In the absurdist world of Levi MacDougall, some Canadians will flop onto the sidewalk, gulping like fish, after crossing into the U.S.
“I grew up in Celsius air … (it’s) too Farenheity,” quipped the Calgary-raised comic, while fanning the air with his hands during a stand-up gig in Los Angeles. “Feels like I’m drowning.”
Nothing’s too far out in MacDougall’s reality. Crops can grow in concert halls, presumably tracked in by all those wheat-field-standing folk musicians. Navy Seals can breathe underwater through holes in floating Swiss cheese.
And when charities need your cash to save the planet, you can always ask: “Which planet?” then earmark your donation for Saturn.
“Oh, the oceans are polluted down here. … Well, up there, they don’t have air,” said the comedian. “Where are our priorities as a people?”
MacDougall performs with Demetri Martin, Jon Dore, and Todd Glass in the Just For Laughs Comedy Tour that stops on Friday, Nov. 7, at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.
The Ontario-born MacDougall credits having too much alone time as a child for his ability to make fantastical observations in his stand-up act. “I spent a lot of time in my head. …”
He lived across Canada, including the Northwest Territories, as his mom and step-father chased different jobs. Since MacDougall was often “the new kid,” he tried to keep his head down to fly under the radar at school. “My aim was to say only five things this year, but have them all be funny,” he recalled.
“It’d be, ‘Quick Dad, we have to move again before I say a bad joke!’ ”
Although he has an older sister and eventually got two younger brothers, for a long time he was the youngest in his family and was predisposed to spending part of each day in his imagination. “I was a daydreamer. …”
MacDougall eventually became inspired to do his “hypothetical comedy” by watching Steven Wright — the fuzzy-headed, balding American comedian and actor known for his lethargic, deadpan delivery and ironic, sometimes nonsensical jokes.
But his earliest attempts at humour were actually sparked by the Gary Larson’s quirky Farside comic strip.
“I also liked books about people that had more fantastical narratives,” recalled MacDougall, who loved the works of Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Mathilda, James and the Giant Peach), and author, cartoonist and songwriting poet Shel Silverstein (The Giving Tree, A Boy Named Sue).
After mostly growing up in Calgary, he eventually became a member of the Loose Moose Theatre’s improvisation team, which introduced MacDougall to thinking on his feet and performing in front of an audience.
In 2001, he won the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund Award for his comedy. And in 2004, MacDougall recorded an hour-long stand-up special for CTV’s Comedy Now! that went on to win two Canadian Comedy Awards for best TV writing and best taped live performance.
MacDougall, who was also nominated for a Gemini Award and Phil Hartman Award, was a founding member of The Distractions sketch comedy troupe in Toronto and was one of the comedy collective Laugh Sabbath.
He was a regular on The Comedy Network Series Hotbox and also on The Jon Dore Show in the reoccurring role of Jesus Christ.
MacDougall, who has performed across North America, lives in Los Angeles where he writes for Comedy Central’s Important Things with Demetri Martin (a former writer with Conan O’Brien’s show). He’s also assistant producing Martin’s semi-autobiographical new movie, Dean, with Kevin Klein and Mary Steenburgen.
Since he’s good friends with Martin and Dore, and an admirer of the comedy of Todd Glass (whom he doesn’t know as well), MacDougall is looking forward to this latest Just For Laughs tour. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the other acts.”
As for what audiences can expect from the show, MacDougall deadpanned: “A lot of jokes, a large amount of punch lines, a fair amount of pranks and a lot of stories on any subject. …”
Although his girlfriend and parents probably somehow inspire his humour, MacDougall said none of his loved ones need worry about their foibles ending up as exaggerated fodder for public laughter. “Anything I take from life goes through so many fun-house mirrors it’s unrecognizable.
“I take my experiences and my feelings and I morph them into absurdist material, so people around me can feel pretty safe” they won’t end up in the act, he said.
Tickets to the 7 p.m. show are $50.60 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.