They say you can can tell a lot about a man by the size of his shoes and the size of his hands, but learn infinitely more from his tour schedule. So what does Ron James' Full Tilt tour, which hits the thriving entertainment hubs of Lethbridge, Lloydminster, Fort McMurray, Prince Albert and Brandon, say about him? Apparently that he's a Canadian boy, a hometown favourite and damn proud of it.
"I'm a sucker for the mythology, iconography and cultural touchstones of my country of origin," says James, spoken like a true graduate of history and political science. "And I make no apologies for that. I love writing about and performing and embracing the mysteries of here."
Dubbed the country's best-selling comedian, the Halifax native has proven himself a man after Canadian hearts through his affectionately cantankerous roasting of Canadian life. With material ranging from unabashed glorification of the "bovine" maidens at Tim Horton's to tongue-in-cheek propositioning of the bears in Banff National Park, James is no stranger to the unique rhythms of Canadian culture. Landmarks in his acclaimed career include starring in several CBC comedy specials and touring extensively coast to coast through major metropolises and rural communities alike.
"It's been a slow discovery," says James. "I think we discovered each other together, the country and I. It's been a wonderful and demanding learning curve, but it feels authentic. One of the things with standup is that your pieces get so much better and much more polished over time. That's one of the virtues of performing for a long time. It gets really tight and worn in like a nice pair of shoes."
As someone who has built his comedic career on glowing reviews and well-researched material, Ron James is a rare breed of comedian amidst a wave of newcomers bottle-fed by Youtube and Myspace. Unlike new favourites Dane Cook and Russell Peters, Ron James fans shouldn't expect to see much of his well-fitting shoes online.
"I'm old-school, baby," he drawls. "I'm a luddite. I never went to the Net to find my funny. Now that I hear about it, my daughter said someone put me on there and I said, 'No shit! Really?' What has worked for me in Canada, over these nine years that I've been doing this, is simply grassroots word of mouth; that and bringing quality product to the people."
It was this commitment to quality that first pushed James towards comedy after cutting his teeth at Second City TV, and now keeps his feet firmly planted above the 49th parallel. Contrary to the popular misconception that every Canadian star yearns for the bright lights of Hollywood, James has no plans to join his counterparts in the land of the rich and famous.
"I moved into acting after being on Second City," he recalls. "But the only time the phones rang was when the parts called for Christmas elves and the mentally challenged. It was an exponential leap from there to stand up comedy, but when I was down there in L.A., you have no idea the kind of swill that came down the pipe. I sure as shit didn't want to be on a stupid sitcom with Kevin James, trying to justify that sort of performance weekly. At the end of the day, I'm content with what I'm saying, doing and making. I'm not doing [standup] so I can get somewhere else. Going to L.A. and making money and getting a sitcom doesn't buy you happiness."
With another CBC special profiling Canada's West Coast set to air on New Year's Eve, James is clearly one Canadian comedian who's here to stay, literally and figuratively. After all, he's got the characteristic self-effacing wit, razor-sharp Nova Scotian accent and the 'ehs' to prove it.
"You show me a Canadian who's not going to be nostalgic for that little cold pickle in the air when September rolls around, eh?" says James. "See--I'd miss that."