Lars Callieou's Funny Business

Comic calls E-town an oasis for people living off the avails of comedy.



Lars Callieou says he’s one of the cleanest comedians in Edmonton, but what we want to hear are his dirty jokes — his nastiest, most repulsive bit that doesn’t just cross the line, it cuts through it with a chainsaw. We (the eavesdropping woman in the café and I) want to hear what the 7,000 American troops in Iraq thought was so funny when he performed for them during a 12-day U.S.O. tour.

Callieou drops his head in shame, squirms, turns to her and asks, “Want to hear the dirtiest joke a comedian has? I apologize …”

“I love dirty jokes,” she tempts. “Go.”

He unleashes an unprintable 15 seconds of chauvinism that leaves the woman so embarrassed she’s speechless.

That’s one bit he doesn’t want posted on YouTube because it could cost him church gigs or, worse, corporate gigs, the bread and butter of Alberta comedians. “Alberta corporate gigs are inflated compared to the rest of the world,” he says, then explains how supply and demand allows an Edmonton or Calgary “mid-level comedian to out-earn somebody from Toronto or Vancouver, probably by at least twice as much.”

But the 35-year-old Callieou is above mid-level. Three months before 2010’s U.S.O. tour, he filmed a solo episode of Comedy Now! Last July, he headlined Detroit’s 31-year-old pre-eminent comedy club, Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle, and added his portrait to a wall of past headliners that includes Tim Allen, Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno.

Then there was good fortune’s pièce de résistance, his first show at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival, where he was the only comedian from Edmonton. That invitation was somewhat dwarfed, he says, because he got the news while he was on a U.S. army base in Kuwait. That overwhelming experience reminded him, “I’m just a guy telling jokes.”

Despite Callieou’s growing international popularity, this “guy telling jokes” sticks around in Edmonton, which he calls an “oasis” for comics. He hosts the CJSR show, Kamikaze Komedy, now in its fifth year, every second Wednesday night. On Sunday evenings, he hosts the weekly comedy night at the Druid Irish Pub. And on weekends, he usually lands a paid guest spot opening for a headliner at one of four comedy clubs in the area, which, he notes, is twice the number in Toronto or Vancouver.

“Any time I don’t have a paid show, I’ll just try out some new material at an open mike night,” he says, giving yet another reason YouTube and cellphone cameras have made stand-up comedy a sticky business. “If you’re working on material, you don’t want unfinished, unpolished work to be on YouTube because it’s not done yet.”

More than a perfectionist, Callieou is a “professional-ist.” He spent eight years of his childhood on the road with his musician parents, who sang the 1979 Canadian hit “Part Time Country Star.” “Watching my parents respect each show, no matter how many were in the audience — it was never about the empty seat, it was about the full seats.”

As an homage to them, his just-released album is called Part-time Comedy Star. (extralars.com)

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