Story by Karen Paton-Evans
Photography by Scott Maclean
While all comedians must learn to sell themselves – to the audience, agents, producers and fellow comics, Windsor’s Dave Merheje unwittingly fell into training by joining his buddy at St. Clair College to study advertising and marketing.
“My mom wanted me to go to school,” Dave says. “Not that I don’t think education is key and amazing; my mind was just on entertainment. I never thought about doing anything else.”
After graduation, Dave handed his diploma to his mom and headed to Toronto to pursue his love of stand-up. “She said, ‘You where born to do comedy and you’re natural up there,’” he recalls. Proving he has what it takes to make it in show business, Dave, now 38, has been scoring laughs in clubs, stand-up competitions, CBC, Netflix and countless other stages.
When his 2018 release “Good Friend Bad Grammar” won the 2019 JUNO award for comedy album of the year, Dave was elated. Thanking his team, he says, “We put in a lot of work. It’s beautiful to get rewarded. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
WL: Were your knees knocking the first time you did stand-up and tried out your bit at Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club in Windsor?
DM: “I was around 19, 20. I was doing it sporadically because I didn’t understand the concept of building material or any of that stuff. I really had no idea what I was doing. I was so nervous. I think I talked so fast, I wasn’t making any sense. It got better.”
WL: For years now, you have been making a lot of people everywhere laugh out loud. How did it feel to represent Canada on Comedians of the World series on the 2019 Netflix Special, Beautifully Manic?
DM: “There were a total of 8 Canadians – 4 English-speaking and 4 French-speaking….I think they picked a great bunch to represent Canada, for sure. I think people watching will not be disappointed. And if you are disappointed, that’s on you - and you have to get your life together.”
WL: When you accepted your JUNO award on March 19, you thanked your dad, Jean, who was in the audience, and credited him as “the source of my comedy.”
DM: “He came for three days: the comedy show Friday, Saturday was the gala and Sunday was the televised taping….he had a great time….it was great that he was there to see that happen. I would say my whole family is very much the source of my comedy, from him, my mom, my sister, my two brothers, my nieces and my brother-in-law. My dad is a funny, funny character. He makes us laugh so much.”
WL: You have mentioned that your dad has no filter in his head. Do you figure those genetics were passed on to you?
DM: “From what I know, I don’t think he censors himself at all….there’s never a point where I think, ‘Oh, he held back there.’ I take after him and my mom, as well. She’s great at telling stories. She’s a bit more of a worrier….I get the anxiety and worry from her and I get the weirdness, quirkiness from him. [My family] are all storytellers. But I don’t think they’re aware that they’re doing it like a comedian is; it’s just who they are….it’s always funny in the house.”
WL: The no filter thing is obviously working for you in comedy. Although you sometimes come across as aggressive, your material is measured. In-your-face yet under control. You have stated your belief that as adults, “we should be able to talk about whatever we want” – and then back that up by taking on a lot of subjects. Including the bizarreness of you being labelled a terrorist because of your Middle-Eastern heritage. Did your We Ain’t Terrorists Comedy Special lead to better understanding, do you think?
DM: “I understand how I could come across as aggressive. It’s just funny, when we grew up, we yell-talked. It’s natural to us. Some of my friends who are ethnic, it’s not weird to us, someone screaming like that. We’re just asking for the paper or something. Nobody’s on high-alert. The We Ain’t Terrorists thing came from an idea of why don’t we just talk about these things? I’ve been in some towns in Canada where I’ve been called a terrorist. I don’t know why. Maybe I was naïve. A show like that was to break these stereotypes. It was me and Ali Hassan – a very funny comedian. When we were in Calgary, a dude came up to us after and hugged us separately….and said, ‘Thank you for doing this.’ An older white gentleman, a blue-collar guy. He now comments on our posts. He’s really supportive. We were baffled, how did he end up here, why was he here? Just that hug, I’ll never forget it. I think a show like ours, and a show like Ali’s Muslim Interrupted, does things like that. That’s always positive not just for the Arab community but every community.
WL: Does writing comedy material help you make sense of the world? Or does it reconfirm this is a pretty crazy place to be?
DM: “It’s both. It’s like a therapeutic thing, too. I write on stage a lot. You’ve got this anger, you let it out, the audience laughs…or not. A lot of it is therapy. You try to make sense of it, but it is pretty messed up. That also creates some new material. If we can all make fun of it in a room together….it’s positive if we’re laughing about it as opposed to being depressed about it. So there is good there.”
WL: For an entertainer, you can’t get more Canadian than winning a JUNO – unless it’s appearing on a CBC TV sitcom. How did you become economics teacher Dave Bechara on Mr. D?
DM: “That was all Gerry Dee. I got to open for him in Windsor and worked with him in the Just For Laughs Festival….I owe Gerry a lot.”
WL: Are there any similarities between Mr. D’s Xavier Academy and your own high school, Catholic Central in Windsor?
DM: “We grew up with a lot of different cultures. A lot of Lebanese people, like me, went to Catholic Central.”
WL: Although you have also acted in We Are Disorderly (2015) and Ramy (2019), you’re pretty humble about your acting chops.
DM: “I’ve always wanted to do stand-up, find my voice, get into acting and move into sitcoms and movies….I’m just learning and I want to continue to learn.”
WL: You’ve publicly said we should support Canadian comedy. When you’ve had a tough day and need a laugh, who do you plug into?
DM: “Nathan Macintosh, Gerry, Russell Peters….I see a lot of live Canadian acts. So even if I’m having a bummy day, I go see my homies on stage and they make me laugh.”