Ron James is coming back to small-town Ontario to bring some laughs to the places where he cut his teeth on the standup circuit.
The award-winning comedian plays the NewRoads Performing Arts Centre in Newmarket Sunday, Feb. 23 as part of his Full Throttle tour, which will see James take the stage in smaller towns and cities throughout the province throughout February and March.
“It’s been a long winter up there, and I always find that people come to laugh,” said James. “When you make an effort to embrace the place you found yourself, rather than where you think you oughta be, it makes for a fun show.”
“My show’s about two hours long — I mean, you can really give the audience an honest bang for their buck.”
This tour could be one of the last times James graces local stages.
“I think in the fall that will be the beginning of my final run across country, and that will take anywhere from three to four years to complete — and there you go,” he said.
All right, maybe James won’t be retiring entirely. He said his tours won’t be as ambitious going forward, and that he may parachute into a town every once in a while for a festival, but he does admit it’s almost time to scale back his touring after 25 years of doing standup.
“I’d like to shift gears. Now ask me when it’s time to hang up my hat, if I’m ready to — I’m going to sound like a bullshitter. I love the work. I love getting on that stage and giving the audience what they paid for, to quote Keith Richards,” he said. “But driving the highways — I hit some pretty serious weather in northern Alberta a year ago, almost wiped out on black ice heading to Fort St. John driving to Grand Prairie in a rental car with no winter tires — it gives you pause, you know."
While James readies for what could be his last full-blown tour, he’ll be putting the finishing touches on his new book, All Over the Map, which is due to be released by Random House in October.
Describing the book as a “road trip between a comedian’s ears,” James tells NewmarketToday that his forthcoming book is a compilation of life experiences, taken from 20 years of keeping extensive journals while touring (or in his words, setting his trapline) across Canada.
He said the book definitely has a stronger narrative than his standup.
“I kept extensive journals when I was on the road over the last 20 years, and I was far more diligent about journals the first 10 years, before Instagram and Facebook demanded your time, you know?” he said. “I would meet these people on the road and they would just start talking to me, and I diligently wrote down everything they said.
“Whether it was Indigenous people who opened their hearts to me or elderly folks on plane rides, or people in bars or coffee shops or food courts, just in my travels.”
James said that after spending three years “chasing the sitcom dream” while living in California during the mid-'90s, he returned to Canada -— via the International Bridge in a leased car, which he technically wasn’t supposed to do, according to Canadian border guards — looking to change gears in the wake of a cancelled U.S. sitcom.
James subsequently toured legion halls, church basements and community centres across Canada before the Comedy Network aired his one-man show, Up & Down in Shaky Town: One Man’s Journey through the California Dream.
James would later land his first Canadian sitcom, BlackFly, which eventually led to a number of television specials and his own series, The Ron James Show, on CBC.
“The journey itself was the reward,” said James. “If you’re constantly looking at where it’s going to get you — and I mean, it got me my first series on CBC — but you know what? It dyed my hair mahogany, they said no one would watch me with white hair. It was a Machiavellian minefield, you never knew who liked you and who didn’t.”
“The ground was always shifting, and the holy note of the work that I loved live just felt compromised on TV. I really couldn’t take my car out for a spin and put the pedal to the metal and move full-throttle the way I wanted to, because you answer to so many chefs.”
Now James is going back to the same journey that he said has given him so much.
“Canada and my years touring it have been this tapestry of epiphanies and rewards that far exceed anything that television has given me, you know? It’s always been the live work that I [will] relish always,” he said.
Tickets, $62, for James tour stop in Newmarket Feb. 23 are nearly sold out.