Tragedy Plus Time: Montréal Comedian and Cartoonist Jonathan Burrello

Comic and Cartoonist Jonathan Burrello isn’t afraid to dig into his world and use the cacophony of emotions existing there to make us laugh. His honesty and relatability ground his comedy and bridge the gap between the audience’s own experiences and his. We connected with him to learn more.

Jonathan Burrello

How would you describe your comedy style?

I’m an easily annoyed person (an ex once described me as “pernickety”, a devastatingly accurate remark from which I am still recovering) so I have a lot of feelings about things that don’t make sense to me. Life is absurd, and I like to remind folks of that. Everything is all made up and most of us probably can’t be trusted to tie our shoelaces let alone invent governments and airline boarding rules, so you have to take a step back and look at things in society and culture and remove that veneer of reverence. Nothing deserves it. This whole place is silly, and I do mean that in the most mildly denigrating way. Because most of this is so stupid, it doesn’t even deserve our derision.

I also grew up with a lot of religion, so analyzing that experience and deconstructing it is something I like to play with. It’s also a tough needle to thread because you don’t want to mock it in a mean way or come off as having a chip on your shoulder, AND you gotta make it understandable enough to a crowd that might not have had that experience.

Who are some of your influences?

When I was a kid, my dad showed me a lot of old movies. The Marx Brothers were my favourites in terms of comedy, Groucho in particular. His acerbic wit is something I aspire to. I guess Bugs Bunny is the next logical evolutionary step. Oh, to be just a laid-back, cool guy who’s ten steps ahead of everyone and can stuff dynamite down your pants. Alas, I relate more to Basil Fawlty’s incessant pent-up frustration.

If we’re talking actual stand-up, the guys who pulled me into that world were Mitch Hedberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Patton Oswalt, Eugene Mirman, Dave Chappelle, Maria Bamford, Brian Regan, and Zach Galifianakis.

Who was your favourite comedian growing up?

These days, I wish it wasn’t Bill Cosby, but we had a bunch of his albums on vinyl and I must have listened to them a hundred times. I ain’t gonna rewrite history. For better or worse, he was my introduction to the medium. On a lighter, but even less relatable note, I also dug Victor Borge and the Smothers Brothers around that time too. Still do. They don’t do musical comedy like that any more. Kinda wish we had more space for more varieties of comedy.

Who is your favourite comedian now?

Controversies or not, Louis CK still has my favourite combo of joke-writing sensibilities and stage presence. He makes it look easy. Bill Burr too. You gotta respect his brazen, caustic honesty. The guy digs a deep hole with every setup and tries to get out of it, and does it every time. And, I realize it’s cliché on top of cliché here, but Norm MacDonald (RIP, you smarmy bastard) has maybe made me laugh harder than anyone.

Finally, not exactly stand-up, but whatever the heck Tim Heidecker is doing with stuff like On Cinema at the Cinema (with Greg Turkington) is so out-of-left-field, slow-burn, anti-comedy genius that it blows my mind.

What is your pre-show ritual?

I put some owl bones in a velvet sack and shake it up and dump them onto a map of Ohio. If the bones land on Cleveland, I eat a huge bowl of chili. And I mean huge. Then a fresh clone of myself awakens from its sleeping tube, it kills me with a hammer, and then the clone takes my notes and gets on stage. There are also some breathing exercises involved.

What is your favourite place you have performed? Why?

I love the smaller rooms with younger, comedy-savvy audiences. Art Loft and McKibbin’s are favourites in Montreal. They both strike that perfect balance of intimate and unrefined.

Weirdly, I got started doing comedy while I was living in South Korea, so I’ll always have a soft spot for the rooms I played there (shout out to Rocky Mountain Tavern and the Ha-Ha Hole). I love the road and taking the train all around the Korean peninsula doing comedy shows with my best friends was the happiest time of my life, probably.

After that, I helped start a couple of English comedy shows in Madrid and ran them for a few years. Producing a show is definitely a separate beast, but I loved the spaces we got to do there too. Cool, wine cellar-y basements with brick and stone everywhere. Spanish pros would come by to try their sets in English.

Always chasing the high of the road, there was a 6-month stretch where I was lucky enough to ricochet from the Edinburgh Fringe to Beirut to Louisville, Nashville, Winnipeg, Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Buffalo. Beirut might have been my favourite experience then because it was interesting (and intimidating) being the only non-Lebanese person in the room. It reminded me that laughter can transcend continents.

What is your favourite bit you have written and why were you proud of it?

I had a bit about teaching, and what I like about it is that it grew and transformed into something. It was originally just a couple of quick punchlines about teaching high school, but it became a much bigger bit about time travel and killing Hitler. It was based on a true story, but it’s silly and surprising and it’s still changing. With just the right amount of embellishment.

What is your favourite medium for listening or finding new comics/comedians?

A lot of it is word of mouth. My pals got great comedy sensibilities, which is good when you don’t listen to a lot of podcasts.

Tell us a joke about your city.

So, I’ve been told that the roads are so awful in Montreal because of the mafia. I don’t know if that’s true. But I hope it’s true. Because I hate to think it’s the French trying their best.

Do you have anything to promote right now?

I don’t know when this’ll get printed so come find me on St. Denis during MCAF (May 24-26). Come say hi at tent D30. You can ask me in person where my next show will be. And while you’re there, check out the comic books I made. I’m a Bédélys finalist, dammit.

Where can we follow you?

You can follow my Instagram @biginsanehappy. Actually, “Big Insane Happy” is my umbrella brand for all the socials. It’s mostly my comics, but I do other stuff there too.

PAY IT FORWARD: Who is another local comic/comedian we should know about?

Wassim El-Mounzer