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Alex Lasarev interview

by: Cara Wides - Last updated: 2006-11-07

Alex Lasarev

Alex Lasarev

Most people would be traumatised by the experience of being deported from England and ending up in jail – the Canadian comedian Alex Lasarev found the experience so amusing that he has based his new stand up show around it. ‘Illegal Import’ recounts how the 27-year-old overstayed his visa in England and was thrown out, only to sneak back in via Ireland.

The English authorities were rightly having none of it, and Lasarev ended up in jail for
two nights. He was deported again, went back to Canada, and then re-entered our shores legally (so any  police officers reading this can relax).

Having struggled through performing gigs in remote villages to one man and his dog, Lasarev is not one to be deterred by life’s testing episodes.

"I got so much humourous material from the deportation experiences I don’t have enough time in my show to use it all," he chuckles.

One of the Canadian comedian’s biggest comedy heroes, Richard Pryor, also made jokes about disasters in his life (in Pryor’s case it was drug addition). Other performers Lasarev considers inspiring – Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy in his early years – also have a certain edginess about them.

"I don’t mind shaking things up with my material – some people may find me subversive," he reflects. "However, my humour covers a wide range of topics, including my Jewish upbringing."

One wonders if he has jokes about his later experiences of the religion, as he is currently residing in Golders Green, and feels a strong connection with Jewish comedians such as Woody Allen. ‘Illegal Import’ was well received when it was peformed in Edinburgh this year, and will be playing from the 7th to the 12th of November at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden. Lasarev doesn’t feel nervous about the forthcoming run, as says he is used to getting up on stage.

He got his first taste of doing stand-up as a 17-year-old living in his native Canada. He went to see a local comedy show and was offered the chance to perform a five minute set. "After this first taste I was hooked," he said. "I came back the next week for more, and eventually took my act to a bigger club."

His earliest material was about the Wonderland amusement park in Toronto, and the daft things people did there, like taking open soft drinks on the rollercoasters. He soon discovered he had a talent for improvising during gigs and causing the audience to have hysterics: "In one performance I had the jokes scrawled on my hands to remind me, but I was sweating so much the writing blurred. In the end I made a joke about the ink dripping off my
hands, and everyone was in stitches," he recounts.

He discovered working as a stand-up could be difficult -  when you aren’t in the mood for being funny, but people have paid to see you go on stage and do just that.

"I remember when I had been dumped by a girl who I was crazy about and I felt really depressed, but I had to just go on and perform because it’s my job." Another example of this ‘show must go on’ mentality is the friend of his whose mother died, but he didn’t stop working.

In such situations, Lasarev must be grateful that being a comic is such an intrinsic part of his character, not something that requires exerting himself. "When I was growing up I was always cracking jokes, asking silly questions in school, that kind of thing."

Whereas most of us are accept it as inevitable that there will be elements of our jobs we don’t like, Lasarev is far luckier. "From the start I was so happy when I was up on stage – if there were only 2 people in the audience I didn’t care. For me this job is the most fun you can have."

He is certainly not in it for fame or money – which is lucky because for a stand-up comedian these are both hard to come by. Lasarev is now in position where he is making enough to support himself, and since his Edinburgh show his reputation is growing. "I’d like to reach the point where I have 3 or 4 attractive female stalkers hanging around after a gig," he teases. Then he becomes unchararcteristically serious: "This is not a profession you go into
to make money, or to further your acting career. It’s very competitive and a lot of work. So you do because you love comedy, and you feel you’ve got no choice, you just have to do it."

‘Illegal Import’ is on at the Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High Street, London NW1. For details, phone 020 7482 4857. The show runs from 7th to the 12th November.