Have you ever found yourself in an embarrassingly hilarious situation that you’re sure would have an audience in stitches, if only you could tell it right?
Toronto-based comedian Ariel Kagan has conceived a concept for a comedy show that will allow you to share your story without you ever having to utter a word.
Kagan said he came up with the idea for Their Stories, which he describes as “a one man performance piece,” when he was approached by someone who’d seen him perform a standup gig and said he had a great story for him that he could work into his act.
“I thought, ‘That’s genius. Get other people’s stories and just pretend that they’re my stories. I thought this could be a thing. Let me try it.’”
Born and raised in South Africa, 25-year-old Kagan has been on the standup comedy circuit for the past three years.
“My friends and I back home ran a bar and we had a comedy night and one night a comic was late and my friend was like, ‘You’re funny, why don’t you go up and start talking and see what happens?’” he recalled.
“I don’t suffer from stage fright, ever… so I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll go try,’ and I got up and people laughed and I thought, ‘That feels really good. That feels exceptional. And I was like, ‘This is all I want now.’ That’s kind of how it started.”
Kagan decided to move to Toronto, which has a bigger standup scene than his hometown of Johannesburg, about 1 ½ years ago.
“I’m actually a Canadian citizen. My mom was born in Markham and she moved to South Africa in her teens… I wanted to take comedy more seriously and I figured North America was the place. Because I’m a Canadian, I figured Canada would be a good place to start,” he said.
In that short time, Kagan has landed gigs at bars and clubs including Yuk Yuk’s Toronto, and most recently was included in the lineup for Toronto’s annual 10-day music, film, art and comedy festival called NXNE in June.
Coming from Johannesburg’s Jewish community, Kagan said he isn’t shy about incorporating his Jewish upbringing into his standup material.
“I love the Jewish faith and the way the people are. I wouldn’t say I am religious. [I} only get on board for the High Holidays so I don't have to work,” he joked.
But his main focus of late has been getting Their Stories – the show debuted July 6 at Comedy Bar in Toronto – ready for the stage, which has been a six-month process.
He said he received about 35 submissions for Their Stories and wrote about 12 of them – most of which fall under the theme of the horrors of the dating scene – into his act.
Offering up some sample material, Kagan introduced one of the anecdotes he worked into his show.
“I’ve been casually seeing this girl and I knew she was seeing other people at the same time, but what ended up happening was she invited me to come visit her at her work where she was a server. So I casually go, order lunch and sit down, and I look across from me and see a guy who sort of resembles her sort of other boyfriend. Part of me is obviously upset, like, ‘She really invited both of us to the same place? That’s not something someone should do.’ But I think, let me make the best of it, so I invite him to join me.”
Of course, there is much more to this story, which Kagan describes as more of “an acting comedy piece because you have to build a persona around a story,” he said.
“I’d think about how a person would react in a situation or how I would feel and then rewrite the story from my perspective.”
He said he hopes to build Their Stories into a show he could tour with.
“People would submit stories up until the day I arrive and then I’d do the show and tell people’s stories in that city. But the thing about the show is that unless you submitted the story, you don't know whose story it is. I also include a couple of my stories, so you’d have no idea whose story is whose.”
Kagan said he’s also working on a one-man show called Way to Make it Awkward.
“It’s a show about myself, about how I love and hate myself at the same time and stories that illustrate why I love myself and hate myself at the same time.”
Kagan’s next gig has him on the roster for the Lab Cab Festival in Toronto’s Parkdale area, which runs July 26 and 27.
For more information about Kagan, visit www.arielkagan.com