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No debating his success

by Keri Ferguson

Patterson Pointing
Host, author and stand-up comedian Steve Patterson tried law and business studies before finding his way to CHRW/Radio Western.

Long before drawing 700,000 listeners to CBC Radio each week, Steve Patterson was behind the mic at CHRW/Radio Western. The Debaters moderator came to Western to study business after first trying law – and, as it turns out, stand-up, thanks to sneaky roommates who signed him up for a Yuk Yuk’s amateur comedy night – at York University.

But it was at Western, where Patterson, BA’94, “found my people.”

“I remember getting the Barenaked Ladies cassette demo at the radio station. It was available to all of us there, but I was the one, I mean I played it every week on my show. So, I don’t want to say the Barenaked Ladies owe me everything, but certainly a substantial portion. I’ve met (band frontman) Ed Robertson since then and I’ve told him that and he seems to be willing to share the credit.”

That sense of humour, which he “was forced to develop to survive as the youngest of five boys,” proved useful. Over the years, his fresh, observational humour, coupled with his extensive knowledge of current events resonated with fans across Canada, Ireland, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.

It also did not go unnoticed by comic legend Steve Martin, who after seeing Patterson’s performance at Just For Laughs in 2010 quipped, “If I’d known he was going to be THAT good, I would have cancelled him.”

Patterson was named Best Male Stand-Up Comedian in 2011 and 2013 at the Canadian Comedy Awards (CCA) and his comedy album, This is Not Debatable, based on his one-man theatre show of the same name, earned him two CCA nominations in 2015 for Best One Person Show and Best Taped Live Performance.

As host of HGTV Canada’s I Wrecked My House, Patterson, who professes to be no handyman himself, earned a Canadian Screen Award nomination.

“I don’t think there are enough opportunities in Canada for comedians to showcase that they are not just funny, but also very smart,” he said. “Sometimes they put out some great ideas that people don’t quite give them credit for. I don’t quite know why the news programs in Canada haven’t figured out that funny people on the news would make more people watch.”

It’s a format he’s currently shopping around, having co-produced a demo called SmartAss-ociates, which combines comedy and current affairs.

“We’ve extended the concept of The Debaters,” Patterson explained, “but have made it a bit more current and closer in tone to The Colbert Report or Last Week Tonight. I bring in stand-up comedians to do a customized set on a particular topic, interview the experts and then bring the comedians back on and we do a short panel.”

The demo was shot in Ottawa this past spring and featured investor David Chilton, Conservative finance critic Lisa Raitt, VICE reporter Justin Ling, speed skater Ivanie Blondin and Jordan Sinclair of Tweed Marijuana Inc.

“I want to show people both sides,” Patterson said, noting there are some who “wouldn’t want to hear what Lisa Raitt has to say about politics or otherwise because she’s a Conservative finance critic, but, she was a great guest. She’s an interesting, smart lady and it was nice to see another side of her when, because she’s from Cape Breton, she taught me some Cape Breton smash-talk on the show.”

He’s still on the road with The Debaters, which just celebrated its 10th season, and feels lucky when his wife and agent Nancy, and their two-year-old daughter, Scarlett can come along. He also just released his first book, The Book of Letters I Didn’t Know Where To Send, a compilation of the letters that became a necessary staple of his act.

“I love keeping my comedy current but that means material doesn’t stay fresh very long and I can’t rely on one set to travel with. So I started writing the letters to balance out what I make up as I go along and to have something that will still be funny in a couple of months.”

It was also an opportunity to show he could write funny material, which put him in the enviable position of having a publisher pursue him. “They said, ‘You should put these letters in a book,’ which is great because it never would have happened if it was left up to me.”

His letters are to real people, groups and inanimate objects. In one, he wishes his 9-year-old self would know everything will be all right. Could his 9-year-old self ever have imagined what was ahead?

“I did not see myself in this position. I didn’t really think that comedy could be a job, figuring I was headed to a law degree and then business school.”

“Western was a good training ground for me,” Patterson continued. “The process of going to university, working with and bouncing ideas off of other people and finding my kindred spirits with the radio crew and networking, that was the atmosphere I enjoyed most. The process of it all helped me for sure to do stand-up comedy and relate to people, and really, I don’t know of too many jobs you can do without relating to people.”

There’s no debating that.

This article appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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