Thursday, December 26, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell: Talmage Control: Having conquered a host of medical problems, resident funny man Kerry Talmage now devotes himself to jokes about sex noises and writing scripts for talk shows involving rotting meat.
Kerry Talmage scowls at the camera, lifts his massive eyebrows and flips me the bird from his barstool. He is mentally preparing, and he can''t be bothered to talk.
The 5''2'''' Canadian is dressed in a brilliant red suit and sports a shiny black shirt with a red spider design on the front. He is hunched over the bar, trying to shut out the noise of the comedian on stage warming up the crowd. At his elbow sits a small leather case containing syringes and a supply of insulin.
I am following Talmage around Planet Gemini with a video camera on a Friday night. A film student is capturing a week in the comedian''s life for a documentary short, and I''ve been pressed into service with the hand-held.
Talmage is relatively new to the Monterey Bay comedy scene, but he is a veteran behind the mic. He tours extensively in the U.S. and his native Canada, as well as in Europe and as far afield as South Africa. Often spending more than a month on the road at a time, he performs up to six nights a week while on tour.
He much prefers home. He moved to the Peninsula with his wife, a Hungarian geophysicist currently working on cleaning up the Army''s Fort Ord lands.
When he is not on the road, Talmage spends his days in his office writing. His "scripted reality show" Bachelor Pad cleaned up at the South African TV awards last year, winning Best Acting/ Writing/New Script/New Idea. He hopes to transplant the idea to U.S. airwaves. He is also collaborating with two other comedy writers on an upcoming sketch-based special for Canadian TV, and toying with the idea for a talk show involving bowling, prizes, and rotting meat.
But at this moment Talmage is getting ready to take the stage at Planet Gemini. Emcee and owner Anthony Lane bounds up to the mic as the night''s first comedian leaves the stage. Talmage takes his cue and slides off the barstool. He asks the bartender to look after his insulin case and straightens his jacket.
"I want you to welcome our next comedian," booms Lane. "He''s from Canada and just finished filming a movie with George Clooney. Say hello to Kerry Talmage!" Talmage makes his way to the stage and immediately scores a laugh from the audience as he ratchets down the microphone (ratchets it way down) and launches into his act.
Twelve months ago, Talmage was languishing in a coma in a hospital in Britain; the diabetic comedian''s wife was at his bedside, and doctors were calling it all over.
It wasn''t the first time. Talmage''s diabetes, transplanted kidney and chronic pancreatitis often land him in hospitals for weeks at a time, retching and puking and "enjoying" a constant morphine drip for the pain. Surgeons have cut on him 32 times. But this episode in London was different; the kidney was showing signs of rejection, and pneumonia had settled into his lungs.
He fought his way back. In what the nurses called a "Christmas miracle," he rallied and left the hospital soon after, though it would take time and hard work before he could walk unaided. He was slated to appear soon after in George Clooney''s directorial debut, Confessions of A Dangerous Mind. When his illness threatened to leave him too weak to film, Clooney refused to give up on him, stating affectionately that "Coma Boy stays in the movie."
The medical theme even works its way into Talmage''s act. After he talked about the kidney at another recent show, an audience member came up to thank him. The man had undergone his own kidney transplant, and the two ended up comparing scars.
But little about Talmage''s act can be described as "warm and fuzzy" (except, perhaps, for his eyebrows). He covers gay sex, pot smoking, two-timing girlfriends, sex noises, short guys dating tall women, and even hockey. Few polite, Seinfeld-ish ruminations here.
He also doesn''t shy away from heckling audience members right back. I am filming a woman in the front row as Talmage asks why she wouldn''t date someone of his height. When he delivers the zinger, the woman''s rage is scary; her boyfriend puts a hand on her shoulder, as if to keep her from rushing the stage to administer a well-deserved beating to the comic. I silently hope that my footage will make it into the documentary.
After a few more jokes and a nasty exchange with a trio of British tourists at a back table that he will fume about for the rest of the evening ("Those fucking Brits..."), Talmage leaves the stage. He''s not sure about how he went over-he suspects some in the audience came mostly for the dancing that will begin soon, and not for the comedy. He hopes the footage doesn''t make it look like he bombed.
He passes out the free drink tokens he received to the documentary crew and sits back as the night''s headliner takes the stage. His next big assignment is to hunt down tickets to the L.A. premiere of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, at the end of December.
Tickets to L.A. premieres are hard to come by, usually going to big stars first. "But I''m in the fucking movie!" Talmage protests, irritated by just thinking about it. His agent can get him tickets to the Montreal premiere, but Talmage doesn''t want to fly that far. It''s a matter of principle.
He wants to walk up the red carpet, his wife on his arm, the entire Hollywood crowd wondering, "Who the hell is that?" and then do what he does best: make them laugh.
Kerry Talmage appears at Planet Gemini on New Year''s Eve. Call 373-1449 for information.