we caught up with him

So, you got to open for Bill Burr Sunday night. What was it like to get the call letting you know that was going to happen?  It was pretty exciting, because obviously he’s one of the best comics around. I guess they submitted a couple of us for his management team to go over—just YouTube clips—and then on Tuesday I got the call at about 6 p.m. that they’d picked me. I was thrilled to get the chance to work with one of the best.Did you get a chance to talk to him before or after the show?Yeah, we talked a little bit before, and in between shows we hung out for about an hour. We shot the breeze about all sorts of weird stuff, and he ended up talking about it a little bit on stage. He was a really, really good guy—I’m sure he recognizes how other comedians view him, and he put me at ease. He reminded me a lot of an uncle—but the cool uncle.You’ve opened for Doug Stanhope and Norm Macdonald before. What’s it like to watch these guys do their thing?It’s amazing to get the chance to watch from side stage. Even locally, there are comics who are on another level, and then you see people like Stanhope and Burr and Norm and they’re on a level beyond that where they’ve just mastered it. To sit back and watch that? It’s pretty special. And then to get to hang out with them after and be treated like a comic…. It’s just such a thrill to get to work with people that I’ve admired for so long.The Orpheum’s a big room. What was that like?That’s by far the biggest venue I’ve gotten to play. When I worked with Norm it was at the Vogue, but there was two or three times as many people there last night for Burr. The sound, when I introduced him, I couldn’t believe. It was like a jet engine going off. I’ve been to Metallica concerts before and it’s not that loud. I think it’s because everyone in the theatre is facing the same direction, but when I said, ‘You guys know who you’re here to see,” it was thunderous. I couldn’t hear myself saying the rest of his intro.Are you studying him when he’s up there and looking to pick up tricks of the trade, or are you just in the moment? Just in the moment—just enjoying what he’s doing. Comedy is my favourite thing in the world, so I’ve studied plenty of it over the years. Now, at this point, to sit back and watch a master work the craft is special.Are there any other big-name comedians you’re hoping to open for in the near future, or is it just about taking the opportunities as they come?It’s always fun to get to work with a big name, but there are a lot of local comics too—Graham Clark or Ivan Decker—that I’d be much more excited to work with. But when a big name like Burr comes through who’s also extremely talented, that’s the best.What’s the comedy scene like in Vancouver right now?The Vancouver comedy scene is extremely supportive, and it’s very strong. You travel around and you see other cities or hear about other scenes through podcasting, and I think we’re very lucky here. It’s a great place to become a strong comic and then move somewhere else to make bigger money or a bigger name. But it’s a great scene—there are so many talented people here. That’s especially why I feel lucky to have been given the opportunity or even be in the running to open for Bill, just because there are so many strong comics in Vancouver.Do we have a good sense of humour here, generally speaking?Vancouver can be a little tight, just because we’re very liberal. I think we overdo the empathy a bit sometimes where people are offended on behalf of somebody else. We hear a buzzword and kind of shut down rather than hearing the context of the joke. Vancouver crowds can be amazing, or they can be very tight—and a comic like Bill even dealt with some tightness last night, and he commented on it. To me it didn’t seem like they were particularly tight, but when you’re coming from a different city where they’re not that uptight then yeah, you’d definitely notice it.It must have been fun to watch him navigate that tension, since that’s where he tends to make his living as a comedian–that space that makes some people uncomfortable.Absolutely. Everything about it was great—he is a master, and he played the crowd like an instrument.What’s next for you?On February 4th, 5th, and 6th I’m working with Phil Hanley and Erica Sigurdson at the Comedy Mix. Phil Hanley is a Vancouver guy who moved to New York about four or five years ago, and he’s made a few late night appearances and just had his own Comedy Central half-hour special air nationwide in the States. He’s a great guy, and I love working with him—and the last few times he’s played in Vancouver he’s requested I work with him, which really means a lot to me.Other than the obvious money issues, what’s the biggest obstacle standing in the way of making the kind of leap that Phil Hanley did to somewhere like New York or Los Angeles?Well, like you said, it’s the money, because getting a work permit costs a lot of money and it’s a long process. I know a friend of mine has been working on his for a little over a year. He’s very funny, he’s got a lot of credits and worked with a lot of big names and has a lot of big names supporting him, and yet it’s still tough for him to get his paperwork through. You kind of have to have a number of people down on that side of the border going to bat for you, so it’s just a matter of making contacts and continuing to work and write and develop your act.Is that leap something that’s in your future? I don’t know. It’s a big leap. It’s a scary proposition, because you’re going down there and you’re starting over, basically. I’m in a relationship so it’s tough, not only to get a work permit for one person but for two, and to just pack up and jump off the cliff. It’s definitely something that I think about, but I still haven’t decided which path to take.