By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Laughter filled the Community Cultural Centre Friday night as comedian and musician Lorne Elliott unfolded his Upside of the Downturn show on a Morinville audience. Elliott, who has performed around the world and who has opened for Rodney Dangerfield and Jay Leno, is best known as the host of CBC Radio’s Madly Off in All Directions, which ran for 11 seasons.
Friday night’s 90-minute show was unapologetically Canadian; the scope of Elliott’s comedy sought laughter on a national level, narrowed to a focus on Alberta, and even set its sights directly on Morinville itself. The storyteller did his homework. Building on an extremely well-received joke about the fishy smell from Champion Petfoods confusing local dogs into always thinking its dinner time, Eliott immediately set his sights on Morinville Mayor Lloyd Bertschi. Commenting on the fact the mayor had worked at RV City selling recreational vehicles, and alluding to the previous industrial stink, Elliott quipped the mayor was probably the only mayor in the country trying to get his residents to leave the community.
But whether tackling local issues and politicians, making observations about the absurdities and logic of counting in French, taking multiple shots at CBC commentator Rex Murphy, or singing a song about male shrinkage, Elliott delivered comedy that walked proudly on intellectual lines but never once leaned towards being pretentious. This was not the commodity comedy of the cookie cutter variety that seeks the lowest common denominator. Rather, the Upside of the Downturn was the work of a master of the comedic art form, a man who could slay a few sacred cows without traversing mean-spirited and profanity-laced paths to achieve it. Elliott’s punch lines were delivered with words, gestures and facial expressions, each technique as eloquently delivered and effective as the next. The fact the entertainer’s unruly hair has the ability to turn in a performance of its own, independent of the jokes, only adds to the comedian’s ability to generate multiple laughs in close proximity to one another.
Elliott’s stories and comedic observations were interspersed with a number of humourous songs covering life in a small town, the intricacies of finding the sweet spot between hot and cold on a set of shower taps, and the limitations of being in a crappy rock band.
The music comes as no surprise to those familiar with the 58-year-old comedian’s career. Elliott entered the entertainment business in 1974 as a folk musician working in Eastern Canada. Concurrent to his music career, Elliott wrote fiction, monologues and jokes, all creative pursuits that would weld themselves into a seamless piece of theatre that combines a good deal of variety with a great opportunity to see what a true comedian looks like.