Men We Admire: Jeff McEnery

Born and raised in Acton, Ontario Jeff McEnery was inspired to get into comedy by his high school drama teacher who knew that although he was shy, he loved to perform. She encouraged him to apply to Humber College’s Comedy: Writing and Performance program, and Jeff has since starred in feature films Dog Pound and Camille where he shared the screen with Hollywood’s James Franco, Sienna Miller and David Carradine.

In addition, Jeff was a cast member on the Comedy Network’s Hotbox and has made guest appearances on Covert Affairs, The Jon Dore Television Show and Naturally Sadie. Jeff’s own short film Behind the Funny has aired nationally on The Comedy Network.

Since becoming the youngest performer to headline for Yuk Yuk’s, Jeff has made appearances at the Halifax Comedy Festival, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, the Hubcap Comedy Festival in Moncton, the Cottage Country Comedy Festival in Muskoka and the Global ComedyFest in Vancouver.

In 2005, Jeff won the prestigious Tim Sims Encouragement Award and followed that up by winning Yuk Yuk’s $25,000 Great Canadian Laugh Off in 2006, and Best Stand-Up Newcomer at the 2007 Canadian Comedy Awards.

Inspired at an early age by comedy legend Richard Pryor, while on stage Jeff shares stories about his personal life, beliefs, faults and insecurities.

Name: Jeff McEnery

Age: 29

Occupation: Comedian and Actor

Stats: 5’10, 175 and I’m gonna guess 26% body fat.

Sports: Hahaha good one. In Grade 5, I came in second at target toss. I suck at every athletic endeavor that doesn’t involve throwing bean bags through hula hoops though.

How did you get started on your current career/lifestyle path?

I had a drama teacher back in high school who got me into plays and the improv club. Then I found out about Humber College’s Comedy: Writing and Performance program so I applied and thankfully was accepted. I say thankfully because if I hadn’t been accepted I don’t know if I would’ve ever had the guts to try stand up. I also met people at Humber who I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life.

Did you have any mentors who helped steer you on this path?

Tim Nutt and Chuck Byrn. My second ever pro show was with Tim. He took a liking to me and started requesting to work with me. I learned so much from watching him kill for an hour every single night. Then when Tim left Yuk Yuk’s, I started working with Chuck. Chuck is just like Tim in that he’s a brilliant writer and performer who never has a bad set. Both those guys were wonderful to me. They’re also talkers and I’m a listener so the car rides worked out well too.

How has your work contributed to a) your development as a person and/or b) the lives of others?

This job means the world to me. It’s given me so much more confidence and an outlet to express my emotions. I don’t have to pay $75 to tell a therapist about my shitty day, I can tell a room full of people about it for free. I love my job when I’m not touring Northern Alberta and I’m so lucky I get to do it for a living.

If you had one piece of advice for someone just entering your field, what would it be?

Just don’t be a jerk. You can make it a long way in the beginning of your career with simply a car and a pleasant disposition. If you’re a jerk though, word will spread like wildfire and pretty soon people you’ve never met will be refusing to work with you.

Do you have a personal work philosophy?

Rip the room apart or you’ve failed, which is why I don’t just have bad sets I have complete meltdowns haha.

What do you do for fun?

Heaven for me is drinking a rye and coke, listening to country music and playing crib with my buddies Brian or Steve or drinking rye and coke, listening to country music and talking hockey with my buddy Mike.

What motivates or inspires you?

Buying Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was the best five bucks I’ve ever spent. It’s a phenomenal documentary that showcases her relentless drive. I watch it every time I need a kick in the ass.

What has been your greatest achievement?

I remember watching the new episodes of Just for Laughs every summer on CBC. Mike McDonald, Jeff Rothpan, Larry Miller, I can still recite their sets off by heart, so getting to perform at Just for Laughs this year was a dream come true.

As far as personal achievements go, I’m a really good brother to my little sister.

What is the one thing you hope to achieve?

It’s hilarious because my goals are completely contradictory. I want to star in movies and TV shows then after I’ve done that I want to live on a dairy farm in the middle of nowhere with my wife, kids and a couple of old farm dogs. I grew up on a farm and I miss it more than anything in the world.

Jeff's Comedy HeadshotWhat is your super power?

I can disappear from any social gathering within four seconds.

Who’s your hero?

I wish I could tell you it wasn’t Hulk Hogan, but then I’d be lying. I’m a huge wrestling nerd and a lifelong Hulkamaniac. I even own Santa With Muscles, in which Hulk Hogan has to save an orphanage from the evil Ebner Frost, played by Ed Begley Jr. It may be the worst movie ever made.

What are you reading (or watching) these days?

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and by that I mean I’m reading nothing and watching Dateline.

Any advice, anecdote, villain story, funny story, joke, recipe or life lesson you’d like to share with our readers?

There used to be this terrible open-mic in Toronto when I first started at the Victory Pub. The mic was situated right in front of this huge window that offered a view of the street and bypassing Torontonians. Since the audience consisted of the same twelve open-mic losers every week nobody ever got any laughs. One night a comic named Rob Balsdon stuck his head out the window and struck up a conservation with one of the people on the street and it actually cracked everybody. Unfortunately, what happened was then the open-micers all got it in their heads that “If that Rob guy can kill doing that then surely I can too.” So half way through their sets, after all of their sh*tty jokes had tanked, these guys would panic and start hollering out the window. Inevitably some curious person would look peak their head in the window to see what the hell was going on. At that point the open-micer would start riffing with them for about 40 seconds before the bystander would become disinterested and walk away.

For reasons I can’t explain now, perhaps either dedication or stupidity, I went to do a set at the Victory Pub on my 20th birthday. Victory Pub was its usual horrible self but the night was made slightly more bearable because a few of my college buddies accompanied me that night. My friend Will even got up and did a set – and died – like everyone else. I had an okay set though, probably because my friends were nice enough to fake laugh for me on my birthday. As my set came to a close I decided that I should do a hilarious window bit as well. But instead of simply to talking to somebody, I should climb out the damn window and walk onto the street. That’d get a hell of a big laugh. Well I did and it didn’t. So now here I was on some street in Toronto having just crawled out of a window for a cheap laugh which never appeared. So I thought to myself, “The hell with it. I’m not going back in there.” I couldn’t face everybody after making such an unfunny, grand exit. So I just walked around in circles outside the Victory Pub for the next half hour until the show ended, leaving my friends stuck at this terrible open-mic not knowing the whereabouts of the asshole that had dragged them there in the first place.

Thinking back to a time when you had to make a hard choice, how did you decide, and do you feel, in retrospect, that you made the right move?

I took a break from stand-up in 2011 and enrolled in the Vancouver Film School’s Writing for Film and Television program, which costs a ton of money. I was getting a little burnt out from stand up though and knew I needed to get better at script writing. I definitely think it was the right decision because my screenwriting did improve and just like Humber I came out of the program with some amazing new friends. Taking a year off definitely reinvigorated my passion for stand up as well.

If you had it all to do over again, would you change anything?

I really am shy so the social stuff is hard sometimes, but I’m better at it now than I was ten years ago. I can hang out in bars until last call, ask women out and (begrudgingly) socialize with strangers now. I couldn’t do that until just a couple of years ago. I wish I would have challenged myself to do that earlier because my list of “Crazy Stuff I Did in My Twenties” is going to end up being a lot shorter than most people’s. I’m always going to be introvert and I really enjoy being by myself but I wish I would’ve forced myself to get out the house more.

What’s next for you? What’s your next big idea, project etc.?

I wrote a pilot years ago with fellow comic Trevor Boris that I rewrote when I went to film school. This week he just called to tell me that the production company he’s working for is interested in it. I’ll be punching that up and pitching it with him. I would love to get that show on the air. I’m working on getting my green card as well as I think that it’s time I made the jump down to Los Angeles.

What one piece of advice would you give to your own son (hypothetical or otherwise) in the hope of making him a better man?

I’d tell him to take chances.

Jeff McEnery on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JeffMcEnery

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Jeff McEnery on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffmcenery