One of Canada’s most gifted, young comedians topped the iTunes Comedy Charts last Friday (June 15) with the release of his sophomore album, Nincom2oop. Hunter Collins is unique in the robust Toronto Comedy Scene as he’s equally respected by peers for his work in sketch and stand up comedy. Among his fans are Kids In The Hall alumni, Scott Thompson who’s described Collins as “hilarious, clever and a brilliant writer.”
Originally from Montreal, the multi-talented comic has performed both disciplines at festivals and in theatres and clubs throughout the Great White North. While a move to New York or Los Angeles is likely immanent, Collins is currently content living free of tariffs in his homeland.
Interrobang spoke with Collins about his experiences in the different comedy genres, advice for comics looking to cross over and comedians who inspire his work.
The Interrobang: Where did you start first, in sketch comedy or stand up?
Hunter Collins: I had originally planned on following in my father’s footsteps: working for the circus as the guy who cleans the monkeys’ feet before they do their cha-cha routine, but the hours and the cerebral diseases grew tiresome. I formed a sketch troupe with some college pals and started doing stand-up essentially at the same time. I was 19 and hungry and was still experiencing the effects of “monkey tremors”, so I had plenty of energy to do both.
It’s hard to hit your groove when you’re new at stand-up and don’t know your voice yet, so it was even worse when it was six guys in a sketch troupe. We had some really great premises, like this one sketch about a personal injury lawyer called “The Lawyer Who Hates to Lose”, and the joke was that he’s actually lost every case he’s taken on, but he really hated it. The execution was a little shaky.
The Interrobang: What do you like about sketch comedy vs stand up comedy?
Hunter Collins: Stand-up is the most beautifully simple form of comedy there is. You’re your own writer, director and actor, and that control factor feeds my aspirations of becoming a humble god to the groveling proletariat I perform for. But with sketch, you get that team sport vibe and you don’t have to use cheesy stand-up adages like, “What would happen if Danny Trejo was a dental hygienist? I guess it would go, a little something… like this…”. You can just start the sketch at a Mexican dentist’s. Then, after the sketch show, you and your fellow troupe members can all shower together and see where that leads (I always bring champers and Astroglide).
Having both outlets is primo ’cause let’s say you write a sketch that’s too monologue-y, you can probably tweak that into a stand-up bit. Conversely, I had this one stand-up bit about how it makes me cringe when I see a breakfast sandwich called a “bacon n’egger” on account of the N-E-G-G-E-R spelling, but it never really popped on-stage. So I reshaped that into a sketch for Nincom2oop. Being able to transfer those jokes to a fast food joint setting with two characters taking opposing viewpoints vitalized the material.
Unfortunately, it’s hard as hell to get paid doing sketch comedy. Stand-up is easier to produce and sell to an audience. On the flip side, there aren’t a lot of writing gigs where you get hired to write stand-up for other people, so I think you see more sketch writers working for TV because of that.
The benefit of doing both is that the disciplines feed each other. Being a proficient sketch comedian helps you commit harder to your act-outs when performing stand-up. Being a proficient stand-up helps you fill your sketches with clear-cut laugh points. I find a lot of sketch by acts that don’t do stand-up to be a little meander-y and safe; the kinda stuff the French would really like. I grew up idolizing raw and volatile stand-ups like Dave Attell, whose every second bit is about jizzing boner-dildos. I think the boner-dildo element is missing from a lot of sketch these days, so I’ve tried to fill that void with Nincom2oop.
The Interrobang: How do stand up comedians compare to sketch comedians.
Hunter Collins: The sketch world tends to have a lot more goofy virgin nerds in it, whereas stand-up is filled with angry, crusty, incel types. Either way, lots of people not getting laid in both worlds.
It really is a bit of a “vampires VS lycans” relationship between sketch comics and stand-ups. I think the two groups resent each other largely because they aren’t good at the other’s job. It’s a jealousy thing. We get on each other’s nerves; stand-ups are always shoehorning some glib bit about matching up with their mom on Tinder mid-conversation with you and sketch comics are always jumping into some wacky character mid-sentence and trying to get you to play along in their sick, infantile fantasy. You’re not a “policeman chipmunk”; you’re an adult trying to play make-believe with me in a Burger King and it’s embarrassing.
I also find that sketch comedians invest their professional energy more productively. Stand-up can make you complacent because you’re out there seven nights a-week getting laughs and it can give you the false impression that your job is complete. Whereas sketch comedians are lucky if they perform more than a handful of shows per week, so they fill their off-time by putting writing packages together, auditioning for commercials and being total sell-out jackals, which really helps them get ahead. That explains why so much TV comedy is quirky and banal – because it’s quirky, banal sketch comedians applying for and getting the writing jobs, even though I think stand-ups are better-honed joke writers.
Interrobang: Which elements from stand up cross over to sketch? Sketch to stand up?
Hunter Collins: Both formats lend themselves nicely to escapism or poignant social commentary. But I feel like it’s easier within a sketch show or a sketch album to showcase more tonal variety. The audience is just more supple that way. Nincom2oop has nuttier tracks like this one about a woman who’s hiding a minotaur in her basement, but it also has a track that asks “what do you do when marginalized people are assholes,” and it isn’t jarring when you go from one track to the next. If you perform stand-up that’s more on the sillier side for 20 minutes and then switch into a staunch opinion piece on the Middle-Eastern refugee crisis, sometimes the crowd won’t go with you on that.
The Interrobang: One of your album’s sketches was set to animation. What was that like?
Hunter Collins: It’s a wild-ass fourth layer to my work; you write the sketch, then the cast flabbergasts you by taking the script to a level you never envisioned, then the sound engineers add a wondrous soundscape that blunderbusses you to your core and finally, the animator makes some artistic decisions that gangleflart you straight to Hell. It’s a feeling I would describe as watching your infant child make their first primo-to-the-max jokes.
Having walked through the process myself now, I’m like, what’s the big deal about getting cartoons made? Frankly, it seems so intuitive when you have all the right players involved.
The Interrobang: Who are some comedians you look up to that are successful in stand up and sketch?
Hunter Collins: Ricky Gervais, although not really a sketch guy, is such a funny comic actor and a brilliant stand-up as well. I think stand-ups knock him because they feel like he didn’t “grind” his way to the top. I hate those “grinder purists” who think they’re better than you because they bombed 38 sets at cat cafés and peyote farms this week. End of the day, Ricky Gervais is funnier than every single person I’ve spoken to who hates him. Scott Thompson from Kids in the Hall – whom I consider myself lucky to call a friend now- is one of the ballsiest stand-ups working today and I think his stand-up might become more iconic than his sketch work. And I love SNL alum like Kevin Nealon and Laura Kightlinger’s stand-up, and Bob Odenkirk is probably pound-for-pound the funniest cross-disciplinary comedian of all-time.
The Interrobang: What advice would you give to a sketch comedian looking to do stand up? Stand up comic looking to do sketch?
a) I’d tell sketch comedians looking to do stand-up that cute, quirky and banal does not work here. You need to dictate to the audience exactly where the laughs are. There’s no “moving the scene forward” or “letting the character explore”; be funny now and often or fuck off.
b) I’d tell a stand-up looking to do sketch to clearly establish the setting of their sketches right off the bat. Sometimes you forget to do that and only at two minutes in does the audience realize this sketch is taking place inside Susan Boyle’s placenta.
The Interrobang: What’s your ultimate goal in comedy?
Hunter Collins: Is it too much to wish that Nincom2oop inspires an entire nation to embrace me as their king and shed all societal norms in favor of burning down the corporations and converting our day-to-day life into a non-stop orgy of the strictest carnal kind? If yes, then writing for a show like Conan or Saturday Night Live would be mondo. As soon as I shake off these “monkey rickets”, I’ll get them my portfolio.