Comedian Phil Hanley comes home for the holidaysSay what you will about the much-maligned buttondown or English prof frock, but Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based Phil Hanley knows how to work a cardigan. In fact, his choice of attire says a lot about the standup comic himself: he is confidently amused by his own awkwardness — faux or not; appreciates functional irony — dude is skinny, likely gets cold easily; and understands the value of having a “look” (he’s gotta stand out in the standup crowd). He’s also really, really funny. WE spoke with Hanley in advance of his headlining gig Dec. 22-23 at the Comedy Mix, and got the scoop on everything from tourists in Times Square to backstage antics at The Late Late Show.
You’re at home in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, which seems to be the beacon of all hipster jokes.
Well, it’s the beacon of all hipsters. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. You sense there’s some friendly competition going on with mustaches and eyewear.
Was Movember a big thing there?
In my neighbourhood, you can’t even tell. It’s been Movember for years.
So, you’ve done shows everywhere, but what’s the contrast between a Vancouver audience and a New York audience?
You kind of know what you’re in for in Vancouver. You can get on the same page and come to some conclusions about how everyone feels in the audience. Tonight for instance, in New York, the club’s just off of Times Square, so it’ll be, like, six dudes from the Netherlands, and a German couple and a dozen members of a junior college basketball team. And then I’m doing an indie, alternative room in Brooklyn. Like, people from Ohio and then all the kids who moved out of Ohio and try to pretend they’re not from there. The contrast is great; it’s a good place to try and get a good read on things.
I saw you open for Charlie Demers earlier this year at the Comedy Mix. It was great.
Oh cool. I play the Mix often — Rob and Mario, the people who own the club, have been so good to me. If I’m in Vancouver, I’ll play there every night. It’s my favourite club. It feels super homey. If I’m getting ready for a showcase or a TV thing, I’ll always go back to work on it in Vancouver.
This is a question every Canadian artist asks themselves, but at what point did you decide leaving Canada was the right thing for your career?
I’d come to New York after high school and loved it. It was always in the back of my brain, like even before I started comedy, I wanted a reason to come and live here. And, also, the documentary Comedian. It’s about Jerry Seinfeld. After his sitcom is over, he starts from scratch and builds a new act. I watched it right before I started doing standup and it just looks so glamourous; he’s poppin’ into all these clubs. (Laughs) Of course, that’s a side you only get to see if you’re Jerry Seinfeld. But I’d also heard how many shows you can do in New York. Vancouver’s a great comedy scene and if you bust your ass you can do lots of shows. In New York it’s limitless to how many shows you can do in a week.
What’s your record?
I recently did 28 shows in two weeks. But some of that was on the road. You can do a lot of shows here if you get lucky with the scheduling and the subways.
You’ve been on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He seems fun and unpredictable.
It’s the most fun that I’ve had and it’s because of the vibe of the show. The person who books the comedians is really cool and nice. And [Ferguson and I] chatted and joked up until about 10 seconds before they bring you out. It’s really mellow. There’s like a bar backstage and William Shatner — I was getting ready, but my agent and my friend were in the bar area and got to meet William Shatner and a woman from Community. It’s like a bar with a big screen and it actually looks like a proper bar inside.
Phil Hanley performs Dec. 22 (8:30pm) and Dec. 23 (8pm and 10:30pm) at Comedy Mix (1015 Burrard), $12-$15 from ComedyMix.com.