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Everybody's Bombed At The Vape

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*COMEDY EDITOR’S NOTE – I’m a bit of a micro-manager when it comes to… well, everything. And in fact I have a tendency to pile too much on my plate. Does it pay off? Or are my eyes bigger than my stomach? Depends, what’s the market value on grey hairs and a heart that’s filled with manic anxiety and jealous bile? In comedy, that’s some sweet paydirt. But when the upcoming young comic & Humber elite Jay Freeborn shot me the idea of a love letter of sorts to one of Toronto’s most loathed yet loved, legendary & infamous comedy rooms ‘The Village Vape’. Well, I guess you could say it stoned me. It’s a room whose reputation preceeds it, mostly thanks to the resident heckler (Toronto’s most ruthless and cunning) – Rutiger. AMs and Pros alike have sharpened their teeth on this stage, and countless have bombed. But maybe no mic around has helped forge the will of as many would-be crowd killers as the Vape has. Here, in his own words – a hard workin’ kid and a regular of the room. This is what Jay Freeborn has to say…  

 

Story by Jay Freeborn.  

Jay Freeborn

It’s Friday night in Toronto. Tucked into in the beating, busy, night-life heart of Toronto’s famous Church-Wellesley Village (beside a small Korean hair salon) is a Vapor Lounge that doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a club, a biker bar, or a place to crash. Even once you step into the hallway, out of the wild neon nightlife of the village, you can’t quite put it together. The electric noise of a DJ pumping his music from the top of the building cascades down, and pulls you deeper inside. Curiosity and the house always win. 

As the lounge unfolds, the music and the shadows swallow you whole. Gaudy LED lights strewn everywhere, cutting the shadows with random & chaotic bursts of eye-zapping static noise. The clientel is mixed, but there’s a common thread – the vape! 18 year olds who can’t smoke pot in their parents’ basement take up residence with 50-somethings who look frazzled & frenetic but perpetually unwound – like they’ve spent the last couple decades in an industrial drying machine. Fuzzed out & basking in the warm afterglow.

Then there’s the other reason they come – the stage.  It’s nowhere near the city’s best stage, not the biggest or the most well lit or even this city’s the most sacred. But for Toronto’s up-coming standup comics, it’s a cult classic. A workout room, a comedy gym, where routines are honed and material is painfully polished through blood, sweat, tears – and of course, the heckles. Oh the heckles. On this LED-dotted stage, the heckles are the stuff of local lore. The Village Vape is home to Toronto’s most notorious audience member. A comic killer with a taste for fear. Amateur open mic comics and Toronto vets alike have whispered his name in the halls, like a legend – a nefarious name who hunts for unpolished punchlines and gun-shy saps who DARE sling un-tested jokes in his presence.

RUTIGER.

Everyone’s high. There’s no spotlight. And there he sits; a large maniac perched at the bar, stuffed into a leather jacket, wolfing down a tub of ice cream straight from the carton. His eyes dart across the room. “WHO’S THE FIRST VICTIM!” he booms, and let’s out a demented cackle that could unsteel the nerves of any man, woman, or child who ever craved a life on the stage.

This is easily the worst set up for a stand up comedy show in history. Why do I wanna do stand up here?

This is what I thought my first time going to Toke and Joke Fridays at Village Vapor, but the more important question was this. Why did everyone tell me this the show to do if you want to grow as a comedian?

T.O standup & improv(esario) Marc Hallworth (Vest of friends, Fresh Meat) elaborates, “it was a show that was so hard, and so chaotic with focus all over the place that you knew that you were getting better when you did it.”

Hallworth

The show has run for over three years, and comics that frequent this show agree there are aspects of this room that always keep them coming back each week. The special type of audience, and two men that are polar opposites of each other, the resident heckler “Rutiger”, and the host of the show Dred Lee. In the comedy world, this is as Good Cop/Bad Cop as it gets.

The audience is special because it’s made up of the staff (who are the nicest, most professional people), hilariously out spoken locals from the Village, and those perennial vape-goers who see marijuana as the good medicine. This crowd would support you and FOLLOW you in the darkest you explore with your jokes, because they’ve all been to dark places in their own lives. They’ve seen some shit, and lived it. And they’re here to hear us peel back the layers

Of course, they were vicious too. On any given week, they’re hungry for those comics who get up to the mic and eat the BIGGEST shit sandwich. They’re connoisseurs of a good, hard bomb. 

The audience always gave hecklers the same amount of support they gave you. All’s fair in love and war. I’ve done open mics all over Ontario, and there is no other room that has the duality of being that supportive while also half hoping you fall of a cliff when you perform.

Justin Laite (frequent comic in the room) explains further “After bombing for so long, you’d have a couple good sets there, then it was kinda like they know me, and they’re accepting me now. You’d come in, and people would wanna shake your hand, give you water, pass you a joint, and even cake sometimes. Then be dicks to you when you went on stage.”

Justin Laite

But the real star of the room is always ‘Rutiger’.

The audience loves him. They love him because he is often funnier, louder, and always much MUCH crazier than the comics onstage.

Sometimes he takes the imposing form of a giant over six feet tall. Hairless, except for his black goatee, his stock uniform is that leather jacket, and matching leather pants. But he’s also dressed up like a clown for no reason, caked in psych ward makeup that calls instantly to mind Heath Ledger’s posthumas ‘Joker’ – and then worms his way into every comics’ most deep-seeded childhood nightmares like a pot room ‘Pennywise’ The Clown. Sometimes he talks to himself before he turns his crosshairs to the stages.

Pennywise The Clown

I have a picture of that ‘clown day’ on my phone, and I show it to new comics when they ask me about Vapor Village shows. I hold up the picture, and say “this is the show, it’s scary, and you’ve never done anything like it.”

A lot of shows have hecklers, its probably half of the reason why the average Joe I’m-Funny-I-Could-Do-What-You-Do goes to see standup comedy live. But no room has a resident heckler. A heckler who’s always there, always on his game. I’ve seen him destroy amateurs and pro’s alike with mean, to-the-bone comments, like “You suck¨ and ¨you’re fat!” along with crazy venom-riddled diatribes that we’ll paraphrase for you some other time. 

James Hammond (frequent comic in the room) shares his experience “You’re gonna fail, I mean people would come just for Rutiger. I remember one week I got destroyed by him, just utterly ripped apart, and I came back next week after writing ten to fifteen burns for him, maybe seven of them hit even he was laughing at the end.”

James Hammond

Why would anyone wanna deal with this? I could do another room, and not have a psycho scream at me. Honestly a lot of comics don’t come back, but those that do grow exponentially. I personally owe Rutiger a lot, he is the reason I no longer fear hecklers. No other heckler has impeccable timing, physical size, and brutally sharp wit. The man is a fucking straight razor. 

The person that held this circus together is the host Dred Lee, a professional comic who took over the room three years ago because as he says “I always wanted to host a pot room, and now I have”

Dred is always smiling, intensely welcoming, and very sane. The ying to Rutiger’s yang. I asked Dred what was his favourite thing about Toke and Jokes at Village Vape was? He said, “The best thing about Toke ‘N Joke Fridays is showing up and always seeing a room full of people genuinely happy to see me.” That is an understatement if I’ve ever heard one, the audience would cheer every time he came in the room!

As Justin Laite puts it “He would get a hero’s welcome walking through the door, because he earned everyone’s respect.”

Dred Lee has nerves of steel. Every week for three and a half years he battled Rutiger. I asked him what his favourite memory of the last three years was, and his answer isn’t surprising “My favourite memory is chasing Rutiger out of Village Vape for five weeks, because I battled him head to head, and chased him out to a standing ovation.”

Dred Lee 

This mix of audience, heckler, and host is unlike any I have seen, and doubt i will see again, because sadly the Village Vapor Lounge does not own the building they are in, and that building is being sold. Toronto’s comics and this loyal (if not ambivalent) audience are losing a show like no other.

The final Toke and Jokes with Dred Lee and Company is this Friday, April 25 at 10pm. 

Hopefully Rutiger will join us. I hope he doesn’t take his pills so I can hear “SHOW ME YOUR DICK!” one more time.


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