Mild-mannered advertising agent Merv Hartlen's alter ego Super Merv makes a brief appearance in Merv'n Out, Hartlen's Atlantic Fringe Festival debut. Super Merv doesn't stop a runaway train or save someone from falling into Niagara Falls, he just offers a spare umbrella or help carrying groceries.
Similarly, forcing himself to participate in the Halifax comedy circuit was a small gesture that had huge repercussions for Hartlen. "I would be lost without comedy, I think," Hartlen says. "Comedy has just been a slap in the face for me. Like, don't smoke another joint, just get up and go. I used to not have time to do anything because I was getting so high and now I don't have time to get high, even though I'm eating way more candy these days."
Hartlen's workhorse-style participation in the comedy scene is impressive, and it's something he says saved him "from sitting quietly in the corner for the rest of his life." Like most good comics, Hartlen says he suffers from social anxiety and low self- confidence, two traits that happen to make for some stellar stand-up. His transformation has even extended to a slight change of name, from Marc to Merv Hartlen.
"All my comedy friends started calling me Merv," he says. "I started to think about all the comics named Marc, so Merv just sort of stuck."
"It kind of separates me from my old life, if you call me Marc then I know you're from high school and have a baby and are getting married, and if you call me Merv you probably saw me at Bearly's last night," he says. "It's a way for me to cut my life in half. I had a lot of shame---the way I lived my life is not the way I wanted to live my life."
But all that's changed in a relatively short span of time, Hartlen's been performing for three years, but this last year has been a banner one. He says his aggressive comedy schedule is a way of "making up for lost time."
"I'm just saying yes to everything now. If you want me to tell jokes at your mom's funeral I would---I don't think it would go well but I'd give it a shot," Hartlen says. "I've had a show every single night non-stop this summer. I'm thinking in the middle of September I'll take a nap."
On Sunday you can see him at Bill Wood's comedy night at The Company House, then Monday Night Meatholes at Gus' Pub, Yuk Yuk's amateur night or Laughter Burner at Bearly's on Wednesdays, and his own comedy night at Jacob's Lounge in Dartmouth on Fridays (called Merv's Comedy Show, where Hartlen hosts comics and bands).
Guest spots and special events crop up on the odd night off: "I'm doing a show in the middle of the woods in September," he says. "I think I have to stay overnight.".
Performing Merv'n Out was a chance for Hartlen to push his boundaries further, trying on a slightly more structured format and solidify bits he's been kicking around for awhile.
"It's about cramming as much as I can into 45 minutes, I kind of do a weird stand up with weird characters and I play a lot of music so I'm basically just taking what I've learned in the last three years of comedy just do my own thing.
"It's the same thing as starting my own show in Dartmouth, I just realized I can't be waiting around for people to ask me to do shows, I gotta do it myself," he says. "I gotta make my own stage time."
Lucky for us, he's able to do it.