Segarini – A Funny Man Takes His Leave

Last year, on March 13th, a group of men and women, most of us long in the tooth but younger at heart than most could imagine, gathered in the back of a bar called The Pilot to pay tribute and say goodbye to the very funny, eclectic, and absurdist comedian, Steve Shuster.

Barry Roden and I found ourselves at a table surrounded by legends (and their friends) whose words and actions had made us laugh since the late ’70s.

Thanks to Simon Rakoff, another comedic light in the Toronto comedy filament, the evening was put together to pay homage to the sad sack, unkempt, Shuster, whose wit and dead-pan delivery had informed most of the other comedians in the room, and had entertained the rest of us civilians every time he performed, which, typical of the eccentric Shuster, was not nearly as often as one would have liked.

Steve was the brother to Saturday Night Live scribe Rosie Shuster (married at one time to Lorne Michaels) and son of legendary comic Frank Shuster, who, as half of the team of Wayne and Shuster, was instrumental in taking Canada’s sense of humour south of the border, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show more times than Topo Gigio.

It was at this gathering I was delighted to see a friend from the earliest days of Mark Breslin’s quest to bring comedy to Canada, and Canadian comics to the world with a new generation of funnymen.

In the audience this night at The Pilot was one of the major players in the early days of Mark’s fledgling empire. A man I hadn’t seen for almost seventeen years.

Mike MacDonald

A man I saw or spoke to a few times a week for a 3 or 4 year period starting in 1978, and whose friendship continued until the current day.

It would be the last time I would ever see him.

=0=

You can get the historical information from Wikipedia concerning Mike’s childhood and the events leading up to his Toronto move, I won’t be delving into it here. While the memories of Mike I possess continue to rise to the surface like a dumpling in a pot of boiling water, (triggered by reading Kenny Robinson’s announcement and Peter Kashur’s message regarding Mike’s passing), I’m just going to share a few stories, have a few shots of tequila, and once again, question the insane loss of another person who brought so much joy, while assholes and pricks continue to fruit-loop their merry way down the path to hell, trying desperately to take us with them.

…not that Mike couldn’t be an asshole or a prick on occasion….

=0=

Yuk Yuk’s on Bay

 

It was on the bottom floor (basement, actually) of a building on Bay at the Eastern edge of trendy Yorkville, directly under a restaurant where you sat on pillows and ate hummus and other things that Pashas enjoy. I was there every night I didn’t have a gig.

Mark Breslin was on a mission, and he was amazingly focused. He was kind to me and others who got what he was doing. He was strict, but fair, protecting not only his investment, but the young layabouts who wanted to talk for a living, sleep all day, and have sex with waitresses if they were lucky.

It was here where I saw the pioneers, the hopefuls, and the truly gifted.

Lou Eisen, Lawrence Morganstern, Simon, Steve, and of course, MacDonald. Lou Dinos, Howie Mandel, and others came into this group early, followed by a verrry young Jim Carrey, who we first saw at the Queensberry Arms on an open mic night when he was 15 years old. With rare exception, comedians ever since then ­pass through those doors that open into Mark Breslin’s temples of topical anesthesia in the form of laughter to reduce the pain that comes with living in the Modern World.

It was MacDonald who stood tallest, who everybody loved. feared, and (sometimes begrudgingly) respected. Comedians (at least every one I have ever known) are very complex individuals. Some laughing to keep from crying, some insecure to a fault, some angry, hostile, and arrogant, and some are just plain bat-shit crazy. By turns, Mike could be all of these things.

There was an excitement in the air here rivaled only by the burgeoning music scenes I had been witness to in L.A and San Francisco.

…but funnier.

When Yuk Yuk’s moved in 1986, Mark had Mike Open the New Venue

The first time I saw Mike was on the Bay Street stage back in ’77 – ’78, I laughed my ass off…but his closing bit, involving an oversized pair of sunglasses, a tennis racket, and a cassette with a heavy metal guitar and his ‘father’s’ voice screaming at him while mike mimic-ed and reacted to it, made me apoplectic, laughing so hard I was unable to breath or make a sound. It hurt as much as being kicked in the ribs, which, I’m sure, this felt like. I have been a fan ever since.

=0=

Myer’s Deli

Many nights were spent crammed into a booth in this late night Jewish Deli on the eastern most lip of Yorkville within walking distance of Yuks. Comedians wind down like athletes, going over the evening’s set, making fun of each other, and eating through their pain.

One night Mike, a 16 or 17 year old Jim Carrey, and either Simon or one of the other regulars and myself were sitting there listening to mike sharing his take on some poor bastard that pissed him off, and Carrey, either bored or showboating, reached behind his head with his right hand, which was connected to his obviously double jointed arm, removed a cigarette from a pack in the pocket on the left side of his shirt, put it in his mouth, reached back into his pocket and single-handedly opened a book of matches, lit one, and lit his cigarette, blew out the match, closed and dumped the matchbook back into his pocket, all without taking his eyes off of Mike or breaking into a grin. MacDonald paused in the middle of a sentence and, without looking at Jim, said, “Fuck you, kid”, and went back to his story.

=0=

That’s Funny”. The Party in a Second Floor Apartment

Comedians can be brutal, and Mike was a master of truth, justice, and the Comedian Way. It is just as hard to make a comedian laugh as it must be to keep the Kardashian’s mouths (and legs) shut.

One night I ended up at an impromptu party at someone’s apartment, a second floor walk up above a convenience store in a somewhat seedy strip mall. There must have been over a dozen people crammed into the tiny living room, most of whom were the jolly comedians who entertained with laughs and wry wit. God help the weak and infirm.

One of our number was sitting at a card table or some such rolling joint after joint after joint from a mound of weed the size of President Train Wreck’s ego. There was so much smoke in the air that if an elephant had been in the room, no one would have seen it until it stepped on them. And there was beer. Much beer.

Comedians (as a rule) are not particularly physically violent or abusive, but armed with rapier like wit, and a razor sharp tongue, many of them can cut you up worse than a demented surgeon on crack wielding a scalpel and wearing a clown suit (who, incidentally, you wouldn’t have seen either until it was too late, because of the damn pot smoke hanging in the air.

Mike, sitting in an over stuffed chair (being the king has its privileges) in a room almost bereft of furniture, was quietly watching the room, interrupted every now and then with some of the younger comedians running new bits by him to see if he approved. Like most comedians, the most you could get out of him if something was a solid laugh-getter, would be, “That’s funny”. Seasoned comedians don’t laugh at jokes or bits the newer ones try on them. If you’re good, you will get a deadpan “That’s funny”. If it isn’t good, the veteran will look at you like you are a leprous dung covered imbecile and just stare right through you until you disappear into the surroundings like a dissapating egg fart. Mike excelled at this. I oft-times  thought he was just being funny…but I was never sure.

Howie Mandel, all enthusiasm and grinning like he just got a blow job from Princess Leia, approached Mike with a bit that had something to do with being in a convertible, throwing a brick in the air, driving away, and having the brick land next to the driver of the convertible behind you.

Mike spoke.

For 10 minutes.

You couldn’t have sliced and diced Howie more  thoroughly with a Slap Chop.

=0=

The El Mocambo

Mark Breslin was very protective and territorial about his comedians back then. I’ve known Mark all these years and always found him to be a good man and a funny guy in his own right.

The best proof I have of that was when my band had gotten traction in Toronto on the strength of our first LP, “Gotta Have Pop”, and were going to play either our first or second show in the upstairs showcase at the Legendary El Mocambo, a club I had been thrown out of just months earlier for touting the importance of the then brand new Punk and New Wave movements.

We already had a reputation for hiring new bands to introduce to our packed audiences as our opening acts, and the Elmo was no exception. I wanted to do something special. I wanted to bring my favourite comedians from Yuk Yuk’s into the club to perform between the opening and my band’s sets. I had to ask Mark. He graciously and quickly gave his blessing.

The night we did that show is still a highlight of our days as an A-List club band in Canada.  I wish I could remember all 7 names, but a few have eluded me. I do know that that night and others, both in clubs and colleges and Universities, we introduced the likes of Lou Dinos, Howie, Steve Shuster, Simon Rakoff, Steve Pulver, Lawrence Morgenstern, and others to audiences who had never seen them before, and graced our stages afterward, when I was still treading club stages and some of them were becoming celebrities.

I asked Mike to close the show. I didn’t think anyone would, or could, follow him.

The two vivid moments I STILL remember were Steve Pulver reaching down to a guy sitting in front of the stage and saying, “Give me a cigarette…I left mine in the machine”, which went from laughs to applause, and Mike’s tennis racket fueled bit about dreaming of being a rock star.

He was a rock star that night. In the El Mocambo.

He still is.

=0=

There are other stories, other times.

There was attending Just For Laughs with him as his guest one year and enjoying the VIP treatment that came with it.

There was the visit to my home in Uxbridge where he stayed for a few days when he first became ill.

There were the phone calls, the sadness and determination I heard in his voice when he was seeking financial help, and the feeling of helplessness I felt because I couldn’t help him as much as I wanted to.

But always the laughter.

The intense, somewhat hostile, heart of gold, quick witted, brutal, angry, sonovabitch was one of a kind.

…and funny as fuck.

Mike had a good run. The television specials, the longest running performer at Montreal’s Just For Laughs. The countless appearances on stage, in movies, and his own TV series, Mosquito Lake. Most people would be satisfied with a career that good, that long, and that successful. Mike had more plans, wanted to go further, wanted to go higher, but it was not to be. Life, as we all know, has a wicked curve ball, and a sense of humour so dark, it reminds us all of how fragile we truly are.

For all his success, I will always remember him best at the beginning. When it was all so fresh. When the ideas and bits and jokes came at such a furious rate, he could have had a new show almost every night. Before the big time, when Mike was exploding here in Toronto, he was Sinatra in the Hoboken 5, the Beatles in Hamburg, Steve Jobs working out of his garage. The future was so bright, and you could feel it, bask in it, every time he hit the stage and you were lucky enough to be in the audience.

Truly and seriously…you shoulda been there.

…and Mike MacDonald should still be here…Making us laugh so hard, we couldn’t breathe, and couldn’t make a sound, and we ached like someone kicked us in the ribs.

Only then, it felt good.

Rock On Old Friend, Rock On.

Bob and Mike March 13th, 2017 Photo by Barry Roden

=0=

Segarini’s regular columns appear here on Friday’s except when they don’t in which case they didn’t

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7giphyBob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

2 Responses to “Segarini – A Funny Man Takes His Leave”

  1. What a wonderful tribute. Beautifully written. You certainly have a way of making us all wish we had been there.

  2. Marlene Schuler Says:

    Can’t recall if I ever caught Mike but do remember many a Friday night in the late 70’s waiting in line on Bay Street for the doors to open to Yuk Yuks. Sorry for the loss of a man that you and many held in such high esteem.

Leave a Reply to Marlene Schuler Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: