Dylan Mandlsohn’s drug of choice is adrenaline, and his favourite dealer is the audience at his comedy shows.
“It’s nerve-wracking before I do it, but once I’m on stage and I’m doing well, all those nerves turn into a high. It’s the biggest adrenaline rush ever,” he said.
The Toronto native, 33, has taken his show on the road to most provinces in Canada and almost all 50 U.S. states, including Alaska, where he performed on a Disney cruise ship.
“Disney audiences are a little challenging, because they’re really conservative, scared to laugh at anything edgy, so I had to clean things up for them,” he said, describing the experience as “the mother of all corporate gigs” and almost like a form of church comedy.
By that he means there was often a delay between the jokes and the laughter, and he’s convinced it’s because audience members were asking themselves, “Would Jesus laugh at that?”
“I always thought I was bombing and they would laugh three seconds later. ‘Yes, Jesus would approve,’” he said.
It was tough for this edgy comedian to come up with a completely clean act, but he said it helped him prepare to do other corporate gigs, and it helped him go from completely broke to earning six figures for a while. And that means he’s able to take more risks these days.
Mandlsohn said he’s always known he’s wanted to be a comedian since he was a child. He would watch stand-up comedy shows with his father, and he found himself inspired by comedians such as Jim Carrey and Rich Little.
“I was fascinated that they could make people laugh, [even though] I never understood what they were saying at the time,” he said. “I started memorizing these jokes that made no sense to me.”
Early on, he figured out that his face was super flexible, he said, demonstrating his “rubber face.”
When he was 17, he began developing his act, and soon he took part in amateur night at Yuk Yuk’s. He got his start touring around the United States when he was a student at the University of Windsor, where he studied theatre. There were two comedy clubs in Windsor: Yuk Yuk’s and Leo’s Komedy Korner.
“They really took me and gave me a lot of stage time,” he said.
With a bit of help, he was introduced to the comedy scene of nearby American cities, and soon enough, he was on the road performing fairly regularly.
The only states he could think of where he hasn’t performed are Texas, Hawaii, Utah and Kansas.
He described American audiences as being more political and passionate than their Canadian counterparts. In fact, he said some comedians could get away with simply preaching to the choir, and the audiences would love it.
“If I was going into a town that’s really Republican, I could just talk about ‘those damn Democrats’ and get these applause breaks and they think I did a great job even if it maybe wasn’t that funny,” he said.
Although he loves comedy, acting is another one of his loves. He went to teacher’s college to cement the backup plan that if things don’t work out, he could always teach theatre and English. While he waits for his really big break, he does substitute teaching all around the city. That gives him the freedom to travel and take off for auditions as they come.
In addition to giving him the credentials to teach, teacher’s college also gave him plenty of fodder for his act.
But he loves show business, and that’s where he hopes to stay, even if it’s not in stand-up comedy. He said one of his goals is to break into TV and film. He has some credits to his name – for example, a guest-starring role on the American TV series Nikita – but he’s always looking to do more.
Yet he knows it all takes time.
He’s met other comedians, include world-famous Russell Peters, who have given him that advice.
“‘Don’t worry about being better than all the headliners because you’re not at that level. Just be the best guy at that level and you’ll move up,’” he said Peters told him, back when Peters would perform in Windsor, before he became a mega-star.
“I thought that really helped me, because it made things not so overwhelming,” Mandlsohn said. “It helps me focus more on what I need to do.”
And he knows he’s slowly making his way to the big leagues.
“I think it’ll happen,” he said. “I think pretty soon, things will start popping up in a really big kind of way.”