The first time I saw Rob Stalkie take the stage, I could tell he was a natural.
And now, only one short year later, this young comedian has fought through some of the toughest competition to be crowned the “Last Comic Standing” in the Yukon.
“I don’t know if I’m the Yukon’s funniest,” says Stalkie. “It was a tight competition … but it sure feels nice.”
Throughout the past few months at Coasters, veteran comic Chris McNutt has been hosting the Yukon Comedy Showdown, an elimination style, stand-up comedy tournament. Before a host of judges, each comic stood and delivered their best, culminating in a pitched battle before a jam-packed house.
The finale, however, wasn’t a comedy cakewalk for Stalkie.
“Tristan (Hopper) was on fire”, says Stalkie of another finalist. “He was coming out with amazing new material. Watching him, I leaned over to a friend of mine and said: ‘I don’t think I’m going to win’.”
However, the judges, who now included some of the previously eliminated comics, unanimously crowned Stalkie the Yukon’s funniest. While bragging rights are certainly included, the main prize supplied by Coasters was plane tickets – certainly we can all agree, a prize worth fighting for.
Fresh off this victory, Stalkie isn’t about to rest on his laurels. In fact, I was interviewing him over the phone in the Calgary airport, a short stop on his way to Toronto, where Stalkie will be working on his comedy career in earnest. But he won’t be alone as fellow competitors George Maratos and Steve McGovern will be joining him.
“Once I get there, it’s on my shoulders to get out there and be seen,” says Stalkie. “George, Steve and I registered with Second City for intro stand-up courses. With that, we just have to hit open mikes and see what happens.”
I asked Stalkie of the possible differences between performing comedy in the North and “The Centre of the Universe”.
“In Whitehorse,” says Stalkie, “you have two weeks to craft your act, but with the same audience showing up, you can’t use it again for another six months. In Toronto, I can tweak the same act for larger audiences and different venues. It will give me more chances to adjust, so the next time I get on stage I’ll know if I have something good.”
While being interested in comedy, it wasn’t until he moved to the Yukon that he tried his hand at stand-up.
“My Dad used to play the classic albums,” says Stalkie. “Carlin, Cosby, Pryor – all those guys. I’d go see some shows in Ottawa, but I didn’t get the nerve until coming to a place like Coasters.
“I’d see you, McNutt and Claire Ness be on stage and inviting people up. There’s like seven other people in the bar and you’re like: “Go nuts, man.” It was so non-threatening.”
With comedy and humiliation going hand-in-hand, why would this young man bank his future on such an uncertain career?
“Making people laugh,” says Stalkie. “It’s the bread and butter. The buzz from that is what keeps me going.
“Through the competition, I had so much stuff to do with the move, plus stressing about material, I wondered: Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like? Then you get up on stage and you’re like – yeah – this is it. I’ve already decided that I’m prepared to suffer quite a bit. I want to make something of myself.”
If my opinion is worth anything, the very fact that it has taken only a year to get to a professional level, I think we’ll be hearing much more from Rob Stalkie in the future.
“Coasters and the entire competition was really special to me,” says Stalkie. “It really felt like a genuine comedy club for once. I want to thank the whole gang there, Keith, Erica, Jonas and Chris – it really meant a lot.”
While Stalkie will be staying in Toronto for the long term, he certainly anticipates a return to the Yukon.
“Well”, says Stalkie, “I did win a free ticket back.”