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Tazz on Tazz: Coming to Rendezvous with Madness

Set to hit the big screen November 4th - 12th with over 20 programs of feature and short films, Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival is just around the corner and tickets are going fast! This year’s festival program has a stellar line-up and tickets are easy to purchase. For more information on programming or to buy tickets, click here.
This year, Big Daddy Tazz, acclaimed as ‘one of the most talented comics in the business,’ brings his unique worldview of life after mental illness to Rendezvous with Madness. On behalf of Workman Arts, CAMH’s Stevie Howell recently got the lowdown from Tazz on being the ‘Bipolar Buddha’.
Big Daddy Tazz
Stevie: You’ve been a successful comedian for many years. As a kid, were you a total cut-up?
Tazz: I knew when I was 8 years old that I wanted to be a stand up comic and actor. I saw Johnny Carson when we got cable. Dean Martin and Buddy Hackett were on the show, and they made Carson laugh so much that he was crying.
I also used humor to avoid bullies that targeted me as the fat kid with thick glasses. I quickly found out that if I could make them laugh, they would leave me alone—sort of. But when you’re a kid, no one sees it as being a “cut up” — just a smart ass. My first standing engagement was the vice Principal’s office... aaah, the big time.
Stevie: Being a comedian takes not only talent but business savvy. Tell me how you started performing and making a career.
Tazz: The first time I tried stand up, I was bouncing in a pub in Calgary that had a comedy night. The headliner’s opening act didn’t show up, so I ended up on stage. After a brutal show in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, I decided I was never going to play a bar again. I started focusing on corporate shows, fundraisers, TV, and radio — on gigs that rewarded me either financially or spiritually. Gigs that made me proud.
Stevie: What else would you have been, in a parallel universe?
Tazz: In another time and place, I think I would have been involved in kids and teaching, perhaps a kindergarten teacher. But with my level of ADD, there is no way I could have sat through the classes—either while I was learning to be a teacher or when I was teaching!
Stevie: Do you have a specific comedy mentor or hero?
Tazz: I have a few: Johnny Carson, Dean Martin, Jonathan Winters, Frank Gorshin, Fred Willard…I  thought  “Dean Martin Roasts” were great, as a kid — there’s no way I’d say that now! My two biggest heroes have nothing to do with comedy: actor James Cagney and baseball great Lou Gehrig.
Stevie: You’ve been an advocate for reducing stigma around mental health issues. What made you decide to share your experience with bi-polar?
Tazz: During a newspaper interview, I was surprised to hear myself say that I had been diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder. He printed it, and well.... no turning back now! I talk about what is happening in my life on stage — how could I not talk about it? It was better then what I was doing before, which was keeping it a secret and being ashamed.
Stevie: Billy Crystal said: “stand-up is how you process the painful.”
Tazz: Billy is right. Comedy is a way to process what we feel but can’t talk about. I use it to teach — when you’re laughing, the lesson comes easier. Laughter dulls the pain and stigma of many topics.
Stevie: Do you feel the public’s awareness of mental health and addiction issues has improved?
Tazz: The situation is far ahead of where it was 10 years ago. I had a heart attack recently, and when people come up to me now they say, “I hear you had a bit of a situation.” And I ask, “Oh you mean my heart attack?” People have no problem talking to me about my mental illness — it’s the heart attack that freaks them out!
Stevie: You do numerous high-profile events every year — on TV or travelling. Where do you find the energy? How do you juggle these commitments and family life?
Tazz: Energy comes from passion. I could be dead tired or in the throes of depression, yet once I step on stage, all is well. I am blessed with two boys aged 4 and 17 (cause I am so good at relationships) and their mothers bend over backwards so that I can pursue my career. My partner supports me even when I don’t feel like supporting my self. I get homesick, so I schedule no more then 3 days on the road before I am back in their arms. Often they will come on the road with me if they can. I am truly blessed.
Stevie: Name three guilty pleasures you wouldn’t be Tazz without.
Tazz: My boys, antique cars, and my crazy-assed stage shirts.
Stevie: How did you become involved with Workman Arts?
Tazz: Lisa simply called and said, “Hey, I hear you’re crazy. I represent crazy. Are you in?” I thought I would be crazy not to accept.
Stevie: Can you divulge any secret details about your Workman Arts Toronto show?
Tazz: I plan on making people laugh until they cry and then laugh some more…it’s the bi-polar way!
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