If you looked up in Time’s Square earlier this month you would have seen the comedians of the world billboard, if you looked a little bit closer you would see Dave Merheje’s name. The New York-based forged in Toronto, comic was one of the four comics selected to represent Canada in Netflix’s ambitiously mammoth collection of specials that began streaming New Year’s Day. Beautifully Manic is a meticulously assembled ferociously delivered 30 minutes that resonates with passion heart and confliction about everything from societal anger to his Lebanese father’s methods of dominance and youth soccer hooliganism.
Canada being included in the comedians of the world specials did an important but not often made distinction between Canadian and American comics. The Toronto scene especially which historically has been a farm team of sorts for american writer’s rooms and has caused a bittersweet scenario to be played out time and again people get good. They leave and sometimes they forget where they came from.
This is not true for Merheje on a cold Toronto evening at the end of December. The people who watched him come up are happy to see him. The sold-out show Dave and friends at Comedy Bar felt like not only did Dave remember the Toronto scene but the pieces he carries with him helped him find his path to where he is now. “L.A and New York stand up scenes are of course obviously bigger. Yet skill-wise Toronto holds up. Toronto comics usually have a certain confidence in who they are. We have some amazing talent here. We shouldn’t let the fact that we’re Canadian knock us down this is a very vibrant powerful scene. I’d put it up against any scene in the world.”
The love and pride for Dave was delivered on his home coming show like only comics know how with more than a few roast jokes in more than a few shades of blue, defamatory anecdotes and contrastingly serious declarations of love as if the world will end that evening.
Despite the celebratory tone of the show his work ethic remains focused. The next night he takes the stage at redwood comedy a 30 seat venue set-up at a East Toronto circus school after hours. With the same manic candor the world has now seen he gets 30 strangers who are sitting too close to each other to think and laugh. Merheje Is a comic whose influences pushed him to aspire rather then emulate. “Pryor was my favorite and I felt like he was just being himself that’s what I wanted to do. You have to just try to be yourself. Like not exactly myself, but I tried to develop this heightened version out there.”
When reflecting on the career accomplishment of a international special he once again keeps close what got him there. “For sure there are times when I haven’t been confident I remember all the lows and all the times I didn’t feel good about myself. Or I didn’t feel like I was distinctive as a comic. I try to find confidence in remembering that it wasn’t always like this. I vividly remember and feel those times.”
Yet ultimately he feels the opportunity is a result of preparation and sacrifice. “ It took me a long time through anger to realize that nothing is promised. You can be chasing your dreams and doing comedy every day but the simple reality is that you are just not promised anything. Now I do feel very greatful ,very proud, very happy because I did put in all that work. I’ve devoted my whole life to comedy so of course I did not take a moment of my time in Montreal for granted It was as if I was an athlete and Just for Laughs ( where all the specials were shot) was a championship game. That’s the mind-frame I was in.
Mid interview one of the audience members discreetly tries to pass him a $20 but with Merheje gratitude is never discreet. Once he returns from thanking the generous patron it is if the gesture has propelled him into a reflection on a roll call of comics he is grateful to have shared Toronto stages with. “There’s so many comics from Toronto people should know about Patrick Hakeem, Nick Reynoldson, Keith Pedro, Chris Robinson, Sandra Battaglini Phil Luzi, Natalie Norman, Moe Ismail, Nick Martinello, Arthur Simeon,Jen Sakato, Jarret Campbell, Hunter Collins,Juliana Rodrigues, Aisha Brown basically everyone in runnin at the mouth and Ali Hassan who host’s LOL on the the CBC who I have toured with.”
The balance of cautious self interruption and ernest work is most evident when explaining how he feels about this special versus his pervious one Good friend Bad Grammar which was self-released on Vimeo and was shot at The DRAKE hotel in Toronto. “The negatives always creep up before the positives for sure. I did it! I worked my ass off for it. I put it out Netflix was amazing. It was a dope process. Anything after that is out of my control. I’m super proud of what the half-hour is”. He may be a comedian of the world but right now the beautifully manic mind of Dave Merheje seems to be experiencing a moment of feeling at home.