by Andrew Wantuck
This week I talked to Ian Bagg. He is a wild, off the cuff, intelligent, and one of the fastest, on-stage, wits the comedy world has seen in years (think Jonathan Winters or Robin Williams in terms of style). He has his own 1/2 Hour Comedy Central special, has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (several times), and on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn and Craig Ferguson. We spoke about how he will fight you for a trophy, his midlife crisis in Toledo, and why Comedy Clubs are better than regular Theaters.
Andrew: Being a guy that has interviewed people himself, on The Ian Bagg Show, what do you think makes a good interviewed, rather than a bad interviewer?
Ian: Someone that is curious, naturally, I think. I think honestly, you get some interviewers, and they feel that the person they are interviewing is a way to get back to themselves, if that makes sense.
Andrew: Sure, so put the onus on the interviewee, as opposed to making it about the interviewer.
Ian: Yeah. Like, I think Jimmy Fallon is really bad.
Andrew: I really look to Letterman, myself, he is one of my favorite interviewers. I really feel like he lets the conversation occur naturally.
Ian: Yeah, he doesn't interrupt just to interrupt. Sometimes he does, but for the most part, he asks a question and he wants to hear what the answer is. It's amazing how many people ask question and don't really want to hear the answer.
Andrew: Now, you did The Ian Bagg Show for approximately 3 years. What would you say you learned from that experience.
Ian: I learned how tough it is to do something without any financial backing. I learned that I love it. That's one big thing that I learned. That I love asking questions and doing what I do.
Andrew: Now since you have been working, and not doing The Ian Bagg Show in that format in a little while, how do you keep those skills sharp? Because The Ian Bagg Show is a little different than stand-up itself. Do you have an outlet where you can work those parts of your brain?
Ian: Well, I've been working TBS quite a bit, doing man-on-the-street stuff, every so often I'll do stuff for Youtube.com, and I do random street stuff for Last Call with Carson Daly and TBS.com, TNT.com, I actually did a pilot that involves asking questions, a pilot for a game show.
Andrew: Now did you create that, or asked to be the host?
Ian: No, I auditioned for it and got it.
Andrew: Oh, that's great! And what's the name of it?
Ian: America Knows Movies.
Andrew: And what is the premise behind it? That America knows movies?
Ian: [laughs] Yeah, America knows movies. Actually, I can't really give out the exact [premise] because it still actually has a chance at being sold.
Ian: I don't want to jinx it.
Andrew: Ok. So, I know you're an avid hockey player. What position do you play in hockey?
Ian: Well, now that I am old, I play whatever is available. Except for goalie. But when I was younger, I played defense.
Andrew: Were you the kind of guy that landed in the penalty box quite a bit?
Ian: I had a tendency to sit in the penalty box. Now that I'm old, I don't really go to the penalty box that much. But I do still do stupid things every so often. I played hockey today, and was talking to a friend about it. I go to have fun, unless there is a trophy involved, because I really like trophies.
Andrew: [laughs] That'll bring the rage out?
Ian: Oh yes. The fire still burns deep for a $10 piece of plastic.
Andrew: So, tell me about you're writing style, Ian Bagg. Do you pen and paper your jokes and then bring them to stage, or do you discover a lot of your material on stage and then work it into your act? Can you tell me about that process?
Ian: It's a little bit of both. I do write down subject ideas, but I'm not one of those guys that writes down how to set-up punch-lines exactly. I am one of those guys that sees something and writes down a subject. Like today I was watching TV, and I am really confused by that guy that asks you to send in your gold and he'll send you money back. I just think, "Alright, that's interesting." So something may come out of that. But also, and once again, it goes back to the interviewing, I'll ask a question on stage, and something will spin out of that. So I write off stage and on stage. I just don't write in a flushed-out manner, most comics write it as a script.
Andrew: So do you have bring napkins on stage with random doodles you thought of throughout the day?
Ian: No, once in a while I do, but for the most part, I'll just have one or two ideas in my head I want to talk about. And they may work, and it may not work. It is just one of those things that I have to do, I keep writing on stage and then just flush it out.
Andrew: Was there a moment in your life where you knew that this was going to be your career path, or was it a gradual place to get where you are now?
Ian: It is something that I have always wanted to do. I always wanted to a comic. I just keep steamrolling. Hopefully it is not finished steamrolling. Funny that you bring that up, because I was having a mid-life crisis last week. [laughs]
Andrew: Whoa, back-up! Tell me about your mid-life crisis!
Ian: My mid-life crisis. It was just one of those things... I was in Toledo, Ohio and I was just kind of second-guessing things. I was just like, "Huh, interesting".
Andrew: And did you actually have a panic attack? Tell me what it means to have a mid-life crisis.
Ian: Well, I sat up in bed one night and thought, "Oh my God, I have to be dead one day. And I don't want to be dead one day. I've got stuff I've got to get done!" That's what I think a mid-life crisis was for me. Umm, I'm happy, but I'm not satisfied with what I have done yet.
Andrew: So did you made a list of what you want to get done? Where do you start after that?
Ian: I'm pretty sure I know what brought on the mid-life crisis though. I had some deep-fried food before I went to bed. [laughs] I pretty sure that is what brought on the mid-life crisis panic. Ummm... it happens. I want to make people come to the comedy clubs because I am there, not just to see [any] comedy show. I want them to show up when they know that I am going to be there. I want them to come see me. That is what I feel success is. And I want to keep playing comedy clubs. I don't want to move to theaters like Jim Gaffigan and Daniel Tosh. I like playing comedy clubs and being in them. I have a great time. I love seeing people be served food. Things that can't happen in theaters can happen at comedy clubs like the breaking of a bottle, somebody yelling out something, getting too drunk, something stupid like that, I like that kind of stuff, the unknown of what's going to happen. But I would like those people to be there to see Ian Bagg, for the good percentage. That's what I think success is. Oh yeah, and have my own TV show and be rich.
Andrew: That's interesting, that was going to be my next questions. Is it a monetary thing that defines your success? Because 99.99% of all comics out there would say that you're already hugely successful.
Ian: That they are already successful?
Andrew: No, that YOU are! You're a headliner! You name is in the marquee everywhere you go. You've had your own half hour on Comedy Central, you've done The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I mean, you've done some major milestones that thousands, tens of thousands of comics aspire to do. To me, it is a relative question. Is it monetary success, then you'll know you'll have it? Is it being recognized on the street?
Ian: It's not monetary, but of course, who doesn't want to have money as I'm writing my tax check. [laughs] Who doesn't want that? I'm not rich, but I'm not poor. I live as well as my friends that I grew up that who are working normal day jobs, I'm at or above middle class. Which is pretty cool for a guy who talks about his nuts.
Ian: So, even though I had a good time in Toledo, I don't like going into shows and hearing from a DJ, "Ok, I don't know who you are, this is how our show works, and if you're funny, we'll keep you on." And it's like, well, that's awesome that I'm being told that by a guy who does radio in Toledo. I just think, "Well, you're f***ing on the edge of success."
Ian: It's obviously respect, but it's also a little bit financial. I never got into stand-up to do TV or to be an actor. I got into stand-up because I love stand-up. But I think TV and acting helps out, in that one hand feeds the other. So I want to do that to help that out. And hopefully it can be in a talk show form or game show form. We'll see what happens.
Andrew: Now, I know you are originally from Canada, near Vancouver, right?
Ian: Well, about 700-1000 miles north of Vancouver.
Andrew: Oh. So a pretty good ways away from there! What was the name of the city?
Ian: Terrace, British Columbia. Which is just named Hockeyville.
Andrew: Now what are some of the differences between your hometown and America?
Ian: When I was a kid, sometimes we didn't get let out at lunch because there was a bear running around. And I've never had that here. Although, I've had a gang guy tell me, "Yeah, but you couldn't get killed." and I said, "Well, yes, we could get killed by the bear if we didn't pay attention." But the difference between being in a gang and killed by a bear is that a gang won't eat you afterwards.
Ian: Until your enemy becomes so tough that they eat you after they kill you, I think we are pretty equal.
Andrew: In terms of the development of your stand-up, you spent some time in NYC, and then came out to LA. If you could chart your career path, would you do it exactly the same way? Or would you change anything?
Ian: No, I would have started in New York, I might have stayed in New York a little bit longer. I would have like to have gotten out of Vancouver quicker, that's all.
Andrew: When it is all said and done, way past mid-life crisis, your last breathe, what do you want your legacy to be? What do you want people to say about you?
Ian: I know this is going to sound lame, but that I did it in my own style. That when I went walking to be a comic, I made my own footprints. I didn't follow in anybody else's. Even though in the beginning I was inspired by people, I'd like to think that I walked off and did my own thing in my own style. Sometimes, people were frightened of it, and scared of it, looked down on it a little bit, but for the most part, they respected it, that I did it my own way.
Andrew: Now, that leads me into another question. You, to me, have a wildly original style, the way you intertwine crowd-work, then material, then back to crowd-work, I've never seen any of your shows be identical to another one, ever. And I've probably watched your show well over 100 times. So to me, that is pretty pioneering. Is there someone that has done that that you have seen that you thought was great that way, or do you believe that you're on of the first guys to do something like that?
Ian: I don't think I'm the first guy, I know Jonathan Winters was very much like that. I think everybody has got a little bit of that. But I think I take it to the extreme the most. Robin williams I guess kind of did it. But after I've seen what he has done, I don't believe that he does it as much as it looks like he does, making it seem all original. Kind of planted.
Andrew: Ok. Do you have a memory of a show that was just absolutely on fire, one of your favorites ever, or the complete opposite, that was just an absolute trainwreck from the beginning?
Ian: I've had lots of trainwrecks. And I've had lots of great shows. After they are done, they just kind of get filed and I move onto the next one. I believe that if you're going to think you are amazing, you also have to think you are shit. If you read one good report, you also have to read the bad report. I just kind of keep it all in the middle. I never go, "Ohh that was awesome!"
Andrew: The Comedy & Magic Club. Can you tell me how it's similar, how it's different, if you like it, if you don't like it, what is the deal with The Comedy & Magic Club?
Ian: I have a love-hate relationship with The Comedy & Magic Club. My love-hate is that I think it's a great club. It makes me works harder than any other club because it's kind of conservative, you have to hold back a little bit, some people would say it is censored, I'm not saying it is censored, but I'm not saying it is not censored. I think there is a little bit of candy-schlack-over-top of what is really going on, but at the same time, that's the club, that's the way the club is. I have had some great shows there, I have had some shows that I really wish I could have gone further on, and I haven't just because of the way the club is. I really like it, honestly. It makes me work hard, and every time I go on stage there, I second-guess myself, and I really need that in my life