Anthony Bryan and I are sitting across from each other in Sir James Dunn Hall. The Black Box Theatre is right above us.
I ask him about the first time he performed stand-up comedy. The question takes Bryan back home to Trinidad and Tobago. His first try at stand up comedy happened at a school talent show.
“I forgot all my jokes,” Bryan says. “I cried. It was bad. I didn’t stop going up on stage, but I did stop doing stand up for awhile.”
Thankfully, Bryan’s journey to becoming a stand-up comic didn’t start and end there. His second try at stand-up would happen years later and far away from any stage in Trinidad.
We fast forward to the fall of 2016, Bryan is in his final year at St. Thomas University.
Comedian Sabrina Jalees has just finished an event for Welcome Week. At the end of it, she asks if anyone in the crowd is interested in doing comedy. Bryan shoots his hand up, no hesitation. Jalees asks Bryan if he would like five minutes before her show later. “Everyone turned and looked at me.” Bryan was not expecting that.
In his mind, Bryan thought Jalees was going to give a workshop or put him in contact with someone.
“I couldn’t say no. I had to say yes. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make for a very interesting story,” Bryan says. “I’m glad I said yes. I had a hell of a time. It was a lot of fun.”
For Bryan, moving to Canada was “intense” and “a big departure” from everything he knew.
“When I moved to Fredericton, I knew nothing about it,” Bryan says. “I didn’t know the population size. I didn’t know what the school looked like. I didn’t what the winters were like. I knew nothing about New Brunswick.”
“I was at a point in my life where I wanted to get out, so I just sort of did it. I went in blind. Everything surprised me.”
These days, Bryan takes more time looking into the things he wants to do and how best to pursue them. Still, there is a part of him that enjoys taking risks.
“Honestly, I don’t usually share my material with people. It’s very uncommon,” Bryan says. “I kind of go for broke. I trust myself to take that risk sometimes. It’s a lot of fun that way. Nothing beats writing a joke and wondering if people are going to laugh.”
Bryan tells me that in his stand-up, one of the things he likes to talk about is his identity as a black person. “I like throwing race things in there. It’s different for Fredericton. It’s also an interesting identity to go into and really explore. How do I view myself as a black person? How do I view myself as a member of the black community?”
We share our experiences as people of colour. I tell him about growing up as a visible minority in Fredericton, and how effective humour can be for fitting in. Major air quotes on that last part.
“If I know anything about doing comedy, nowhere is as progressive as they think they are, “ Bryan says. “People aren’t as progressive as they think they are. I can also be unaware and disrespectful, but one of the cool things about comedy is you can bring that to people’s attention.
“Obviously, it doesn’t work all the time. I did a show once, and I was talking about how excited white people get to say the N-word. This girl comes up to me after my set and says ‘you’re right, white people should say nigger more’. I was like, that’s not at all what my set was about. But I know somebody, there’s got to be one person there who saw it and was like yeah, maybe I should stop saying that.”
I met Bryan last month at the Wilser’s Room. The venue is home to a monthly open mic night that Bryan has been organizing since January. We spoke after the last of eleven comedians performed their set.
“That one was a bit of a stacked show,” Bryan says. “I probably will never do a show with eleven comedians again. That was a learning experience for me.”
Our conversation turns to something Bryan mentioned at the open mic. In 2017, Bryan came close to being deported. The bureaucratic nightmare began with Bryan’s new study permit.
“I would be on the phone for hours waiting for this thing,” Bryan says. “They didn’t know what was happening. I was not a person in Canada. It’s scary to almost not be able to come back, especially when I laid out all these plans.”
I ask Bryan about the future.
“I want to do cool stuff with the room,” Bryan says. “I want to see how much you can do with stand-up comedy. I love big cabaret shows, bringing that to the show would be a ton of fun.”
When Bryan is not performing stand-up, he is busy writing scripts. His first play I Love This City premiered last year at Theatre St. Thomas’ festival of new plays, What’s Next? He hopes to continue writing. He has a script for a short film that he would like to see picked up by the local film community.
I tell Bryan that it sounds like he’s living his best life.
“I am. It took me awhile to get here,” Bryan says. “I’ve wanted to live like this for a long time. It’s fun to finally be here.”
Open Mic Comedy at the Wilser’s Room runs the first Thursday of every month. The next event is scheduled for April 4th. The show starts at 7:30pm. No cover, but donations are welcome.