|Vlad Levitt & John St. Godard
It’s nearly 6 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, and it’s dark and wintry and I’ve got the warm fuzzies because I’m in one of my favorite dumps. While the regulars slur Christmas carols upstairs, Vlad Levitt and I sample beer and talk stand-up at ground zero. The preceding hour or so has been all about name-dropping, debating why so-and-so is relevant, how we’ve been influenced,by whom, and what we think makes a great stand-up.
We’re sitting in the window of Le Bull on St. Catherine St. when a guy in his twenties bounces up to our table. “Sorry guys,” he says, “but I wanted to let you know that we’ll be making some noise down here.”
Three or four people move deftly down the stairs to join him. They don’t spill a drop. Vlad and I wonder why the polite heads-up. We ask the guy what’s going on.
“Oh, no,” he says, waving his hands, “it’s nothing. We’re just gonna play some pool, but it’s going to get loud.”
“Oh,” Vlad says, “I thought you were planning on playing the trombone.”
At 21, Vlad has a pretty good handle on what makes him tick.
“I came here when I was 10 and my mom still lives in Ukraine. I learned English and French here.”
“Your first few years must have been nightmarish.”
“It was fantastic.” Laughter. He draws a comparison with Louis C.K., who was born in Mexico and moved to the U.S. at 10.
“You never spoke English when you got here?”
“No, no … not a word.”
“Talk about the immigrant experience.”
“Yeah, I’m still not past it.”
“But it’s who you are. Who you’ll always be.”
“Yeah, yeah. But I try not to bring it into stand-up. It just feels like easy material.”
“One of my biggest influences is Greg Giraldo,” he tells me. Giraldo, best known for his wicked roasting wit, died in 2010. Vlad speaks of Giraldo in the present tense. Denial? Respect? “He’s a Mexican that doesn’t look it. And he could have easily played that Mexican card. He almost never did. He had one joke about it.”
Vlad managed to get onto Giraldo’s Facebook friend list before the comic maxed-out at 5,000. “He died two months later, and I was fucken devastated.” Vlad also received a ‘nice, well thought-out, clever paragraph’ from Giraldo after messaging the comic about getting into stand-up.
Giraldo’s response: “Advice, huh? Well, don’t do it. It’s a long, tedious nightmare that’ll probably lead nowhere. Still wanna do it? Then you’re halfway there. Get on stage often and everywhere. Goodluck!”
I ask Vlad how he explains Giraldo writing back to him. “Well, that’s the thing. That is how awesome he was – he actually cared about his fans. That’s why I loved him. I think he was extremely under-rated as a comic.”
As for the letter, Vlad printed it and still has it on his wall. “It keeps me in check,” he says.
Between beers, table-talk morphs into Red Hot Chili Peppers, another passion that connects the dots between us. Vlad lets fly with a few John Frusciante songs on his iPhone. We kick back and fall into full babble mode.
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|‘I feel like I’m coming into my own for a comic of my age.’
After only a year and a half in the stand-up game, Vlad Levitt is gaining respect. His jokes are thoughtful and fresh – but not cited here, so you’ll have to see him – his delivery relaxed, but full-on. He gets your attention. The guy is obviously prepared and has something to say, his subjects ranging from the Pope to Metallica. And he understands all too well that he is a work-in-progress. Before he ever set foot on stage, he recorded himself reciting his own bits. “I filmed myself practicing stand-up. I actually watched one of the clips and it’s horrible.”
“Don’t get rid of it,” I tell him.
“I’m not, it makes me humble.”
More experienced comics have commented on Vlad’s technical savvy as well, such as his mastery of and comfort with the microphone, something that gives grief to many an open-micer. Could be his practicing at home is paying off.
As for process, he tried writing in a notebook but found that method wanting in terms of capturing intonation, pauses and such, so he records his jokes. The guy’s work ethic is impressive. And it’s paying off in terms of confidence.
“I think I’m ready to do more than open mics,” he says, “when I started my material was pretty bad – but now I’m at a point where I’ve turned that around. I know what kind of jokes I can do to please an audience, but I’m trying to find myself. I’ve had sets that I thought went really well, and people did laugh hard, but I had it recorded and watched it, and thought, That is shit. But I now have 11 minutes of material that I’m really proud of.”
Vlad explains that one of his goals is to ‘reach the ceiling in Montreal’. When I ask if he will leave the city eventually, he doesn’t hesitate. “Yes, definitely. I’ll have to go to New York, or Toronto.” With any luck, it will be our loss.
As far as family support and understanding of the comedy game, it seems Vlad’s immigrant experience is not so different from those born and raised in Canada. “Until I start cashing cheques, they are not going to consider it a serious thing.”
Dylan Moran: ‘he’s the reason I started doing stand-up … it’s the way he would talk – he’d say what he felt like saying and be in his own world’
Louis C.K.: ‘he’ll make me laugh because I relate to him, he’s the one I like the most’
Brian Regan: ‘I’m walking down the street listening to Regan and I burst into laughter. Who can do that to you? He just says funny shit’
Favourite Local Comics
Massimo: ‘a master of delivery and reading the room’
David Pryde: ’great club comic, his material doesn’t work better or worse with a particular group, it just works, because it’s fucking great’
Kevin Hart: ‘when jokes don’t work, find another way to see why that joke is funny to you’
Mike Carrozza: ‘we give each other feedback, exchange info on our bits’
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Merry Christmas, Tujohaha People!
John St. Godard
Montreal’s hot spot for Comedy!