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Canadian Comedian Chris Betts is Coming to Nottingham Comedy Festival

1 November 16 words: Ali Emm

He's made the UK his home and is currently putting the finishing touches to his new show, Bewilderbeest. We caught up with Chris Betts ahead of his show at Sobar for Nottingham Comedy Festival…

Bewilderbeest is a new show, have you smoothed off all the rough edges?
I’m piecing it together right now, it’s half done. I did it a couple of times last year in Leicester and in London, and I figured out the rest of while working across Canada.

So Sobar will be one of the first audiences to see it in its full glory?
In this form, yeah. The jokes have been worked out in clubs and different nights, but this will be the first time together as one piece. I don’t think I’ve ever done a gig for people who aren’t drinking. It’ll be good to see how much booze factors into my laughs. It will be awful if I’m only funny to drunk people.

What can people expect?
I called it Bewilderbeest because I don’t understand why people do things. I find preferences fascinating and a bunch of the show is about people preferring things without any reason. Like, the whole world, we have no time for left-handed people. Everything is right-handed or too bad.

After stalking you online, you seem to be one of life’s observers. Is that where you get most of your comedy from?
Observation and too much analysis – I spend a lot of time in my head, I’ll see one thing happen, and I’ll think about it too much. That’s where most of my jokes come from. The left and right thing, I was thinking about how you say, “This is the right one, and this is what’s left”, and being able to say, “I’m on the right side.” Left is always a little bit reticent.

That’s deeper than I’ve ever thought about it, I guess it goes back to the etymology of the words...
Words are powerful. I have a lot of word analysis in the show. Like, why is it ‘not guilty’ instead of ‘innocent’? I’ve written jokes about it, and asked lawyers and stuff, and I still don’t get it. Nobody has been able to explain it to me. You’re either guilty or not guilty – innocent until proven guilty, that’s the foundation. It seems strange to me.

Finding yourself in your own head a lot, do you ever get really amused by something and then start to wonder if you’re the only one that finds that thing funny?
Everyone else seems to see one thing, and my brain perceives another thing first. My girlfriend thinks it’s adorable. I came to terms with being odd from a very young age – now I just really enjoy it. It’s nice when other people have a similar weird to you, it’s the basis of a lot of great friendships and relationships. The fun for me is taking something that I know that people don’t agree with, and then making people agree with me through my joke. Even if they don’t agree, they understand why I think it.

What prompted your move to the UK – Montreal is supposed to be lovely...
It’s such a fun city, but the UK has got the best comedy scene in the world right now. Canada is huge, but we only have seven major cities. In the UK you have so many big cities and medium-sized cities all a couple hours away. And the British sensibility of comedy is different in a lot of ways: character acts, the more theatrical and vaudeville style – we don’t have that in Canada. One of the biggest culture shocks was how much you guys love puns.

I can’t deny it...
It’s so funny. Every time a Canadian comedian comes over and we see a pun-comedian we think, “What the hell is going on?” As a stand up, you have to go out and see things, experience them and report back. When I was gigging over in Canada I talked a lot about you guys.

Behind our backs!
I do it to your faces as well…

Despite the pun thing, did you find moving from another country difficult with the humour difference?
My dad’s from Manchester and my mum’s from Dublin, so I had a hand up in that way because I grew up with that dryness and sarcasm. It’s burned into my psyche. I arrived and was like, “Oh, I’m home. These are my people.” Everyone in Canada is so nice all the time, and so earnest. I like that you aren’t.

We’re nice on the surface… How did you find the rest of Europe humour wise?
They totally get it and they’re all on board, so as long as I’m not doing jokes about Greggs or something specific, they all get it. There are really cool scenes emerging all across the Continent –  there’s gonna be some really great comedians coming out over there really soon. Most of the countries are only, like, five years into the stand up, so they’re just starting to be good. It takes about five years to be a good, ten to be really good, and twenty to be great. It’s fun because you’re never done, as long as you keep writing you’re never bored. I started when I was 26, so knowing I’m not gonna be great at this until I’m 46 is a hell of a thing to know.

You’re getting there!
For better or worse, there’s no stopping it.

For comedy festivals, do you hang around and check out the competition – are you someone who enjoys watching comedy?
I love it so much. I go to see as many shows as I can. I love watching acts that have nothing to do with my stuff. Like Spencer Jones, he has a character called Herbert who’s sort of Mr Bean-ey. On paper, I would hate that. But going to see him live is a delight. I used to be really competitive, with sports, but I love that in comedy it’s impossible to compete because everyone is so different individually. You’re just competing with yourself to see the best comic you can be.

What sort of comedy were you into as a kid?
I was a huge David Cross fan. George Carlin, Billy Connolly, Eddie Murphy. I loved him. I knew those albums off heart. If someone gave me half of one of his jokes I could do the rest of the show from there.

What happened to Eddie Murphy’s stand up?
He got kind of too famous. It was impossible for him to work out new material, which is the core. He was so famous that even before smart phones, before the show was over, people were telling other people about his material, so it stopped being fun for him. Some of his jokes don’t really stand the test of time politically. He’s undeniably funny, but we’re going back thirty years now, they said a lot of things that just aren’t cool. We discuss who is ok to listen to and who isn’t – we can’t get over what Woody Allen’s done or what Bill Cosby’s done, you just can’t go back and listen to those albums anymore because it’s ruined the person so you can’t laugh at the jokes. With Eddie Murphy, the main stuff was gay people. But the way that he talked about it compared to other people at the time, I wanna say that he was trying to make in-roads without doing it, but it’s tough.

I used to really like Woody Allen’s stand up but I’ve not listened to that for a good many years now because of the sexual abuse claims. Anyway, I don’t wanna end on a downer. Anything else you wanna say?
I don’t know how to convince people to come and see anything. I really like my jokes. You get a good idea of what I do from my Youtube videos, so check them out and if you like them then come, and if not, enjoy the festival.

Bewilderbeest, Sobar, Wednesday 9 November, £5.

Chris Betts website


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