If you’re reading my blog, chances are you probably already know that Mark DeBonis beat out the competition to take home the $25,000 grand prize at Yuk Yuk’s Great Canadian Laugh Off on Sunday night. I’m sure it was all over the front page Monday morning. Maybe if something big happened, they would bump it to Tuesday but I doubt it. Nothing interesting ever happens.
A lot of pixels have been spilled about how this was a surprise win and a tight competition, but to me there was no question that DeBonis deserved to win. He was the only comic that exhibited a genuinely original persona and style.
Now before I put my foot in my mouth I should say this: All the competing comics were extremely skilled and funny. Polished material and slick delivery were the order of the day, and deliver they did. It just wasn’t super exciting comedy.
Massimo had explosive energy. Darrin Rose had suave charisma. Eddie Della Siepe had charming likeability. Everybody could make jokes, but nobody could match DeBonis and his unique sensibilities. He broke out of the shell of club comedian and brought unexpected premises to light with ease. All comedians do jokes about relationships, in the broad sense of the word, and so the challenge is to bring a fresh approach to it. Claire Brosseau’s act centered around her cheating ex-boyfriend and despite her well crafted barbs, I found myself exhausted by all the dick jokes I had heard, both during her set and throughout the night (admittedly this was more a symptom of her going last and my server’s inability to serve me a single beer until after the last performance). Ian Peet’s jokes about how he’s glad when other things piss off his wife are old hat. Even Rose and Della Siepe, the apparent favourites to win, stuck to tried and true tropes like “Daddy Issues” and “Dating Troubles.”
(Sidebar General Criticism: I was pretty disappointed by the number of cheap stereotype jokes I heard throughout the night. I’m not opposed to jokes that have “sexist” or “racist” undertones to them so long as they’re intelligent and the payoff is worth it. Alas, more often than not this was not the case.)
DeBonis stood out because he tackled unlikely relationships, like the one between him and a newly-baptized baby or a guy he knew pre-kindergarten. You could always relate to him but at the same time, Mark gives you the feeling that only Mark could have come up with that joke. Not only has he found his voice, but he is using it in a way that will make people remember him. From the simple brilliance of lines like, “If you don’t have dumb friends, then you’re the dumb friend,” to more drawn out ideas, like the one about recording his most used phrases in case he ever loses his voice, these are unmistakably Mark DeBonis jokes. It transcends the everyday comedy audiences are used to.
Mark has that essential ‘it’ quality a comedian needs to truly connect with crowds beyond that one night on stage. And it’s not that the other finalists are incapable of that – some of them are right on the cusp of it – but on Sunday night Mark DeBonis stood out from the competition. And unlike the Canadian Electorate last night, the Laugh Off judges gave the prize to the guy that deserved it.
To see what I mean, tune into Yuk Yuk’s Great Canadian Laugh Off when it airs on The Comedy Network sometime in July (airdate to be confirmed). If you can’t wait that long check out this set of Mark’s from AltDot in March