Although comedian Jebb Fink’s website dubs him “the American in Canada,” his first stand-up gig was actually in Spokane, sometime in the early 1980s.
It was at an open mic night at the Red Lion BBQ and Pub on Division Street, and Fink said he still doesn’t know how he gathered up the courage to go onstage. “I did a bunch of local references,” he said of his material that night. “I just went through the paper and picked things that were current.”
The Red Lion staff liked what they heard, and they invited him back to perform every week with new material. “They sort of forced me to write a lot,” Fink said.
Just six months later, Fink was touring as a professional comedian, driving himself from one comedy club to another, performing for anyone who would listen. It was a lifestyle he thrived on, even if the benefits weren’t immediately apparent. “I remember working sometimes for, like, $35 a night,” he said. “It did not pay well.”
It seems odd that a guy like Fink, who was born and raised in Los Angeles and has his stand-up roots in the Pacific Northwest, would end up as one of Canada’s premier comedians. It’s all because his second wife, who was running a nightclub where Fink performed, is a native of Calgary, and, according to Fink’s website, “refuses to move to the States.”
Up north, Fink is a familiar face: He’s hosted a number of early morning and late night TV shows, has appeared at numerous regional comedy festivals and in two televised stand-up specials, and even inspired an award-winning sitcom appropriately titled “An American in Canada.”
In terms of comedy, Fink said there aren’t many noticeable differences between Americans and Canadians, although there is one topic he finds U.S. audiences can sometimes get prickly about: politics.
Fink recalls performing on a cruise ship for 2,500 people – “1,000 Brits, somewhere around 700 Canadians, and the rest were Americans,” he said – and his political material fell totally flat with his fellow Yanks. “Brits will make fun of anything, and Canadians are pretty open as well,” Fink said. “But Americans sometimes get weird about odd things.”
(Sample joke: Fink mentions seeing a child’s T-shirt that reads “Future President of the United States.” “You’ll never see someone selling a shirt that says ‘Future Prime Minister of Canada,’ ” he said. “We hope for more for our children.”)
But Fink is excited to return to Spokane after an absence of several years, and he isn’t worried about encountering any hostile audiences here. “I’m really looking forward to coming back to Spokane, because it really was the place that I started,” Fink said. “It’s always been a great city for comedy and it’s always been very supportive.”
Besides, he says most of his material is universal: “I’m 55, I’m a father of four and a grandfather of 10. So a lot of what I talk about is family and parenting, and it works anywhere.”