Leaving his dog, wife, friends and family in Ottawa, Scott Dumas bolted for Calgary.
As he was driving here — one week before he turned 30 — he was thinking to himself: “Just picture your name in lights.”
This is what Dumas wanted to achieve in Calgary after he quit his bank job to pursue a career in comedy. Risking an uncertain income to pursue his passion, Scott Dumas is now a successful comedian, and has a life he loves living in the Rocky Mountains.
However, Dumas never once considered comedy as a career option when he was a child.
“I wanted to be a truck driver — big semi rigs. I had pictures on my wall,” Dumas says.
Despite this, Dumas was always fond of going to Yuk Yuk's Comedy Club in Ottawa as a teenager and listening to albums by Steve Martin and George Carlin.
“I could not come across the idea to go to my dad and say, ‘Hey dad, you know that RESP that you brought me to go to university for free? Well I don’t want to use it, I just want to be a comedian.”
Dumas ended up going to Carleton University with the sole purpose of using his RESP.
“I just wanted to take psychology only for my own knowledge, [it] wasn’t anything to do with a career.”
The psychology of comedy
Dumas hated university, but he found it was actually beneficial to his comedic aspirations.
“It’s helped me with human interactions,” Dumas says. “It’s helped me mind-manipulate people because you have to be like that on stage — where I’m going to be in control, but you don’t know I’m in control — it’s all based on psychology.”
After university, he started eight weeks of intense sales-training for a job selling life insurance for a company in London, Ont.
“Selling insurance was an option because they hire anyone with a degree. It didn't matter what, I fit right in,” Dumas explains. “Nothing made sense. I didn't know what I wanted to do. But I did know what I didn't want to do. There was a lot of jobs I didn't want to do. So, I was just struggling to figure what I was going to do.”
After a few years selling life insurance, Dumas added it to his list of jobs he knew he did not want to do.
He quit that job and continued his career at the Bank of Montreal as a financial sales manager.
“Banking was just a means to an end,” says Dumas. “[One] where I had an opportunity to get these jobs based on the knowledge I knew at the time.”
From the banks of Ottawa to those in Calgary
Feeling the need to leave Ottawa, his bank job shifted to one in another city.
“One week before my thirtieth birthday, I left my bank job. I left a wife, I left a dog,” Dumas says. “I left my friends, I left my mom and dad and brother and just bolted for Calgary to start over. Not knowing anyone here and just trying to figure it out.”
Knowing he did not want this to be his full-time career, Dumas gave himself one year to be a banker and figure out his next move here in Calgary.
He’d dreamed about going on stage, but it wasn’t until an encounter at a Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club show that he finally found the courage to do it.
“The manager came up to me and said, ‘Are you interested in going up tonight?’” Dumas explains. “My brain stopped for a second.”
“If I say yes, my life changes right now. This is it. This is what I’ve been thinking about. There’s nothing else. Nothing is drawing me like this. And I said yes.”
Quitting his bank job three months later, Dumas started working at The Keg during lunches for extra money.
Dumas saw the potential of working three to four nights a month to make the same as he did working a full month at the bank.
“It didn’t make sense to me why I was working at the bank when I could just go to comedy,” says Dumas. “And in 45 minutes doing your show, making people laugh was a great thing for me.”
“You might just get paid in lasagna”
Despite this, it is often hard to find those well-paying gigs.
“There are not many jobs out there that someone will actually go out of their way —literally out of their way — to do it for free, [but] comedy is one of them,” Dumas says. “You might just get paid in lasagna, which is not a joke.”
Some club managers don’t pay. Some give less than what was originally compromised. Some agents can’t find the big-money gigs to give to their comedians. Because of these uncertainties, pay for comedians is always different and not always guaranteed.
“The whole economy in Alberta now is in the shitter because there’s no oil money,” says Dumas. “That trickles down all the way to entertainment, so there’s not lots of gigs like there was... there is [also] more talent, so there’s more competition.”
Dumas doesn’t always get the best gigs, but performs most of them anyway just for the money.
“I had to do a show on the night of September 11, 2001,” says Dumas. “We got called midday, when everyone in the world was watching the TV, and they’re like, ‘Hey, can you get to Lethbridge tonight?’”
“We’re like, ‘You know what’s going on, is there a show tonight?’ And you know, the people that were supposed to go couldn’t get there because their plane was landed somewhere,” explains Dumas.
“We got there, and it was packed. The TV’s were showing repeats of the hazard — the big day — and we had to do a show that night.”
Why it’s worth it
Comedy is not Dumas’ only source of income. According to his website, he also hosts a comedy show in Canmore, and has done acting, modelling and radio.
Despite the uncertain income and occasional lack of shows, Dumas believes his work is worth it completely.
“[The response from the crowd] is why we’re in it. It’s not the money that’s for sure,” Dumas said.
Dumas will still take the occasional day job to help his income stay consistent.
“Summers tend to be quite slow, even in [Yuk Yuk’s] clubs we go down from four shows to two,” says Kelly D’Amour, Yuk Yuk’s booking agent for western Canada.
D’Amour said the corporate events are the ones that bring in the big paychecks for comics.
When Dumas takes his comedy to corporate events, he does not get the response he expects, because he needs to make his jokes more PG-13. Dumas finds it harder to create funny jokes for this type of event.
He has to put up with those to make a living in order to enjoy the lower-paying shows as well.
“I sell stupid stories, but when people genuinely look at you in the face and they’re crying laughing, telling you you’re funny… when you see old ladies crying because they’re laughing so hard. When people tell you that their stomach hurt, when their cheeks hurt, when they peed themselves. That’s the rewarding part.”
Now at 50, Dumas has been getting those responses for 19 years, and cannot see himself giving it up anytime soon.
“The time on stage, there's nothing like it,” Dumas said. “That part is just exciting as hell.”
- By Shannon Oxley