WHEN YOU'RE THE WORST HOCKEY PLAYER ON THE WORST HOCKEY TEAM YOU TURN TO COMEDY
VERNON - Sam Mullins is wrapping up his North American comedy tour not only in his hometown, but on the stage where he saw his very first play — the Powerhouse Theatre in Vernon.
“I must’ve been like seven or eight, and I vaguely remember going to a show there with my mom. It was my first time seeing theatre, and I remember there were men dressed as women and I was at the age where that was the funniest thing I’d ever seen,” Mullins says.
The 29-year-old Kalamalka Secondary School grad is returning to the theatre this Wednesday and Thursday, and this time he’ll be the main act, not a member of the audience. The award-winning comedian, known for his sketch comedy on the CBC’s The Irrelevant Show, has been living out of a suitcase since May, taking his personal show everywhere from New York to Vancouver.
“It’s been a crazy long tour,” Mullins says. “It feels so good to be wrapping it up at home.”
Born and raised in Vernon, being a comedian wasn’t always front and centre for Mullins. In high school, he was convinced he was going to play for the National Hockey League — or at the very least, his idols, the Vernon Vipers.
In Grade 12, he tried out for the Vipers team but was given a spot on the Grand Forks Junior B team instead. He went for it and spent much of his Grade 12 year going to school in there just so he could play hockey, but it wasn’t everything he thought it would be.
“Quite honestly, I was the worst player on the worst team,” he says. “On the hockey bus, everyone would tease me because I would literally be writing a play for drama class.”
He returned to Vernon for his final semester and immersed himself in acting and script writing classes. His drama teacher saw his potential and suggested he pursue theatre in university. He took the advice, and enrolled in the theatre program at the University of Victoria — a four-year experience which developed his skills as an actor, but detoured him somewhat from comedy.
“The reason I went to theatre school in the first place was because it was always my dream to be on Saturday Night Live,” he says. “After four years of taking myself way too seriously, I came out of the program and moved to Vancouver thinking I was Daniel Day Lewis and needed to play these difficult, challenging roles.”
After a year of auditioning for plays and commercials, he’d had enough and decided to start a comedy troupe with a few friends. Pretty soon, he was booking performances and it wasn’t long before he landed a script-writing job at the CBC.
“My word of advice, if you want to do comedy, is there’s just one way to do it, and it has nothing to do with schooling. It has to do with finding like-minded people, booking a venue and a date that you can’t get out of — even if it’s just for ten people in a weird coffee shop — and having a show ready,” he says.
Mullins will be performing two of his shows in Vernon, one, The Untitled Sam Mullins Project on Wednesday night, and Grandma’s Dead on Thursday. Both are one-man shows, and draw on experiences from Mullins’ own life.
“I think what led me to storytelling in the first place is, if I do the best job of telling people my most humiliating stories, nobody else gets to tell them. I take ownership,” Mullins says. “I’m kind of famous for telling really embarrassing adolescent stories.”
In Grandma’s Dead, a play about two brothers on a road trip to their beloved grandmother’s funeral, Mullins plays several different people — and to really get into character, he’s doing the show without his glasses.
“I felt (my glasses) would limit me. I’m playing so many characters, the only difference is their physicality and facial expressions. I just wanted a blank slate. So the audience will basically be a blur to me,” he says.
Aside from putting on a comedy show back in 2011 at the Kalamalka Secondary School theatre, Mullins hasn’t done many local performances.
“It’s weird to be on the road and performing anonymously in front of 100 people who have no idea who you are, and then you come home, and tonight I’ll be looking out into the stage and it will be everyone I’ve known in my entire life,” he says.
Before returning to Toronto, where he now lives and works, Mullins plans to visit his favourite used bookstores, visit with family, and fill up on his mom’s casseroles.
Tickets are $20 and are still available for both shows. You can reserve them online or pick them up at the door.
You can listen to one of Mullins' stories, Long Talk on a Short Pier, here. It's set in Vernon on Kalamalka Beach, and is the epitome of adolescent humiliation — Mullins' specialty.
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