31 Jul Stories of Starting #2 Montreal Musician turned Comedian Ben Cardilli
In this episode of Stories of Starting I talk to Montreal musician turned comedian Ben Cardilli.
Intro: Welcome to the Stories of Starting podcast. I’m Heather Boyd. As a self employed artist for the last 30 years I’m fascinated with people’s passions and creative projects. In this series we discover how people like you have started new projects by thinking outside the box, going with the flow and tapping into their childhood imagination.
Heather: So we’re here today with Ben Cardilli, guinea pig for podcast number two. There we go.
Ben: I’m allergic to Guinea pigs.
Heather: Oops. I hope that’s not true! So Ben, tell us who you are and what you do.
Ben: My name’s Ben Cardilli and I’m a stand up comedian. It’s hard to say that before you’ve been in the Just for Laughs Festival. But at the same time this year I was, as you saw, in the audience. They put me so many times on the megatron (the big screen). I think I have the credit now. I think I can say I was part of it Just for Laughs Festival. I had a good spot , lots of visibility.
Heather: Exactly. I took a photo and we caught you and your friend at a perfect moment.
Ben: That’s it, us giggling our asses off at something probably horribly inappropriate. A lot of parents and children walking away, but we were very excited. It happens.
Heather: So Ben this series is all about stories of starting. How people got started in their different things. I’ve known you for quite a few years. We met at, I think it was one of the very first vernissages at the Viva Vida Art Gallery. Yes. She opened 10 years ago in Pointe Claire Village.
Ben: It’s so funny because before we even met, I had bought some of your art.
Heather Oh, how cool, I remember that!
Ben: You were making a wire cards. Actual cards with physical metal wire on top of them. And I bought one for my then girlfriend, now wife. It was really sweet. It was a dancer. She was a dancer at the time. I got her this card and we still have it framed.
Heather: That’s amazing and it was foreshadowing because I actually made the cake topper for your wedding.
Ben: Exactly, how crazy is that?
Heather: So what I want to talk about is, I knew you always as a musician. My daughter Mimi and I, we used to always go to your gigs, even in little dive bars. I mean sometimes we were the only ones that showed up.
Ben: Sometimes you’re still the only ones that show up!
Heather: I remember one particular gig at Cajibi, a funky little place, in the back of a coffee shop. You were doing acoustic or something. But I remember what struck me was your stage presence. And I remember your rapport with the crowd. You were joking, always one liners and jokes. And then I noticed it at the different events we went to, when you were with the band and when you did your own thing.
Ben: Yeah, they hated that. That is actually one of the reasons I started because I’d be with the band and we had a set time and we’d have a set prepared. Between each song I’d introduce the song, but I’d sometimes just get into just being awkward and being weird with the audience and stuff. And they always be like, do that on your own time. And was like, you know what, I will.
Heather: Isn’t that hilarious because that’s what struck me as being your powerful stage presence. So I just thought it was amazing. Another funny story was, I remember when you guys launched your new band Dull Boy.
Heather: Mimi and I laugh about this all the time because I remember you guys set up outside The Pioneer and we were sitting there and we were watching you. And I remember you had to announce like the new name of your band and I remember you said it with such disdain, this is Dull Boy. I just thought, oh my god Ben, that’s so funny! Anyways, you outgrew that band.
Ben: Yeah, I did. Yeah. Pioneer. Those were good days too, playing music at The Pioneer. I remember those were the first times I ever got to like tell jokes. It was just things off the top of my head because I was always playing. I remember one particular time the place was packed and it was a fundraiser for an animal shelter and it was completely full. All these people were hanging on every word. And I was like I’m really happy to be here. I really love animals. I had a burger just this afternoon. Honestly, they loved it. It went over really well.
Heather: That’s hilarious. Some people have the sense humour. If people take it wrong way, that’s their problem.
Ben: That is their problem.
Heather: The other thing I wanted to talk about was, I remember one day Mimi and I were walking down the street. This is before I knew about your comedy, that you had it in the works. And I remember we stopped and we just got to chatting. We just ran into each other. I think we were going in the Comedy Nest, and I had asked you if you’d ever gone to the Nest. We got to talking and you said you’d actually done stand up once in the States with your family.
Ben: Yeah, that was the first time I ever did standup. It was in San Jose. I was there for a wedding and I had been threatening to do it for years. I was out there and I figured it was a good opportunity because not a lot of people I know were there except for my family, which made it extra stressful. But at least it was like, okay, if I bombed there, they won’t tell anybody. (laughter) But actually it went pretty well. It went really well for a first time and I was really happy about it. I threw together some jokes last minute. It was a really great place, they let me on stage. And so it was, it was, it was really neat.
Heather: That’s amazing. Good way to start, in a strange place and all that.
Heather: And so tell me about the first time you performed in Montreal.
Ben: First time in Montreal was at the Comedy Nest. I think it was the week I got back. I emailed them and was like: I need to get on. So I tried it out and I think it went really well for what I was expecting. I was nervous about doing it because they have tons of, usually a lot of people show up. But I was I was really sick that day and somehow it was perfect because I was really sick, but I took a lot of drugs to get through it. So even though I was like nervous, I was kind of like defeated and down from the downers. And I was kind of just like, alright, I’m gonna try this. The first couple of acts that went up, it was very quiet and people weren’t really responding. That took the edge off cause I was like at least if it doesn’t go well, it’s like this is how it goes. But it actually went better than I thought. And I think I still have a couple of those bits I used in circulation today.
Heather: That’s awesome. Yeah, I remember Mimi and I went to see you and that was so exciting.
Ben: It’s nerve wracking, but it’s fun.
Heather: That’s it. Well you’ve certainly broken the ice because not only do you do gigs, but you organize gigs. So tell us about the gigs that you organize.
Ben: So that’s something I do because I was always producing shows when I was in the bands. We tried to put on our own shows. I think you get a little bit more control of the acts that are on and what happens. It’s easy enough. I knew the steps, so I started producing shows in comedy right away. Because I figured that it was also a good way to contribute to the community, to help other people get stage time. You’re always getting stage time. People are always so generous putting you on their shows and you just want to be able to give back. But it’s hard to run a show. I realized it’s harder to get people to a comedy show than to music show because it’s still an art form that’s highly misunderstood by a lot of people. Local comedy is often people trying new things and sometimes it doesn’t go over so well. Sometimes you have really great gems and stuff. It’s give and take and if you’ve ever had a bad comedy experience as an audience member, you know it’s just you there and it’s awkward. The difference is with music, you’ll play a song and even if you don’t do it that well, you get off stage and people will probably still have the ability to come and tell you they liked it.
Heather: Yeah, true.
Ben: Whereas if you do a comedy gig and nobody laughs, come on stage, people can’t really be like “great show, buddy” you know? It’s like clearly that didn’t go how you wanted it to go. It’s really suffering. And the comedians, they build up a thick skin to it. That’s why I host an open mic, because it really builds up your skin because most people don’t give a crap. But when it’s through a bar, but when they come to a comedy show, you build a thick skin but the people in the audience don’t understand yet. So they’re looking at you fail and they’re like, this guy’s going to maybe jump off a bridge. This is terrible. They’re like, I could never do that. And you don’t realize that for most of us it means nothing. It’s like, all right, well I tried that thing and it didn’t work. I’ll rearrange it or throw it out. And that’s why when you go to a show, you want to give your best stuff so that people don’t feel so awkward for you. You get caught doing the stuff you know that works.
Heather: That’s right and I just find it’s hard to get people out to events in general. Even when I’ve organized workshops and other events. People, especially now with Netflix specials, it’s easier for them to sit on their couch and stay home. And some people don’t know how easy it is to go to a show as well as how affordable that can be as well. Like, we got hooked on the Comedy Nest because of Newbie Tuesday and things like that. And I think people just aren’t really aware.
Ben: But then you know what you’re getting into. You guys go to the Comedy Nest on Newbie Tuesday. It’s up and down.
Ben: But even on a weekend, sometimes it’s up and down. I was at the Just for Laughs show last night and there was a bunch of big names from all over the country and in the States and the crowd was still not totally sold on it. If you’re not a household name, you don’t have that immediate trust. So, even if you’re like a touring comic and you’re professional, they still get rough crowds. And even household names get rough crowds. It really depends on the environment and how it works.
Heather: And one question I always like to ask people, is there anything from your childhood or your youth that would have foreshadowed your going into comedy other than just being wise cracker sometimes.
Ben: Yeah. Well I guess in high school it was something that developed. I don’t like awkward silences. I don’t tend to like being in political conversations or uncomfortable disagreements. So that was always my thing of just being like; let’s make this stupid! I really like ha, ha, I just like to cut the tension. That was kind of a defence mechanism of mine. I always threatened to do comedy because I’d see things and come up with just funny word play about things. And I’d always have things written down. One day it was watching Netflix (LOL). I think Netflix has gotten a lot of people to comedy. Just showing the backside of how everything works. Showing the underbelly of it all. You see that it’s doable and this is how to start.
Heather: That’s it. I wasn’t really super familiar with comedy even growing up. I remember when we were kids, the one memory I have is being in my basement with a bunch of friends and listening to a George Carlin record, like a real LP, to the Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television, which is probably an ancient classic now. That and Saturday Night Live.
Ben: Saturday Night Live was a big one.
Heather: And you know the other one that I used to love, me and my friend Sharon used to watch it. You maybe never heard of it. It was called Make me Laugh. Oh my God. It was like this classic show from late 70’s early 80’s Basically they get a celebrity on and then they get three or no, I think it was a regular person and three comedians. And so they get the regular contestant just to sit in the chair and the comedians would each have a turn trying to make them laugh. They’d have a minute to make them laugh. Howie Mandel was on it and all these people. They played it at 12 midnight or something on Friday nights and it was just, it was hilarious. But stupid humour, you know? And that’s all it takes. It doesn’t have to be intellectual.
Ben: I think the first actual standup comedians I ever listened to were probably Dane Cook and Louis C K. That was popular when I was in high school. We were all referencing the bits and trying to tell them again to our friends and it was never as funny. But still, that was it.
Heather: Yeah, yeah.
Ben: When I was in a band and we were touring we used comedy actually as a tool. It’s funny because when you’re driving overnight, it’s exhausting. Usually everybody’s sleeping except the driver. But if you listen to comedy, instead of music that’s kinda trudges along and lulls you. If you use the comedy, you’re always laughing, you’re awake.
Heather: Oh, that’s cool.
Ben: You can’t fall asleep. So we put comedy on and even the guys that are sleeping will be in their sleep like <ha ha> like they can’t fall asleep. They just like crack out. It’s very powerful how you can’t help but respond to something when it’s really well written and paced and it just the hits you in that in that place where you’re vulnerable to it.
Heather: It’s true. Well I know often we’ll quote different comedians. I know Harrison has a few jokes that, that we always reference when certain situations come up. It’s like this little subculture language type of thing, which is super interesting.
Ben: No, we all listen to the same jokes. It’s just about laughing and not taking things too seriously.
Ben: It’s easy because when you adopt that entire perspective for your whole life, I mean sometimes it’s annoying for people when you really don’t take things seriously. It’s hard to not let that slip into your life when you have that bit. Or you’re thinking of a good bit, but maybe it’s not a good time to say it. It’s like this situation reminds me of how this can be funny. But then you say it and you’re like, oh, I shouldn’t have say that.
Heather: I love that terminology ‘the bit’. We use that a lot. That’s fun.
Ben: It’s hard when you’re sitting at a bar and you see someone laughing in the corner. And you’re like, ah, I wonder what got the laugh!
Heather: Hee hee…I’ll get my notebook and write it down.
Ben: Now everything’s changed. That guy’s really killing over there. When it’s just a couple of friends.
Heather: It’s true. I had another question. I want to just to touch quickly on your experience being on The Voice. Ben was actually on the Quebec show La Voix, which is basically the French version of The Voice.
Ben: Zee Voice! Here it’s La Voix but in France it’s Zee Voice
Heather: LOL. So a couple of questions. One is, how did you get into that? And then the other question would be what kind of humour did you pull out of this whole situation?
Ben: Well, it’s funny because it was really when I was starting, when I was going onto The Voice that I really got into the idea of, okay, this time I’m really going to try to do comedy. And then the, I really want to try to get up there and try to do a, not in, not at The Voice, but go to an open mic and make it happen. And then The Voice happened and I had to put it all aside and be like, all right, I’ll wait until this is over. The Voice was interesting to see how TV is produced from behind the screen scenes and everything.
Ben: And I had a great experience. It was fun. It was a bit of a rough experience for me because just when I started the show, I got really bad acid reflux. I wasn’t having a good time singing and I’d lost a lot of my voice. And so when I was going through the show, that’s what was on my mind. I was really being meticulous about not eating certain foods. I even quit my job or just like put it aside for awhile. I really took it too intensely. I should’ve just had more fun with it and just said whatever will be will be.
Ben: But I kind of took it as like, oh, this is the chance. But then I realized that the platform wasn’t really for me anyway. It didn’t fit the kind of music I like to make and everything. It was a good experience but musically it just wasn’t a good fit. It didn’t really inspire me to go forward and do that. And I think my heart was almost in another place already.
Heather: Well that’s it and you’ve always done music very Independently. So the idea of going into something like that was maybe was an interesting challenge, but maybe not your scene.
Ben: Everyone always asks you when you’re a singer, you should do The Voice and you’re like <meh> and then eventually it’s like I’m just going to do it to shut everybody up! I did it.
Heather: You did it.
Ben: It’s over!
Heather: I remember at one point you had asked me to make a little Voice Lego set. That was a fun project.
Ben: I asked you about it in passing. Like most of my projects, I just didn’t get around to it. I was like it would be great if I can do this, and then I couldn’t find this stuff. And then you gave me that beautiful gift of little Lego set that looks like me auditioning. That was super cool.
Heather: I’ll insert it in the video here. You know me by now, I can’t pass up a project. So when Ben said I’m looking for Lego pieces to do a mock up for a music video and I’m like <Ooh>.
Ben: It was a challenge!
Heather: So I asked my friend for her lego pieces, I went to the Lego store, I ordered the little ‘bit’s on-line. That was an amazing project. I loved it.
Ben: Next time I’m going to message you and be like, I’m looking for someone to pick up my dry cleaning…
Heather: Yeah, that’s not going to happen.
Ben: If you can’t find anybody…LOL
Heather: Why don’t you tell us about your shows, where we can find you and all that.
Ben: I’ve been doing shows all over the city. I know a lot of people have been really generous in giving me stage time and it’s been tons of fun just learning and being inspired by them. I started my own open mic here at McKibbon’s Irish Pub.
Heather; We’re here right now.
Ben: 26 bishop every Monday night if you ever want to try it out. The first part of the show is booked and then the rest is kind of a free for all. So it’s a lot of fun. If you ever want to be on the book to portion, you just have to message McKibbonsOpenMic@gmail.com on a Thursday and you’ll be hopefully put in for the Monday or the Monday after. And then tonight on a Sunday night, end of every month or just somewhere in between every month we’ll do a show called Comedy Confessional. It used to be a Honey Martins and now moved into McKibbon’s. It’s just a lot of pro comics doing their stuff. Seven minutes on the seventh day.
Heather: That’s great.
Ben: It’s a pretty blasphemous thing, but it’s a metaphor. It’s fun, we have fun. We try not to be too disrespectful with it.
Heather: And the food here is amazing. We just had a chicken burger. It was so good.
Ben: The best in the city for pub fare. It’s definitely very good.
Heather: That’s amazing. And what about your music? How can we find you and your music online?
Ben: Right now I’m still coasting on, I have a couple of projects in the works. I kind of put it aside for a little bit, but you can always find me at BenAlexanderMusic.com. I have some videos there and a couple of recordings also on Bandcamp and a couple of songs on Spotify. But there’s a couple of Alexander’s on Spotify, so you’d have to differentiate.
Heather: Oh really? That’s interesting.
Ben: But everything at BenAlexanderMusic.com is legit.
Heather: Cool. And you have a few projects on the go with the music?
Ben: Yeah, I have a record that I’ve been sitting on for two years I haven’t put out yet. I’m just wondering on when it’d be the right time. But I really want to be back in that head space where I can focus in on it, then can perform it once it’s out. So it’s going to be a little bit, I think, but I’m slowly starting to do a couple of gigs here and there again. I have a couple of fun ones coming up.
Heather: That’s awesome. Anything else you want to say about your comedy or life in general?
Ben: I’m very lucky to be in a position where I am. I have a lot of support. I’m in a very happy relationship. We’re both hard workers and we both have our own thing in our life that we’re pursuing. We support each other. It’s harder for some people than others because of that. I’m just really lucky. I’m working really hard and we have that support system. Even though I use her in every joke. I make fun of her incessantly. I appreciate (the support). Without that it would be harder.
Ben: I’m just grateful.
Heather: Well, we’re grateful to have you, and anxious to follow your comedy career. Maybe you’ll be next to Just for Laughs.
Ben: Who knows, maybe I’ll quit next week! Let’s see how it goes.
Heather: Okay. So thanks for watching guys and see you next time.
Ben: Thank you very much. Thanks Heather.
Heather: Thank you.
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