It’s usually the elephant in the room that gets most of the attention, but for Vancouver comedian Byron Bertram it is the primate everyone will be talking about as he takes to the Yuk Yuk stage later this month to tape his upcoming comedy album “Passport and Prozac”.
Recently signed on to the 800 Pound Gorilla Records, which also represents artists such as Jim Jefferies, Michelle Wolf, George Lopez, and the estates of Richard Pryor and Robin Williams, Bertram’s first non-self-produced album will deal with his life on the road and his battle with mental illness.
“I travel around the world to do comedy and I’ve been on Prozac since I was 17 to help with obsessive compulsive disorder,” says Bertram by phone. “Thinking about my life experiences, who I am, performing, traveling, and personal mental health stuff; it summarizes what I am all about.”
Signing on to 800 Pound Gorilla Records through a personal connection, Bertram says it was the record label’s desire to extend their reach into a larger international base that got him signed. “It’s definitely one of the bigger things I’ve done, and it’s great to be working with them.”
To be recorded in a series of four shows over three days, Bertram is both excited and a little nervous about recording this first album for the label. Taking it all in stride though, he plays his biggest performance nightmare for laughs.
“What scares me the most, in some terrible twist of irony, that all four shows nobody laughs at all and the audience is filled with Slovakian tourists who don’t speak English,” he says.
Knowing he wanted to first become a comedian in high school, it would be his teenage insecurities and a reputation as the class clown while attending school in Vancouver which would get him his start.
“Basically going to an all-Chinese high school and just feeling very insecure as an overweight white kid and making them laugh by doing impressions of the teachers,” he says. “And feeling a sense of acceptance and adulation and kids telling me I should be a comedian. And I just felt like, “Man, this is great. It’s what I want to do.””
It helped too that Bertram grew up in an artistic family. His father Gordie plays the saxophone with the Juno Award-winning “The Powder Blues”, and his mother is an accomplished watercolour painter who took after her father, renowned Canadian Artist and Order of Canada recipient Toni Onley.
Also a television and film actor, Bertram has appeared on many Vancouver-shot shows including Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, Riverdale, Supernatural, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Game Over Man, and the new Jordon Peele reboot of The Twilight Zone.
It is stand-up though which remains Bertram’s first love with his comedy heroes running the gamut of George Carlin, Andy Kaufman, Norm Macdonald, Eddie Murphy, and Richard Pryor. “And also, the cast of the Saturday Night Live in the 90s,” he says. “I loved those guys.”
Having paid his dues with a career that has seen him perform everywhere from a biker bar in Australia to an old folks home in Scotland, he is obviously living his own advice for someone looking to get into the comedy business.
“Be proactive, but be patient. Don’t try to copy what other people are doing,” he says. “Try to really separate yourself from the pack by doing something that is uniquely you and that nobody can emulate or copy.”
Byron Bertram tapes his upcoming comedy album “Passport and Prozac” at Yuk Yuks in Vancouver over three shows on March 28-30. Visit yukyuks.com/vancouver for tickets and information.