Catch Yourself Laughing: An Interview with David Heti

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David Heti’s been in Montreal honing the craft of the laugh since way back. I remember first meeting him at Grumpy’s open mics back in the day.

His first comedy album was independently released last year, but got picked up and re-released by StandUp! Records. He’s best known for his curious sense of humour that leaves nothing untouched, he probably has a joke about touching you.

Jesse Chase: How was it coming up as a comedian in Montreal?

David Heti: I think the comedy community is really open here because there’s not a lot at stake. But, there’s a lot of energy and potential because of Just For Laughs— although, it’s not as competitive as Toronto. The people here are here for the good reasons and I’ve never had a three minute set, or had to pay like in LA or New York.

Ok, I’m not going to avoid it. I can get the Yoko Ono reference in one of your jokes, but the John Coltrane/Thelonious Monk slavery bit was pretty gratuitous. How does your black audience receive your use of the “N” word?

It goes over great and better in a room with people of colour in it. And there’s a difference between a place like New York where there’s tons of black people and places like Portland where it’s mostly white. I mean I think someone could tell a good holocaust joke if they’re not Jewish. I can make a poem or something about something I never experienced.

You can make any joke with your friends right. They can trust you, they know where you’re coming from and so if I think that an audience knows you’re a good person they’ll allow you to go to more touchy places.

Chris Rock said when it comes to white people using the “N” word it’s basically no.

I’m surprised he said that. What’s Chris Rock not allowed to say? Everything’s partially objective, everything’s partially subjective…

Author’s Note: Sometimes, there is a “pass” granted to a performer who uses taboo terms in his bit. In my opinion, as a man of colour, David Heti doesn’t get that pass. He uses the “N” word to irresponsibly and childishly segue into his joke about owning John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk as slaves. It’s not cool, or funny. In his defense Heti jokingly says he can say that because “he’s a comedian and he doesn’t own anything,” but I feel it’s more an issue of white privilege.

It’s cool you’re teaching comedy at McGill. How did that come about?

A friend of mine was working in the writing program said she knew someone who could do a course, so I wrote up a course and they let me teach it.

Personally, I understand a joke is a joke and I know how to take a joke, but sometimes I find some people are trying to be funny and it’s uncalled for. Like sometime I say to myself, that wasn’t even funny. Do you ever experience that?

One time I got off stage and this guy was really like, man, that was great, I have some jokes for you. And I say sure.  And then he went on a tirade of anti-semitic jokes. I thought okay, well, why are you telling me these jokes?  And he said well that’s what you do. I said that is not what I do, you don’t understand what’s going on, you’re telling me these things and it’s highly offensive and inappropriate. That guy was just incredibly ignorant, I don’t think it was ill-willed. If I see someone on stage and hear them say something hateful, they’re telling the joke for the wrong reasons.

David’s album can be found at davidheti.com

You can sign up for his course via the McGill Website

2 comments

  • I think the authors note is irresponsible and childish. I’ve heard the joke live, and it’s so obviously not coming from a racist place. He has jokes about pedophilia and abortion and you have no problems with those, because they’re clever and unique and there’s clearly more going on then just the words he’s saying. But when it comes to the black joke, not cool, not funny, no irony, no subtext, just white privilege. I think you really missed the mark here.

  • Great article. I love it.

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