Interview: Quebec comic Mike Ward on taking over The Nasty Show at Just for Laughs

The Nasty Show at Just for Laughs with Mike Ward full lineup.

Quebec comic Mike Ward is no stranger to Just for Laughs, having hosted a dozen Galas on the French end of the festival. A certified star in Quebec, Ward has only appeared sparingly on the English side of the festival, an oversight soon to be rectified as he takes over hosting duties for The Nasty Show this summer, the festival’s hugely successful, raunchy showcase.

Taking over the reins from frequent Nasty Show host Bobby Slayton will be no easy feat, but if anyone can take over for the “Pitbull of Comedy,” it must be Ward, the self-described “Celine Dion of dick jokes.” We caught up with Ward to discuss his take on The Nasty Show, the English vs. French comedy divide, and how he deals with the over-scrutinization of jokes these days.

The Nasty Show runs from July 16-25 at Metropolis (59 Sainte-Catherine East). Pre-sale tickets are available now on hahaha.com with the promo code “Ward.” Regular sales begin Friday, March 20.

Bad Feeling: How did you land the gig as host of The Nasty Show?

Mike Ward: It sort of fell out of the sky. I’ve been doing the festival for six years, I’m pretty much a regular every year. And this year they called my manager and were like, “we’ve always sort of used Mike as like a local guy on small venues, or we’ll give him a big show but he’ll have a small spot, but this year we want to show everyone that he’s a major comic.” So they were like, “we’re going to offer something big.” I had no idea what they were going to offer. And they offered The Nasty Show, which is the biggest show at the festival, 11 shows at Metropolis and it’s huge and it’s perfect for what I do. Everything I do well in comedy I can use for The Nasty Show, and everything I’m not good at wouldn’t work at The Nasty Show anyway, so I was born for this.

Have you been a part of The Nasty Show in the past?

Yeah, I was on in 2011, I did the whole series. And then 2009 I was on for one show, I replaced Patrice O’Neal for the last night.

Have you reached out to Bobby Slayton for any tips or advice?

No, no. I’m just going to go with my guy feeling. I’ve hosted 12 Galas on the French side. I think people are going to be surprised at how comfortable I’m going to be hosting. I’m super excited, but I’m not nervous at all.

What’s the main difference between your English and French sets? Are there jokes or topics that work in one situation and not the other?

Sometimes what’s weird is that my brain really works in both languages.   Sometimes I’ll think of a joke and be like, “oh, that’s an amazing joke,” and I’ll think of it let’s say in French, and it doesn’t work, and then I’ll do it in English and it just kills. And the same thing, sometimes the other way around. Some jokes just aren’t funny for some people. Most good jokes will work both languages. The main difference is, I think for something like The Nasty Show, French crowds are easier to offend than English crowds. Just the fact that in English comedy, in the 50’s Lenny Bruce was there, so there’s been dirty comics in English for like the last 60 years. Whereas in French, the first sort of dirtier comic was Yvon Deschamps in the 60’s or 70’s, and then there weren’t that many. In English, there was guys like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks, but whereas in French, it was Yvon Deschamps and RBO, and that’s pretty much it.

In the past there hasn’t been much crossover between the English and French sides of the festival, are you looking to close that gap a little bit?

Yeah, I think we’re going to get a lot of French people, well, French bilingual people, that will come to see The Nasty Show that have never been, that are really going to enjoy it. But it’s not, and I’m trying to make this clear whenever I do interviews in French, there’s no French jokes. There’s not going to be one French joke. I don’t want to change The Nasty Show, I don’t want The Nasty Show to become a bilingual show.

Are you worried about any backlash from your hardcore French fans?

Nah, most of the French people that would get angry at something like this have died. It’s mostly older people, and those people don’t like me. My name’s “Mike Ward,” so to them I’m dangerous.

I used to really feel this sort of French / English friction, but now all the French people that were afraid of the English have evolved, and now they’re afraid of Muslims, so we’re good.

Comedians are under a lot of scrutiny for their jokes these days, does that impact how you prepare for a show like this?

No, no. In The Nasty Show you can really do whatever you want, and I’ve seen guys over the years do really hardcore shit that you couldn’t do anywhere else, and people accept it and they even expect it. The thing though that’s weird right now is, I’m doing about four club dates a week, just to really get ready for The Nasty Show, and I’m going onstage on shows where everyone’s squeaky clean, and then I’m just doing my fucking most horrible material, and I’m always afraid that someone’s going to film it and put it online, and have like one joke out of context that makes me look like a Bill Cosby.

That seems to be what happens now. You see a 20-second clip out of context and that’s what their whole set is judged on, or even their personality.

Yeah, yeah. But the thing I’ve noticed, and most comics do this, or anyway, most comics should do this, is just never apologize. Don’t even respond, because it will blow over anyway. The people that are offended are always the people that weren’t actually there. And generally, you know it’s nothing, unless it’s something like the Michael Richards thing, and even whatever context he could put that in, it’s always fucking racist and horrible, but apart from the Michael Richards thing, I think everything goes.

Are people more easily offended these days?

It used to be the people that heard your jokes were just people that paid to see the show, but now… there’s nothing worse than reading a joke. If someone films you doing a joke, someone will see it, and if they find it funny they’ll go, “oh, that’s a good joke,” and if they don’t, they’ll go, “oh, that’s a bad joke,” but if someone writes down the words you said, the person reading it in their head doesn’t have your delivery, so it screws up the joke.

Almost every joke I have, if I wrote them down or if you wrote them down and made someone read the joke that doesn’t like what I do, I look like a fucking monster, I look like Hitler almost.

Is that because you lose the context?

You lose the context, and a lot of jokes that I do work because of the way I look, because of my face. I’ve noticed that, this is really weird, and this isn’t the only reason I’m not losing weight, I’m a little chubbier than I was a year or two ago, and my jokes work better since I seem inoffensive, since I look like a chubby dude, an out-of-shape guy with a big fat happy face, that actually helps for all of my meaner material. So if I was thin and good looking I’d be more of an asshole, now I’m just a jolly, happy guy.

What do you think of The Nasty Show lineup so far?

I’m really, really excited. Jimmy Carr is amazing, Mike Wilmot is amazing, and Gilbert Gottfried, I’m so happy, so happy. I’ve been a fan of Gilbert Gottfried since I saw him on Saturday Night Live when I was growing up. The Nasty Show, a lot of people think it’s just going to be a dirty show with dick jokes, but Gilbert sometimes, what he does is wrong. All of his material taken out of context, you’d have people lining up to shoot him, so to me it’s very exciting.

Before Just For Laughs you’ll be performing at Rockfest – how do you prepare for a huge outdoor rock show?

Um, I’m really going to play it by ear, because I did a rock festival in Switzerland, and whatever you prepare, you have no idea what to expect until you’re there. I have no idea if the crowd is going to be French or English, and I’m on the show with Steve-O and Tom Greene, so if Tom Greene is doing well and everyone understands his jokes I’ll do it in English. And if not, if Tom Greene isn’t doing so well, I’ll try it in French and hope he wasn’t doing well because people couldn’t understand. I’m basically just doing it to get free tickets to see a bunch of cool shows.

Is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing in particular?

I’m really looking forward to seeing Slayer. Another one that I want to see that is totally different from Slayer is Snoop Dogg. My night is me, Steve-O and Tom Greene opening for Tenacious D, then there’s Snoop Dogg, Slayer and System of a Down, so it’s going to be a really eclectic and weird night. Comedy, metal, hip hop, there’s going to be everything.

Anything else people should know about The Nasty Show this year?

It’s 11 nights, which seems like there’s a lot, but The Nasty Show always sells out pretty quick, so if you have one show to see at the fest it’s definitely The Nasty Show. Especially near the end of the festival, because that’s when people just show up out of the blue. The first year I did The Nasty Show I was replacing Patrice O’Neal that night, and Jimmy Carr and Louie C.K. showed up to do a set. And it’s always like that. The other year I did it, the last show I couldn’t do it, and then Daniel Tosh stepped in. The last shows are always the best because you might get a Chapelle, you’ll get a big star that will pop in. It’s a really, really good lineup.

The Nasty Show runs from July 16-25 at Metropolis (59 Sainte-Catherine East). Tickets range from $42-$60, and are available now on pre-sale using the promo code “Ward.” Regular sales begin Friday, March 20 via hahaha.com.  

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