Unlike some comedians, Lars Callieou didn’t get his start as the class clown, for a simple reason: he wasn’t in class.
From the age of six until he was 14, Callieou was home-schooled in hotel rooms while his parents plied their musical trade 50 weeks a year with a band called Columbian Gold Rush.
“Back then in most of Western Canada where we toured the bars were closed on Sunday. You set up Sunday and you played Monday to Saturday,” he recalls. “When you’re six, you just assume that all the kids do it that way. There wasn’t anything that seemed abnormal. Other than not being able to play organized sports, because we were in a different town every week, it was great.”
The Edmonton-based comic always had a passion for show biz, but realized early on he hadn’t inherited the family’s musical genes. So comedy became his thing.
“I collected and used to read jokes from the time I was about six years old, and I have somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 jokes memorized,” he says. “I guess I always loved comedy. I loved the editing and the bait-and-switch, and the misdirection. I always loved all that was comedy, but I never for a second thought it would be something that you could choose to do as a career.”
It was 12 years ago that Callieou took his first plunge into stand-up comedy.
“I had rehearsed in my basement 1,000 times. I’d written the jokes for months before I did my first spot at an amateur night. And from the first joke, I went, ‘OK. I get it.'”
Seven years ago, he dropped his day job with a power company because the comedy gigs were happening too frequently. He hasn’t looked back since.
“My act has travelled from Melbourne, Australia, to Las Vegas, to Dubai and Detroit. I just played the Bangkok Comedy Club in Thailand, and it was all Canadians, Brits, Americans, all ex-pats, and it was awesome.”
Since turning pro, Callieou has performed in every Canadian province and territory except Newfoundland, as well as 45 U.S. states and 22 other countries.
“I’m very good at travelling long distances now. The year before last, we did a military base in Kyrgyzstan. It took us 37 hours to get back to Edmonton, and it was a piece of cake.”
Along the way, Callieou has opened for such comic luminaries as Jeff Foxworthy, Russell Peters and the late Joan Rivers. After being on her last three Canadian tours, he has nothing but praise for Rivers’ work ethic and generosity, both to her fans and her fellow comics.
“She really cared, and she always made sure you were on all the promo. Not only were you part of the show, she made sure you were part of the event. It was quite spectacular.”
These days, Callieou’s frequent road companion is fellow Edmontonian Alex Fortin, a medical doctor who has been performing for about five years.
“A good headliner is always going to look good, but a good MC will make a good headliner look great. Alex is funny, but he’s also got enough material now that he can choose to write material for the right venue,” Callieou says.
This week, Callieou and Fortin will share a Whitehorse stage in the third annual Ride for Dad Comedy Show, to raise public awareness of prostate cancer.
This is the first year the organizers have brought in their own acts, rather than importing comics from the Yuk Yuk’s chain. The bill will also include opening sets by two local comedians, George Maratos and Jenny Hamilton.
Callieou has worked with them both on previous trips to Whitehorse. He has also showcased them, along with other Whitehorse comics such as Anthony Trombetta and Steve McGovern, on his weekly comedy show on CJSR Radio in Edmonton.
But how much longer can the 40-year-old Callieou anticipate living out of a suitcase as an itinerant funny man?
“Gosh, I probably would want to have a career like Joan, or George Burns, to be 100 years old and still at it. She was at the peak of her career at 81 when she passed away. So that question in a word? Forever.”
The Ride for Dad Comedy Show takes place Thursday, Jan. 28 and Friday, Jan. 29 at the Whitehorse Convention Centre. Doors open each night at 7 p.m. for an 8 p.m. show.