You gotta be bold if you’re going to speak publicly for a living and to present your own opinions. Particularly for comedians who are in the spotlight these days, and are the group most likely to have their career ruined based on those opinions. Whether an audience agrees or not, these are the people who are willing to go on stage with a microphone with the intention to just find laughs and the truth. The true standup is the modern storyteller, the raconteur that has been so important in our history in sharing ideas and stories that are different than our own. To put us in the middle of a scenario that we would never be able to place ourselves in had it not been shared by someone willing to let us into their life. These are the people that should be getting rewarded not silenced.
Canadian comedian Mike Ward has wrestled with government authorities who have tried to sanction him for presenting his opinion to entertain others. In his latest comedy special “Infamous”, Mike shares his continuing fight with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Mike’s expert storytelling transports the audience into his world- one that goes far beyond most of our life experiences. In his first English language special Mr. Ward is not apologizing, he’s not justifying –-he’s just telling us… “Listen to this crazy shit that happened to me”. And it’s fascinating.
The Interrobang: The special seems to be a comment on the media. But you’re also talking about your story. You’re not looking to justify or explain anything that happened. You’re just telling a funny story about what happened, hoping that people with common sense will get on board.
Mike Ward: Yeah, A couple years ago when this started happening in comedy and people were offended for stupid shit, it felt like as a comedy fan, comedy might be dying. I see in maybe the last two years, that people get really happy when they hear people talking like this, because they’re like… Hey I’m not the only one who still likes this type of humor… I’m not the only one that gets that you can do a rape joke and not be a rape apologist. I think you should be able to make fun of everything.
The Interrobang: It was a pretty bold move to make your situation the main topic of your special.
Mike Ward: Yeah, well there’s no hiding when you have to go to court with the Canadian government. And we lost, so right now we’re under appeal. I wanted the story to be available on my special the day the verdict comes out. I want people to be able to Google me when they see the verdict on the news and be able to hear my side of the story. The way I have always done things, and I think most comics are like this, is if I have something to say… I’ll do it more on stage. I will always tell my side of the story, and there’s truth in there, but I will always make it funny. So I wanted people to know that I’m not just some asshole who went to court with my government. I’m also a half-decent comic.
The Interrobang: Do you think things may be swinging back from this PC fear that has been so encompassing over the past few years.
Mike Ward: I think that we definitely are. For comedy fans going to see shows a couple years ago I feel like a lot of comics were holding back, because they were afraid they were going to get into trouble. Now I feel that Comics have almost gone fuck it… if you don’t think we’re allowed to say this or do this, F you I’m going to do it anyway. I think those specials are the ones that I like the most, and are the ones that comedy fans like the most. Like Joe Rogan’s last special, I think was perfect for the time. This is what we needed after everyone talking about Hannah Gadsby nonstop. That was nonstop for like six months, then I saw Rogan’s special on Netflix and I was like… there’s still real comedy out there.
The Interrobang: You shot your special with an intimate room and a live audience. Some of the other alternative specials took another direction, and it seems like most successful comedians react with the attitude of “If people want to watch them and like them… that’s fine, but we’re going to continue to do what we’re doing over here, so don’t let that bother you.”
Mike Ward: Yeah that’s the way myself and a lot of other comedians feel. The Hannah Gadsby thing… I didn’t like it… but I get why some people would. It doesn’t feel like comedy to me. I want my special to feel like comedy. I wanted people that hate me, or think that they’re gonna hate me to watch my special and go oh shit this guy is really funny. I wanted to hate him, but he’s really funny. If you listen to the bits I’m not a bad dude, and I didn’t want it to feel fake. A lot of the time it will be someone’s first special and they’re in a room in front of 4,000 people… and you’re like fuck you, that’s not real. That doesn’t feel real. I’m part owner of Le Bordel comedy club here in Montreal, so we taped it there. It’s a small room, and since it’s a little bit edgier here and more raw it has sort of an old-school feel. So I wanted kind of an old-school look, everything worked out perfectly… except for it not being on Netflix.
The Interrobang: During the special, you it said something about wanting to become more mainstream, was that just played for laughs or is there any truth to it?
Mike Ward: No, no… that was just for the joke. I thought there was something funny about me saying I wanted to become Ray Romano. Like whenever you Google me, it’s always something about me going to the court. Last week the media in Canada picked up on a story where I had done a show for the Hell’s Angels. So, every newspaper in Canada wrote that Mike Ward is an honorary member of the Hell’s Angels. There’s something funny about that to me… a guy when you Google him, it reads.., “Well he made fun of a kid, he went to court with the government, and he’s a member of the Hells Angels” … then it says “He wants to be Ray Romano.”
The Interrobang: “Infamous” came out a few months ago on Amazon Prime. Did you approach Amazon?
Mike Ward: I originally pitched it to Netflix because I recorded two specials, one in French and one in English. I wanted them to drop the same day and I figured Netflix will be the best place to do something like that. So we pitched it to Netflix and they were interested in the French one, but not the English one. So we were like fuck it …I wanted them to be available at the same place. We wanted to get them out there, so I was even thinking YouTube, but I wanted to at least kind of break even. We put them out on Vimeo, both on the same day. Then the English special was released on Amazon just in the states and in the UK. It’s weird because Netflix just wanted the French one and I was like Fuck you, I’m only putting the English one on Amazon.
The Interrobang: Did you see a lot of response to the double special that went up on Vimeo.
Mike Ward: Yeah I did, I was happy that we pretty much broke even already. This is my first English language special, and I wanted people to see it was available if they Googled me or saw me somewhere, so they could have my stand up to watch. I could have done it for cheaper, but we filmed it in 4k… so in 10 years if I watch it again I didn’t want it to be an embarrassing quality. I wanted it to look halfway decent.
The Interrobang: You’re a name that comedy fans know, but people may not be familiar with a lot of your material because it was mainly in French. You’re very well known in French Canada, but there’s only a small crossover to the U.S.– so with the English language special I’m sure you’re starting to see a lot of feedback from English speaking fans.
Mike Ward: Yeah, I started to see a lot of response right away. Since I have a show on Compound Media, and I went on Anthony Cumia’s show to promote it, I got a lot of the Compound fans to see it on Amazon. That’s also one of the reasons why I wanted it to be free in America. People who have known me for several years know it’s going to be good, people that like me will like it so they will be willing to pay. For someone who has only heard me like one time on Anthony’s show or one time on Joe Rogan’s podcast, aren’t going to spend money to give it a chance. That’s why I wanted it to be free. Especially now that everyone’s special is free… so if you are getting Dave Chappelle for free, why would you pay for Mike Ward?
The Interrobang: You’re probably tired of this stuff by now, but you have become kind of a touchstone for how comics react to getting into trouble. You’re the only person that people can look to and say “Well Mike Ward has gone through it, so maybe he can help me out.” Do you find when something like this happens to other comedians; they reach out to you and ask your advice?
Mike Ward: Any time this happens to any comic, sometimes they reach out, sometimes they don’t. But I always reach out to them. There is something very bizarre about the way the world is right now. If something happens to you as a comic everyone talks about it on social media for a couple of days, and in your mind the whole world is talking about you. But then a day later everyone on the internet forgets… but the one person that doesn’t forget is the comic that got shit on. So they go out and think everyone hates them. So, I always tell them to lay off social media for a couple of days, because you’re not going to be able to defend a joke on Twitter. Just lay low for a couple of days, and then try not to let it change you.
The Interrobang: I’m sure that comics are appreciative when they are in the middle of that storm to hear from somebody that has going through it.
Mike Ward: This usually happens in Canada or in the UK; because I think the audiences here are a little more sensitive than American crowds. A few years ago when my thing happen, I couldn’t help thinking that Americans are so lucky because you have the First Amendment to protect you… but American comics can still lose everything. They lose everything just because some joke has set off social media right now, so the First Amendment isn’t really protecting comics at all in America right now.
I think most people now get that it’s a mob that is always outraged by everything. When I saw the Kevin Hart thing, I didn’t even think what did Kevin Hart say? I was just like okay…. these fucking people again. But the good thing is… the people that like comedy see that it is all fake outrage.
The Interrobang: Do you still see the continuing support of the comedy community?
Mike Ward: Yeah, I have gotten a lot of love… and a lot of support. Most surprisingly from people that I knew of, but I didn’t think knew me… which was weird. Even though it seems like free speech has become almost a right-wing thing in the last couple years, I have also gotten a lot of support from people on the left. This summer at Just for Laughs, a friend said “Hey Jim Carrey was talking to me about you.” I was like Jim Carrey knows who I am? There was something very weird and touching about that. You know there’s this great comic I’ve never met, but who was supporting me from afar… I was touched by that.
The Interrobang: You’re also with Compound Media doing the “two drink minimum” podcast. What has your tenure been like over there so far?
Mike Ward: It’s been really good. When we started doing the show that Artie Lange was still with Anthony. Just before Dave Landau came in, we started doing Anthony’s Friday spot. We do it from here in Montreal, it’s me and a comic named Pantelis. The first time I met Pantelis I remember thinking, fuck, he has a very New York City sense of humor. I thought if I ever do anything on radio or any type of podcast, I want this guy to be a part of it. When I received an offer from compound media to do a show… I didn’t want to go down to New York, because I like living here in Montreal. I needed someone in Montreal to do this with and right away thought of Pantelis.
The show has been fun; the Cumia fans have been really supportive. That’s the thing about Anthony; he’s sort of loaning out his fans to other people. Plus, the thing I really like about Compound Media is that our podcast… while offensive… it’s not crazy offensive. It’s not a very political show; most of the shows on Compound Media are kind of political. Our show is more just about comedy… just hanging and laughs. I was worried at first, because when Anthony’s fans don’t like something they are very vocal, but we started to get some great feedback.
Everyone that I talk to just seems super happy about us being on the platform. I think any controversy was just perceived and not real. I think Anthony’s getting way less backlash than he was. He just did a bunch of LA podcasts and people really liked him… all the comments were great. People really like him, because he’s just insanely funny. No one is better at Radio than Anthony Cumia.
The Interrobang: Considering everything you have been through in your case with the Canadian Government, is there any positive way to spin your situation for the future?
Mike Ward: There is one thing that I would like to get out… because I feel like if I put it out there I will concentrate on actually getting it done. Hopefully, if we talk about it here it’ll open up the conversation and I can start talking about in real life. I want to start a fund for Comics or entertainers that get sued for performing their art.
I was lucky when I got sued that I had a bit of money, so I was able to defend myself. Most comics don’t have any money to defend themselves. I would like to start a fund for the next person or people that are going to get in trouble because of a joke, and would like to get it started in 2019. I want it to be a global thing, so if a comic from Seattle or if a comic from South Africa gets sued I would like there to be some money to help them. This way, they can defend themselves, and they won’t have to apologize for a joke that they shouldn’t apologize for. They also don’t have to go bankrupt trying to defend themselves. I’ve been saying that I want to start this fund for the past year-and-a-half; the only problem is that if it’s not out in the public eye, I start to forget about it. People will ask if I have started it yet, and I am like damn not yet. So let this be the announcement, let’s start this thing to help give our fellow comics some support to freely perform without worry.
Mike Ward’s first English language special “Infamous” is available on Amazon Prime. Mike’s podcast “2 Drink Minimum” is available on Compound Media.