While so many comics take the low-road, Newfoundland’s own Ryan Dillon ‘punches up’ on his new album Violently Nice
We begin our conversation with comedian Ryan Dillon as any honest Newfoundlander does with one of their brethren at home or abroad. You talk weather b’y. It is old testament stuff, passed down from bayman to salty townie from generation to generation. Nothing breaks the ice faster than talk of blowing gails and snow squalls.
‘End of the World’
“Toronto has had its own nightmare this past week. People are closing down shops because of the temperature, not even the snow. It’s like -30, everyone go home!,” shares Dillon, who moved from St. John’s to Toronto to better pursue his comedy career.
“Toronto had like 10 cm of snow and everyone was acting like it’s the end of the world,” he laughed. “I thought about it and you know what it is? They’re just not prepared for any snow. They just assume it’s never going to happen and that’s their problem. The plow hasn’t gone down my street in like a week.
“In Newfoundland we’d burn down the mayor’s office if that happened. It would be anarchy and chaos. I saw a lady shovel her driveway and she was wearing everything you’d wear to the club, like full makeup. And a dress, and it caught me by surprise. It’s like oh misses b’y you needs a pair of gloves. It’s definitely the most Toronto thing I’ve seen.”
Planted firmly at the head of the curve of the new wave of Newfoundland comics that includes Mike Lynch, Vicky Mullaley, Colin Hollett and Sarah Walsh, Dillon released his newest comedy album, Violently Nice, this past December
“With comedy there’s peeks and valleys and we’re definitely at a nice point now,” he admits, though he does share there was a hellish process for the record to see the light of day.
Trial by Fire
Dillon recorded the album between sold out shows here at home presented by friend Brent McNamara. The sets were fire, the crowd was energized, but there was one problem. The fellow hired to record the event – who shall remain anonymous out of the good-naturedness of our article subject – was something of a con artist.
“It was absolute garbage,” Dillon recalls. “It sounded like a tin can and I freaked out. He wouldn’t give me my money back. We did two amazing shows in Newfoundland, sold out and packed and wicked, but I couldn’t use any of the audio, so we had to do it again in Toronto. I lost a few thousand on that, it was a nightmare.”
Thankfully, Dillon has assembled quite the network of friends and colleagues in Toronto’s comedy scene. Ian Atlas of Empire Comedy helped him put off a new set of tapings, which took place at the iconic John Candy Box Theatre at The Second City. It was a packed house once again, with the end product hitting the web to rave reviews to close out 2018.
Dillon ponders a moment to assess the idea of subjective comedy, that reviews could potentially make or break a career. What I may call comedy gold you may call tacky trash, and vise versa.
“Comedy is super subjective,” he explains. “Whatever people find funny is funny. I know comedians in the city here who are some of the funniest people in the world and they’ve gotten a bad review. Nobody’s favourite comic is because of so and so’s review in whatchamacallit’s magazine. You know what I mean? At the end of the day the audience tells you if they love it or not.”
Dillon has no problem carrying the funny flag for his home-province. His material often is made up of quick observations of this place and people. We’re always good for a laugh he says, and it’s always done in tribute, not in spite.
“I think when you’re talking about where you’re from that is a very important thing for a comedian, because that’s what shaped us and that’s what made you into the person that you are,” he says.
“I think a lot of artists who are comedians from Newfoundland did well, because we are cut off from the world. We’re on an island, a place that’s separated. When we go to these places we have a point of view that we’re the outside voice coming in. We look at everything from a different world. We tend to look out for each other and help each other and that’s why I’m so proud to be from Newfoundland.”
So why Violently Nice? It’s one heck of a title that stands out in all the right ways, particularly if you know or have interacted with the impossibly good-natured comic.
He describes a scenario where, upon a night of drinking with a fellow comic, he nursed his hungover colleague, poppin’ open a hair-of-the-dog morning beer and handing it off to the reply, “God, you’re violently nice.”
Avoiding Cheap Shots
“Reflecting on that I think a lot of it has to do with growing up in Newfoundland,” Dillon says.
“I’ve always been made fun of for being a nice guy. And that’s a weird thing to make fun of someone for. I had a tough time growing up. High school and junior high I was bullied and had a tough time with friends, so anytime someone was mean to me I thought I would never do that to anybody, because that just makes people feel bad. I’ve always tried to be nice to other people, to the point where people are like ‘Ok Ryan, you can say a mean thing!’ It’s just not in my body as much as other people.”
And while so many of his contemporaries in the business take cheap shots and the proverbial low road with their material, Dillon, as you’d imagine, chooses to go high. “I try my best not to punch down, but to punch up. That’s always been a thing with me. I try to find the humour in positivity as opposed to negativity. That’s something I think has been bred into standup, that there’s gotta be hate or something like that. I just prefer to be clever and funny.”
Violently Nice is available now on all digital and streaming platforms. For more on Ryan Dillon visit him on Facebook at @RyanDillonComedian