Dave Merheje is one very busy man. One of Canada's fastest-rising stand-up comics over the past few years, he's about to add multiple appearances at Toronto's JFL42 comedy festival to his already impressive resume.
“It's that rush,” he tells me as he describes what drives him to bring on his aggressive style of edgy, high-energy comedy. “When you get into that frenzy, it's an addictive thing. Just to see the audience laughing is very addictive.”
Merheje will feel that rush again tomorrow (Monday) night at the Rivoli, in a special JFL42 edition of the ALTdot COMedy Lounge – a show that also features Sean Cullen, Debra DiGiovanni and several others. (“It's such a great thing for the city,” Merheje says about the long-running ALTdot series.) He also appears at the Cameron House and the Garrison several times from Tuesday to Friday, doing his advice-column comedy show, Dear Dave.
Not long ago, Merheje was cutting his teeth and refining his style on numerous Toronto open stages. But last year, he won the Just For Laughs Irwin Barker Homegrown Comic Award, and NOW readers voted him as the city's best male stand-up performer. This year, he was nominated for Best Stand-Up at the Canadian Comedy Awards.
Have his recent success and awards affected his comedy in any way? “Not really,” he says, then adds: “I've always been ranty, although I never used to smile as much onstage. Later, I started to smile and show more of a silly side.”
Known for a manic, improvisational, even stream-of-consciousness approach, Merheje's act often tackles racy topics, from terrorism and politics to sex, drugs and club culture. Much of the material comes straight from his own personal experiences. “I feel that you should be able to talk about whatever you want, with no censorship,” he explains. Once in a while, somebody might get offended, he says, but that's just par for the course in the comedy world. “Stand-up comedy is always going to run into that, no matter what you do or how polite you are. But you've just got to be yourself, and when that happens, you keep going.”
Born and raised in Windsor, Merheje began developing his comedy style early on in the schoolyard. “Growing up, my friends and I always liked to clown around and bust jokes,” he says. As a result, his stand-up persona is little more than his own self. “That's my personality that you see onstage. It's obviously heightened when I'm there and the light's on me, but I always felt that if I could naturally do onstage what I do offstage, it would make my comedy better.”
Merheje credits Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Mike Epps among his comedic influences, but adds his own Lebanese-Canadian family as a strong inspiration: “My father is just naturally funny. So are my mom and my cousins. They're all very funny people. They don't always know they're being funny, though.”
In July, Merheje joined the Gemini-winning variety show MTV Live as one of the hosts and sketch comics. “Everybody on the show is so welcoming,” he says about it. “It's a great experience. I've always loved doing sketches, and it's a good group of people to work with.”
Next up for Merheje is a fall tour of various U.S. college campuses with the Stand-Up for Diversity company, a gig he scored as a finalist in the annual NBC competition.
He also has acting ambitions, citing Denzel Washington and Daniel Day-Lewis as his favourite actors. “I'd like to get some more training in that.”
Dave Merheje appears at the JFL42 edition of the ALTdot COMedy Lounge on Monday, September 24 at the Rivoli; the event continues on the 25th. Doors open both nights at 8:30 p.m.