He’s a stand-up comedy star in Australia, New Zealand and in his native Scotland, and a sell-out, story-telling sensation on the festival circuit from Melbourne to Montreal.
Edinburgh-born Danny Bhoy, 38, is touring theatres currently across Canada – his second national tour – and he’s played the big gala gigs at the Just for Laughs festivals here.
Only one question remains: Who does Bhoy think he is?
You’re big in Canada, and you’re playing Massey Hall as part of your national tour. But you’re not a household name. So, I ask, with all due respect, who are you, comedy-wise?
When I was younger, I used to sit at the end of the bar in my uncle’s hotel and enjoy just listening to people tell stories. I also grew up listening to people like Billy Connolly. That kind of comedy isn’t forced – it never feels contrived. It’s people telling each other stories. You meet in a pub or a club, and you talk.
So, Scottish people and drinking. That’s not just a stereotype?
Scotland is a bleak place for six months of the year. It’s dark when you get up, and it’s dark when you get home. So, there’s a huge pub culture, with people going for drinks after work. I grew up working in pubs.
It doesn’t sound like the healthiest environment.
There’s a dark side to it, don’t get me wrong. But there’s a hominess to it as well. People coming in after work, one after another. It’s like Cheers.
Right, where everyone knows your name. Who are you again?
I do talk about myself more in my act than I used to. There’s more me now. But I’d rather feed that out over time, rather than do a deep, open-hearted show about my life. For me, you still have to make a room full of people laugh – go away with a sore stomach and a smile on their face.
With some of the one-liner comics, we don’t know them at all. Do we need to?
You’re right. You know nothing. Those comedians leave me cold. Some of them are brilliant, but after about 20 minutes I think, “Okay, I’ve got this now. I know what it is.” And for club sets, it’s fine. But for an hour, or, in my case, 90 minutes, you can’t just do jokes all the time. You can keep an audience for hours, even if they’re not laughing, if they’re genuinely interested in your stories.
A young British comedian’s goal would be to do Edinburgh Fringe. An American comic might aim for The Tonight Show. Does that explain the different style of comedy we see in comedians like yourself, as opposed to the American gagsters?
Absolutely. In the States, it’s top-down, rather than bottom-up. You get a TV slot and then you work from there. In the U.K., the thing is getting your own show at the Edinburgh Fringe.
You don’t do the edgy stuff. Why not?
I think that kind of comedy flourishes when people are sick of comedy, almost. So they want to be shocked. It was a trend for a while. I found that with a lot of comedians that were doing it, I didn’t believe it. I saw it as an act, and I don’t think that’s what comedy should be about.
You think that the confrontational comics aren’t real?
Sorry. I should say that if that’s the person and that’s the comedy, that’s another thing. With Lenny Bruce or Bill Hicks, it felt genuine when they talked very explicitly about their sex life or the things they cared about. But there are some pretenders as well.
It’s fantastic when it’s done well. A guy like Tonight Show correspondent Jim Norton, for example.
I actually get a lot of criticism from the Scottish press for not doing the dark, dangerous stuff. It upsets me. That’s not my job.
What is your job, then?
I like the uniting side of comedy. I like the fact that you can bring your gram to the show, and you can bring your 14-year-old. That’s fine by me. A bit of fun. A bit of respite. Job done.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Danny Bhoy plays St. John’s, Tuesday and Wednesday; Kingston, Friday; Ottawa Saturday; Kitchener, Ont., Sunday; Windsor, Ont., March 14; London, Ont., March 15; Toronto, March 16; Hamilton, March 17; Winnipeg, March 20; Saskatoon, March 21; Medicine Hat, Alt., March 22; Edmonton, March 23; Regina, March 24; Calgary, March 27; Kelowna, B.C., March 28; Victoria, March 29 and 30; and Vancouver, March 31.