Canadian Shaun Majumder is the hot new comic in Hollywood. You might recall seeing him on his one-hour CTV comedy special, On the Edge with Shaun Majumder, which was nominated for a Gemini Award in 1999. Or perhaps you caught him when he toured with Second City, or performed at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal.
Majumder's the short, good-looking guy with the charming smile and a tendency to bounce around and kick a lot on stage.
Tonight, he'll be headlining a comedy cabaret at the Rivoli in Toronto, for Raising the Roof, a national charity organization for the homeless. He returns to Canada hot off the heels of his taping schedule for Cedric the Entertainer, a popular new comedy-sketch series on Fox TV. According to the buzz, Majumder has already been pegged as the show's breakout star.
Big deal, you say. Another Canadian comic to make 'em howl in the United States. We export more funny guys than softwood lumber, it seems. Perhaps. But this is definitely the first time we've ever exported a "Pewfie."
"Yeah, you know," says Majumder. "Half Newfie, half Paki."
"My dad is from India, my mom is from Newfoundland," Majumder told the sold-out audience at LaffLines, a comedy club in New Westminster, B.C., where he performed last weekend. "I'm a mix of the two most ridiculed people in the whole world. I'm a friggin' Pewfie."
And darn proud of it. "We need more mixed people in this world," he continued. "So the next time you see a person darker than you, go and hump him."
Majumder doesn't have any qualms about using the "P" word. He sees political correctness as a silly exercise in semantics. He'll admit he gets away with his ethnic humour, partly because he's dark-skinned himself. But mostly, he adds, it just comes naturally.
"I upset people all the time because I'll say the "N" word on stage."
"No," he says with a laugh. "Nigger. It's just a word. I'll use it so many times that it becomes ridiculous. And then people see how silly it is to get upset by it."
It didn't seem as though anyone in New Westminster was very bothered. Whether he was poking fun at the tyranny of "fraudulent boobies" in Los Angeles ("Why don't these women just scoop out the tissue from the part of their brain that controls self-esteem and stuff it in little silicone bags?"), or getting a rise out of Muslims in the audience ("How was your Christmas?"), Majumder had the entire audience in stitches.
"He's my hero," exclaims Dustin Ladd, an amateur standup comedian from Vancouver, patiently waiting for the adoring fans to move out after the early show, so he and his friend can corner Majumder with their hand-held digital camera for the independent documentary they're making. "I've never seen a standup get mobbed like that," Ladd adds. "I think part of his appeal is that you never know what he's going to say next."
"And he's just so cute," exclaims a woman passing by.
His beginnings as a standup comic were rather inauspicious, Majumder explains to the documentary makers, after he shuffles them out of the dark lounge and into the men's bathroom to capture some light.
"When I was in high school, I was very involved in student theatre," he explains, leaning on the urinal. Majumder, 31, was born in Toronto. His parents separated when he was 3, and he grew up in the small town of Burlington, on the Baie Verte peninsula in Newfoundland.
"Someone suggested I try out for a comedy talent night. My English teacher really encouraged me. Her name was Mrs. Hymen -- true story. Anyway, I had no jokes, I was just making stuff up. It was horrible. And there was Mrs. Hymen, at the back of the audience. 'Wrap it up,' she kept mouthing to me. 'Cut. Get off the stage -- now.' And she was the one who had encouraged me."
Majumder didn't give up. He kept getting back on stage, when he attended Dalhousie University. When he moved to Toronto, he started amateur nights at Yuk Yuk's. Nine months later, he was promoted to feature performer.
"I always took chances and did weird stuff," he says.
Three years ago, someone from CBS saw him perform at Just for Laughs in Montreal. The network gave him a retainer, $60,000 (U.S.) for a year, but never did find a TV show to fit him. The next year, he was hired as a sketch player to shoot the pilot episodes of The Ellen Show. He was let go on the third day of rehearsals.
"I was devastated, for about an hour," Majumder deadpans. "I'm sure I was a little bit green and not giving them what they expected. But you have to put it in perspective. I had one line in the pilot. And I still got paid."
He returned to Canada and spent a year doing commercials and touring the country doing standup. When his visa finally came through, he went back to the U.S., whereupon he was hired almost immediately for Cedric the Entertainer, a pilot that was picked up for a full series this year.
Being a Newfoundlander has probably helped him get ahead in the U.S., says Majumder, who doesn't speak with a Newfoundland accent normally, but lays it on thick in his standup routine.
"The people in Newfoundland use humour in everyday life, from 89-year-old women to two-year-old kids. They learn how to jib and jab with each other and make each other laugh. So because of that, subconsciously, when you leave there and you're still in that vibrant, flourishing place, people say, 'Whoa, what are you? Where did you come from?' "
His work in the U.S. has also forced him to let go of his Canadian sensibilities, especially when it comes to ethnic humour. Majumder recalls balking when his producers asked him to do a sketch called Osama Bin Johnson.
He received the notes the night before they shot the sketch. The first line read: "Enter Shaun wearing a turban and a long, flowing gown, looking like an al-Qaeda member." Cedric (one of the Original Kings of Comedy) was to play a security guard at a nuclear power plant. Majumder was applying for a job.
"I immediately went into shock when I read it. This was shortly after Sept. 11. I said, 'I am not going to do this. This is not at all representative of who I am, as a Canadian.' I talked to the producers, . . . explained my hesitation.
"They said 'Yes, we know exactly where you're coming from. We had this discussion with Jim Carrey so many times.' But this sketch, they said, had came from the very top. One of the network presidents thought it was hysterical. He wanted some edge to the show and said it had to go in."
As the producers explained it to Majumder, it was only one sketch and it's comedy. "It felt really good to just let go, otherwise I'd just be going crazy if I thought everything didn't match my ideas. I didn't compromise. I brought everything I had to it and played the part superintelligent. This wasn't just a stupid Arab guy. And it turned out to be really good."
Majumder says he'd like to inject more political satire into his standup. "But most of the time, I just want to be silly and stupid. I know how to do that well. And it's so much fun to do." Shaun Majumder appears at 7:30 and 9:30 tonight at the Rivoli, 332 Queen St. W., Toronto. Call: 416-872-1212.