Imagine the world of stand-up comedy being run like a business, complete with a head office, comedians regarded as regular employees, and its own human resources manager.
Quite out of the ordinary, isn’t it?
Not if you’re veteran Canadian comedian Jon Dore, who turned this rather unusual premise into a six-episode sitcom called “Humour Resources”, which debuts on CBC Television on January 5 at 9:30 p.m., and airs every subsequent Tuesday night afterwards.
Dore portrays a retired comedian who finds a second career as a human resources manager, only this time, the “employees” he deals with are actual stand-up comedians, whom Jon conducts unscripted interviews with over Zoom, as if they are undergoing a regular HR performance review. Each episode deals with a certain subject matter that a human resources department regularly has to deal with when it comes to their employees; they include resistance to change, work life balance, accountability, conflict resolution, time management and teamwork.
“This is a blended show. I wanted to give it a kind of stale environment, with me being a human resources manager working out of my home office with folders lying opened all over my desk, as I talk to comedians as an important standard that they have to justify their material to a human resources manager. That justifies the show’s premise of making comedy a business or a corporation, offering an item that the world can’t exist without. It makes for a perfect recipe for comedy,” said Dore during a recent phone interview.
To give the show a degree of authenticity, Dore got a number of A-list American and Canadian comics to appear on the interview segments, such as Sarah Silverman, Tom Green, Scott Thompson, Nikki Glaser, Reggie Watts, Ronny Chieng and DeAnne Smith. The segments were filmed during the pandemic, which explains for the socially distant Zoom calls. “I called in a lot of favours to get these comedians to appear on the show. It’s a mix of well-established comics, and comics who were in the beginning or the middle of their careers,” he said. “The comics I chose were people whom I know very well, and were able to play along with the formula and could sell the show.”
And Dore admits that although the interview segments were done unscripted, there was a lot of background work that went into them. “I had a team of researchers who did a great job of compiling ‘case files’ on each comic that I used to question them. They cobbled together so much interesting threads about them, that I had enough material for 12 episodes,” said Dore. “However, the main thing I told all the comics before we filmed the interview segments was they should be themselves. And as a result, they became willing participants.”
Besides the “performance reviews” that provide the main premise of “Humour Resources”, it also includes a sub plot that deals with Jon’s life outside his HR office, as he tries to deal with everyday situations with himself, his girlfriend Christina and her six-year-old daughter Emma. In the sample episode that I viewed prior to my interview with Dore (episode 3, “Accountability”), Jon is seen wearing a neck brace, and through video clips that are interspersed throughout the episode, he relates the events that explains how and why he got the brace, which has its roots in the retrieval of Emma’s misplaced teddy bear at a camping site.
“That’s the connective tissue of the show that carries each theme,” he said. “It’s sort of like a reverse engine for my character, who tries to be accountable but fails in the end. He’s a foolish person who contradicts everything he is saying, and if he listened to his own advice, things would be much easier.”
And in the true spirit of his character as Jon the HR manager, he admits that if any of the comics he interviewed on the show would get a good performance review from him, they would certainly get a raise. “Of course the ‘employees’ would get a raise, and I would happily be their liaison in the negotiations, so I could play an instrumental role and make it happen,” he said. “However, if they get a poor performance review, I will make sure that their licenses are removed and they will not be able to perform stand-up comedy.”
Feature image: ‘Humour Resources’ new comedy series with Canadian comic Jon Dore.