Enduring the forced hiatus of COVID-19 in an industry that relies so heavily on live performance turnout, Jay and Oliver have pulled together an all-star cast of Canada’s comedic personalities like Trixx, Jean Paul, Russell Peters, and others to create Oliver In Charge, a new comedy sitcom centred on the experiences of those with Black/Caribbean and African origins in the modern world.
Jay Martin will also be ringing in his 50th birthday simultaneously with his mentor Oliver Samuels, who celebrates the 50th year of his career in theatre this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Along with Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons, Kardinal Offishall, Jully Black, Melanie Fiona and a few more of Canada’s top talents, Oliver and Jay are inviting audiences to join in with the bashment virtually. Links to the holiday weekend-long online event (Friday, October 9 - Monday, October 12 2020) can be found at Oliverincharge.com.
Over a phone call between Toronto and Jamaica, Jay and Oliver share a few insights with ByBlacks.com about Caribbean-Canadian comedy, the event this weekend, and the introduction and crowdfunding event for Oliver In Charge.
For those who may not be up to speed — who is Jay Martin? How did you get the nickname ‘Renaissance Man’?
Jay: Jay Martin is a comedian, a businessman. The reason they gave me the name Renaissance Man is because I sing, I play music, I do comedy, I act, and I manage… I do a lot of different things. Just “comedian” couldn’t cover it. That’s why they call me the Renaissance Man.”
And Mr. Oliver Samuels, you are a legend. Could you talk a bit about yourself and the impact you’ve had on comedy?
Oliver: “Look here… let me tell you something. I don’t even know if I can answer that question. All I can say is that I have been a comedic actor for the past 50 years. All of the other dressings and things I cannot speak about. Like “King of Comedy” or an “icon” or “living legend” and all those fabulous terms… those are terms that have been bestowed upon me because I believe in that passion for the craft. But as a person I just go out there and do what I love and do what is expected of me as is directed by the various directors that I have worked with… and that’s it.
Isn’t the event this weekend supposed to be something like a birthday party for the two of you?
Jay: “So Oliver’s 50th year of theatre is my 50th birthday — it’s the same year, we’re both celebrating something. 50 years to me is a blessing because I never thought I’d reach this milestone in life… half a century is a long time. Many people don’t make it to this time in their lives so I consider it an extreme blessing. And to be in my 50th year, to do what I’ve always wanted to do with my life and at this present time be comfortable with who I am and who I’ve become is a real blessing. But my partner here has been in theatre for as long as I’ve been born! This is a big milestone.
Oliver: “It is a fantastic journey. Along the way I have met some very wonderful people, I have worked with some of the most wonderful talents, and also the fact that it is now [Jay’s] 50th year of existence and my 50th year of my involvement in the theatre, it is 50-50! It’s 100! To be working with a very humble, humane person as Jay Martin is, it must be a blessing. Something wonderful must come out of our efforts.
How would you describe the comedy scene in Toronto/in Canada?
Jay: “The comedy scene for me in Toronto and Canada is an ever-changing one. We have a couple of different classes: Black comedy, Caribbean comedy, stand-up theatre… but to be honest with you, as far as I’m concerned, for comedy in Canada — especially Toronto — it’s pretty good in terms of being recognized as one of the influencers in comedy. When I transform to do a little bit of theatre it’s definitely welcomed by our viewers [and the people who] attend our events. It’s a great place to be in terms of a Black person for comedy in the city because you have areas to be recognized. Now we still haven’t turned over the stone; for example, the Just For Laughs festival rarely calls upon the Canadian Black comedians… it’s all a ‘who you know’ situation, unfortunately. I wish they would tend to and follow what the people follow and want, and make sure they give exposure to some of the Canadian comedians of Black origin. But aside from that, in terms of our community, the support is there and I’m grateful for it. Yes we want more — we need more. The fact that we’ve had one Black television show for as long as I can remember coming out of Toronto is a disappointment because there are so many talented people here. Oliver and I plan to change that dynamic.
Oliver: “I have been coming into Toronto for the past 22 years… this would have been the 23rd year had it not been for COVID. The Mother’s Day Experience has blossomed to a level where it is a calendar event. What has happened throughout these 22 years is that we were not only seeing Caribbean people… because of the cultural power of West Indian people, especially Jamaican people because whenever dem go anywhere dem mek sure that people know that they’re there, dem mek sure that people learn and understand some of the cultural norms of ours, and so you’re getting a more multicultural group because of the connection of our Caribbean peoples and I think Jamaica leads the way in that regard. It was really an event that everyone looked forward to. It was amazing… One of the sad things about Canada and about the ‘white world’ though is that Black people hardly get the opportunity, especially if they’re not native to that culture. Black Americans excel well in the stand-up comedic field and some Black actors and actresses succeed. Canada is a little difficult… for me, probably, they’ll see my act as a novelty, I don’t know…. but we’re bringing something different every year. It’s comedy and they come out to refresh themselves.
Can you speak on the significance of “Oliver In Charge”?
Jay: “[The show] came about when Oliver and I discussed how much of a mentor he was to me. We came up with an idea — of course in these COVID times — along with the assistance of our producer, Ms. Patricia Scarlett, to create a modern-day family kind of sitcom which would involve an iconic father and son. Once we started to talk about the framework, Oliver said “that sounds interesting, I’d like to do something big” and I said “give me a week or two” and sent him a list of episode ideas. He also started to flow and to throw some pieces in. Together the synergy and the energy made a force to be reckoned with. The comedy show itself stars myself and Oliver in a certain kind of way that many of us go through in terms of parenting. Oliver’s character was in Jay’s character’s life when he was a young man, moved on and then came back into his life. So there’s that psychology of having the reconnection of father and son. There’s the dynamic of having the wife being African, so even though they’re all Black there’s this mixed marriage situation where the Jamaican world gets along with the African world. There’s the brother in law Trixx who’s hilarious. There’s the accountant and good friend named Jean Paul who’s from Trinidad & Tobago. So it gives you the dynamic of Canada which is what we are: a melting pot for a lot of different islands and cultures in one show, and everyone speaks their dialect. And then you throw in the brother who is Christopher John Daley who he never grew up with, know what I mean… he always knew he had a father but now he has a brother that’s totally different from him and they all have to be contained in this world. That is what a modern family, especially from Caribbean/African descent, really comes from. So the story we’re telling is not new. It’s in society, it’s just never been brought out forth in a television show. The fact that me, Christopher, Oliver, Trixx, Jean Paul are amazing comedians and actors in our own right makes for a cast that is second to none. The only resemblance that I can see anywhere near it is the original In Living Color cast, and that was a whole different show, it was a skit show. But to have them have us in a sitcom situation is going to be amazing.
During this pandemic I imagine that a lot of us are looking for laughs and to decompress. Have you been busy this year as far as comedy goes? How have you been dealing?
Oliver: “For me, I am really not technologically savvy but I have been doing some Zoom things with people calling me from all over the place asking me to host their birthday parties and all of that, thank God. I have some ideas that I am trying to work on to do some monetized work because people want that and make demands on me… but as I said I am short on the technological thing… for whatever it is I give thanks. I am very grateful for whatever happens and for what I get paid for. I do strongly believe and have faith in Jay and that our project will get off well. Some days I live on just faith.”
Jay: “For me it’s been the same. A lot of Zooms and conferences for companies. And you nailed it — we are in a pandemic so people really need our comedic timing now more than ever. I think for the years we’ve been doing this they’ve been taking a little bit for granted that we’re really there when they need us. Now we’re really in times of trouble. We’re really the ‘laugh doctors’ prescribing a feel good moment for them to take away themselves from the reality of what our world is in right now. What’s nice is the fact that I had some performances when we got to Phase 3 or 4; I was able to throw one show outside, socially distanced and it was great to perform on a stage for an audience, know what I mean… but obviously the numbers spiked up again and something of that nature can’t be done at this time. Plus we live in a weather-challenged climate that doesn’t allow us to be outside. That’s why I’m jealous of Oliver in Jamaica ‘cause (he chuckles) they always have great weather. But as the weather gets colder it’s gonna get harder, so Oliver and myself, we’re pushing the metal down really hard trying to make this show a reality. That’s what’s gonna transform everything. It’s gonna transform people to feel the comedy and the laughter, it’s going to keep Oliver and I working for the stretch of the age that we’re in to be working and providing for our families. I think this is an opportunity for everyone to win. Every day Oliver and I talk we talk about how we wanna work again! We wanna work. So the sooner that this happens and we can get on a set… he’s been so amazing in terms of working with him… easy going, and his faith is what drives me every day to make sure that we get this show in production. And be that as it may, for him to want to leave Jamaica and quarantine himself and stay here for however long it takes to film this special, these episodes, is a testimony to how much he believes in the project. That’s the part that makes me keep going every morning I wake up, to make sure we make this happen. This has to happen. So we’re happy when people like yourself interview us to get the word out so more people understand the story because it’s gonna take a team to make this a reality.
Jay, can you comment on your experience with performing clean comedy?
Jay: “You know what’s funny… with clean comedy, I won’t say that I’ve never tried to not be clean. I tried it because it seems like when you’re not clean you have more material to work with. (he laughs) But it’s not me, it just doesn’t come out genuine. And people can see it that don’t even know me. I’ve tried it one-two times to see: can I say something that’s not my nature… but I started clean, I have to end clean because that’s just the way my audience accepts me, and that’s when I’m at my best… so why change, you know? We go through different stages in our career where we try to switch it up a bit, try to do a new style and see if our audience empowers that in us but they don’t. They just want me the way I am… I won’t force it. I guess I’m proud of it because it puts me on a platform where some other people can’t go in terms of churches and corporate events, but for the most part I’m just an average Canadian. When we all get on stage, no one goes “hey that guy was good because he didn’t swear” they don’t even notice it. I guess they just want funny. Funny is funny whether it’s coming from me or someone who curses, it’s just the funny they get. Mine just comes without curses. Like having a latté with almond milk as opposed to cow’s milk… it still tastes good!”
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the sitcom or about this weekend?
Oliver: “I’m just excited about the idea of working with Jay. Jay has a Jamaican connection but was raised in Canada and I think the whole storyline is culturally rich and therefore I am just hoping and praying that this thing will be picked up because we have stories to tell in our own languages and it is going to be tremendous.
Jay: We hope everybody turns around and at least watches the special that we did with comedians and performers over the whole long weekend, from Friday to Monday. They can check it out on our site which is Oliverincharge.com and watch it for free… tell a friend to pass it to friends and forward it and let everybody get a dose of it… you’ll see a little clip from Oliver in there as well. So let’s get closer to the finish line. We appreciate your help in it. Of course we’re raising some funds so that we can do a little pre-production pilot and allow people to see a taste of what we’re offering. You know, in a normal world people would have just heard the star power and said “yeah, we just want the show to be picked up” but in our world we gotta work a little bit harder, unfortunately, to get people to understand what we’re making. Trust me and rest assured: with the blessings that we have and the praying that we’re both doing we know that we’re gonna get to that finish line, we’re very confident in that. We’re hoping for Oliver In Charge to be out by next summer or fall.
Watch all weekend at Oliverincharge.com.
Tremayne St.Kitts is a freelance creative writer, barber, and vocalist based in Toronto. Find him on Twitter and Instagram @tremaynecharlz