A native of Scarborough, Ontario, born to Trinidadian parents, Sterling Scott is a busy comedian and an even busier entrepreneur.
He currently lives in Edmonton and performs at some of the most buzzing venues in the city. He hosts The Dating Game at Krush Ultralounge on Tuesday evenings; performs at Rouge Lounge on Wednesday evenings, and closes the comedy show at The Druid Irish Pub every Sunday evening.
However, comedy wasn’t always his end goal. His first dream was to play for the NBA, but because he “wasn’t tall enough”; he decided to pursue track and field. This seemed a lot more promising for Scott as he made the top nine in the country; but his grades in school didn’t meet the standards to continue with the highly competitive sport, so he made his way to acting. After doing a few videos and commercials, he auditioned for the Much Music DJ Search in 2006, only to find out that he didn’t make the show. He was devastated.
After moving to Edmonton, Scott had a few other jobs under his belt, including working in a grocery store, a liquor warehouse, a gym, a scaffolding yard and then landing a job in Alberta’s lucrative oil field. After leaving the oil field in 2011, Scott made his way into stand up comedy. Scott quickly learned that rule number one is to build a fanbase and his first show in Alberta was a sold out one.
While this certainly was a celebration, Scott also learned to rely on nobody for show time. He observed that as an emerging comedian, no one knows you, they only know the comedy club where you perform. The club gets the reputation, not the comedian. If you give a stellar performance, the audience will remain faithful not to the comedian, but to the club. If you continue to rely on somebody (i.e. a club owner) for showtime “you now become a slave to the club. You have to build a brand”, says Scott.
Scott’s family was surprisingly supportive. “When I called home and told them that I wanted to do stand up comedy, they were like ‘well it’s about time!’ I was like ‘really?’’
His father wasn’t an immediate cheerleader. “My dad didn’t want me to do it… my dad’s like, you know old school Trini where they just believe in go to school, go work, get the money, and that’s it”.
Photo credit: April Plett
Scott has done shows all over Canada “From the Yukon straight on over to Nova Scotia!” as he likes to put it, and he says just like every city, every audience is different. Scott says it’s very important to assess the crowd before the jokes start. “One comic said ‘you don’t want 90 percent of the people to like you, you want ten percent of the people to love you because those ten percent will always love you and will always be your followers, and so when you go on to do a show, you want to be as much as yourself as possible.”
Scott says he adapts to every crowd on the spot. “If I see more couples, I’m going to do more relationship jokes, if I see that it’s a single crowd and they’re young, I’m not going to talk about having kids, that's how I adjust, that’s how I adapt, but every joke I tell is honest to what I believe and it’s true to who I am.” He also shares that there’s not much of a difference between the Sterling Scott on the stage and the the one off stage, “It’s Sterling on steroids, but it’s still me.”
The topic of being a black comedian shortly follows and when asked about how the smaller, not so diverse crowd handles race jokes, Scott boldly answers, “Any joke is a good joke if it’s well written, so I have race jokes, yes, I don’t have a lot but I address what I feel needs to be addressed. And where ever I do those jokes, it doesn’t matter the colour of the crowd, the jokes remain the same because the jokes will hit the same way. The reason for that is because the joke is based on truth that stems from reality… so how do they take it? Very well, but only because the joke is well done.”
On the other hand, while race jokes may get the crowd going, finding work as a black comedian is not an easy task, especially in Alberta. “It’s difficult,” says Scott, “It’s difficult nationwide. And the reason why it’s difficult is because when you’re in the comedy business, the clubs are not where you make money; you make money at clubs by selling merchandise. You make money by doing independent shows, and throwing your own shows, and corporates (Christmas parties, for example). I don’t look like them, so it’s like when they’re trying to book an act, they’re looking at what’s relatable to them, so they see a white guy in a suit, he looks like he works in their office. When they see me, they’re like ‘what’s he going to say though? What’s he going to do?’ They rather just go with what’s safe.”
Photo credit: Trevor Godinho
While most of his comedy career in Alberta has been a hit, Scott says he’s been shut out from many opportunities simply because of what he looks like.
“I do get shut down every year, last year I lost over $12,000 in gigs because I was black. And I say that because they would legitimately message back ‘hey did you know this guy was black? Yeah, we’ll go with somebody else’, like that was the actual email.”
While these events may be discouraging, Scott says you have to be persistent.
Scott has managed to build impressive credentials, doing shows in Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, and New York’s Apollo theatre.
In addition, Scott has done stand up comedy for the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan, Dubai, and Kuwait, and filmed three specials for CBC. Wherever Scott has performed, he’s always been invited to come back.
So what’s next for the upcoming comedian? “I want to be in New York for 2016 to work on my new hour. The best comics of North America come out of New York…It’s like the song ‘if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.’”
Scott also says, “I’m in the process of trying to get my American Visa, it’s unfortunate but it’s a reality that in Canada, we do not build stars. Canadian stars, the ones that made it started in America first.”
In September, Scott will be the host of Edmonton’s Reggae festival, the city’s second year in a row. In the same month he will be performing at Dream Lounge, a new shisha lounge that will be opening in Edmonton; and he will also be competing against 100 comedians in the World Series of Comedy competition in Las Vegas.
In the future, Scott dreams of performing for an audience of one million people , doing movies, and doing the first HBO special in Scarborough.
Isha Wallace is a Bachelor of Communications Studies student majoring in Professional Communication at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta. While she currently lives in Edmonton, Isha was born and raised in London, England to Caribbean parents. Earlier this year, Isha started her own blog pointblank-period.com to enhance her skills in writing for an audience. In the near future, Isha plans to move to Toronto, where she can get great exposure to Canadian media, strengthen her writing skills, and who knows? She might even be on your television screen one day.
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