How Halifax turned Run the Burbs’ Chris Locke into a comedian | The Coast Halifax

How Halifax turned Run the Burbs’ Chris Locke into a comedian

The Toronto-based stand-up comic and actor performs at The Sanctuary Arts Centre in Dartmouth on Dec. 9.

Comedian Chris Locke has starred in CBC's Mr. D, TallBoyz and Run the Burbs. He performs a stand-up show at The Sanctuary Arts Centre on Dec. 9, 2023.

If not for academic probation, Chris Locke might never have gotten into stand-up comedy. Before Run the Burbs, TallBoyz and the Baroness von Sketch Show, and longer still before his starring role in the Atlantic crime caper Who’s Yer Father?, the 45-year-old comedian was on thin ice after a year of general arts studies at Dalhousie University.

“I dropped an English class because it was at 9am,” Locke says with a laugh, on a video call with The Coast from his home in Toronto. At the time, he was living in Howe Hall’s Henderson House. But instead of studying Hemingway or Shakespeare, he harboured dreams of being a deejay.

“And so the desk where I should have been writing essays, I hooked up two turntables and a mixer. The person who was in charge of my residence really did not like me,” Locke says. “I was basically a distraction.”

He’s still good at attracting attention. Only now, he’s paid for it. And that’s because, back home in Toronto that summer in 1999, “bobbing around the city and staying at friends’ houses,” he opted to give an open mic a try. Why not, he figured. He’s never looked back.

The open mic was supposed to be a joint thing with one of Locke’s friends. Locke had been crashing on his friend’s couch since returning from Halifax. (“Obviously, my parents weren’t impressed,” he says of his Dalhousie probation.) They had both signed up for the show. Only when it arrived, the friend backed out. Locke went ahead anyway. He’d always been a performer, he recalls, watching the likes of Chevy Chase, John Candy and Bill Murray on TV and admiring their comedic timing.

“As a kid, I was like, ‘I could do that.’ I wanted to be these silly, wise-ass guys,” he tells The Coast. “I’ve always identified with the clever fools. And then as a teen, I discovered all of Richard Pryor’s stand-up specials and went freakin’ nuts [seeing] his vulnerability in his performance, mixed with his writing. It was this perfect blend.

“It almost felt like my body physically made me drop out of university and start going to [comedy clubs] and finding who I am on a stage.”

“It almost felt like my body physically made me drop out of university and start going to [comedy clubs] and finding who I am on a stage.”

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His first set earned him laughs. It also showed the earliest glimpses of Locke’s knack for the unconventional in his comedy—a dial that would be turned even higher when he later teamed up with comedian Nathan Fielder.

“I kind of sang the Jenga commercial and beatboxed it and turned it into, like, a breakdancing song about Jenga. It was really weird,” Locke says.

click to enlarge How Halifax turned Run the Burbs’ Chris Locke into a comedian
Matt Barnes
“I kind of sang the Jenga commercial and beatboxed it and turned it into, like, a breakdancing song about Jenga. It was really weird,” comedian Chris Locke says of his first open mic performance.

About Fielder. It would be impossible to talk about Locke’s comedic impact without reflecting on his pioneering work with the Nathan For You star in early YouTube sketch comedy. In the mid-aughts, long before the Instagram reels and TikTok shorts they would eventually inspire, Locke and Fielder—along with a handful of other comedian friends—built a reputation for their DIY videos. Though the production quality might have aged, the scripting is as funny as ever. In one short, Locke interviews a dragon for a job. In another, he shows up late to help his friends with a move. In yet another, he and Fielder rap about ex-girlfriends.

“Nathan came to town with already, like, a burgeoning concept of being your [own] production company,” Locke says. “He saved up money and bought the best high-def camera you could get for goofing around at the time.

“Honestly, it was Nathan inspiring us with his camera, comedy and editing skills. None of us had any of that going on. Everything I made at that time disappeared into thin air after it was performed, right? I’m still bad at that sometimes—the idea of making something that’s tangible, that people can [watch] later. He really introduced that into our scene, and then we all just hung out for years, experimenting and making some really fun stuff.”

For a time, the YouTube shorts earned Locke and Fielder the co-artist-in-residence spot at The Drake Hotel in Toronto. Rapper k-os was a regular at the venue. It was a year or two removed from his viral “Crabbuckit” video, in which the JUNO Award-winning emcee strutted the sidewalks of Toronto. Locke came up with the idea of spoofing the video. Fielder wanted in. So, they recorded “Morning Walk.” It became a hit of its own—not least of which because of Fielder’s over-the-top verse.

“His deadpan delivery of nonsense gibberish just steals the show,” Locke says.

“It’s the story of my career alongside Nathan: I’ll be like, ‘Hey guys, I’m the guy beside Nathan.’ And everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’”

These days, Locke has become a draw of his own, and one of Canada’s most versatile comedians—as comfortable (and hilarious) on-stage as he is on-screen, whether riffing with his wife, Kathleen Phillips-Locke, and Gerry Dee on Mr. D, or playing oddball neighbour Sebastian on CBC’s Run the Burbs. (“We just wrapped the third season of that,” Locke says. “It’s some of the best writing they’ve done for my character—and there’s so much fun stuff.”) His first feature-length role as a leading actor in 2022’s Who’s Yer Father? won the comedian critical acclaim for his portrayal of hapless private investigator Larry Constable. The film premiered at Halifax’s Atlantic International Film Festival in September.

“It’s absolutely the best project I’ve ever been a part of,” Locke tells The Coast. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a project. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked—it was like four weeks of 13, 14-hour days. And Susan Kent and I are basically on screen the whole movie. She’s so fantastic and insanely talented. And Jeremy Larter, the writer and director really put his heart and soul into the script… so it was absolutely incredible for me. It totally changed my life.”

Now, Locke returns to Halifax for a special stand-up set at The Sanctuary Arts Centre (100 Ochterloney Street, Dartmouth) on Saturday, Dec. 9. The show starts at 8pm. Tickets are still available for $28.75.

“I’m excited to come back,” he says. “I’ve never been to Dartmouth. And it’s really nice to be travelling again and meeting people and making people laugh.”