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  • Writer's pictureDavid Reuben

Behind The Yuk's

Mark Breslin

The King Of Canadian Comedy

Mark Breslin said in his book Control Freak that "I would rather have fun than be happy" After over 30 years in the comedy business The Comedy Green Room asked Mark Breslin are you happy? "I am definitely not happy. That's why I love Comedy".

For over three decades Mr. Mark Breslin has made a name for himself as the founding father of stand-up comedy in Canada. He has built a world class reputation and is one of the most important people in the Canadian Comedy Industry. It all started in the mid 1970's when the comedy club business got hot in the USA.

Mark Breslin was born and raised in Toronto and graduated from York University with a degree in English Literature. In 1974 Mark started out as the Director for The Arts at Harbourfront Centre in Downtown Toronto and also directed Ryerson Riots in 1976. When the Bohemian Embassy was canceled at Harbourfront Mr. Breslin decide to create a comedy club in Toronto. The first Yuk Yuk's was on Wednesday nights in the basement of the community hall at 519 Church Street, which is now the heart of the Gay village in Toronto.

The original experience at Yuk Yuk's was an "in your face" experience before it was cool. And Mark's belief in freedom of expression was bordering on the macabre with his onstage persona raising the bar of brashness. Mark's act was about not having any values and is fed off the audience with its aggressively amoral themes going against the political rightness of the middle 1970's and that was the joke of it. Because, of this Mark became The Yuk Yuk's Experience.

Young Mr. Breslin was very ambitious and in 1978 along with his then partner, Joel Axler, opened his first full-time Yuk Yuk's at 1280 Bay St. in the Trendy Yorkville area of Toronto. Today Yuk Yuk's is the largest chain of comedy clubs in North America, and Mark has branched out into other aspects of show business.

In 1991, Mark authored his first book Son of Meech (Random House) and in 2000 released his autobiographical novel Control Freaked (Insomniac Press). Asked if another book is in the works, Mr. Breslin replied, "oh, I hope so. But writing a book is such a time-consuming work."

Along the way he has appeared in numerous films and television programs and is semi-retired from performing stand-up comedy to devote himself to producing and consulting on various projects. These have included Late Night with Joan Rivers (Fox), Friday Night with Ralph Benmergui (CBC), and the huge hit Kenny vs Spenny (Showcase). According to Mark "the biggest thrill of his career was producing The Joan Rivers Show in California".

Currently Mark serves as the producer in residence and artistic director of The Humber College Comedy Program which he co-founded and is programming director for satellite XM Radio's Laugh Attack on satellite radio. His mandate for Laugh Attack was and is to feature Canadian comedy.

Mark is also the power behind The Yuk Yuk's Great Canadian Laugh Off which is going into its third year on The Comedy Network this coming April. The Yuk Yuk's Great Canadian Laugh Off is a no holes barred contest with the winner taking home $25,000. The $25,000 is the largest prize for a comedy competition in North America. Past winners are Jeff McEnery and Paul Myrehaug both who have gone on to touring as professional comics.

In the 18 years that Mark performed stand-up comedy full-time he championed free speech and pushing the limits and on one occasion even emptied a female patron’s purse on stage read her private notes and ridiculed her form of birth control. Mark has always had a soft spot for raw comedy and one of his favorite acts was the late great Sam Kinison.

According to Mr. Breslin, "when you are on stage and doing well it's just one of those perfect moments. It's a pure art and there's just you on stage, no writer, no director, and no lightning man. There's a beauty to it, purity. Comedy more then any other art form depends on an audience." And Mark feels that the advent of cable, internet and podcasts has not hindered the quality of talent in clubs, "it hasn't made a big difference in our lives. Nothing will replace watching live stand-up in three dimensions."

Away from work Mark Breslin is intensely private and is much softer and less abrasive then the stage persona he created over 30 years ago. He is one of the best dressed men in Toronto, if not all of Canada, and has said in the past that "shopping is a kind of Zen exercise". A movie buff, Mr. Breslin has said that "for me there is no such thing as a bad movie and I just like sitting in the dark with strangers."

What is next for Mark Breslin professionally is not far from what he has been doing for 30 years "building a number of new Yuk Yuk's and launching a new TV series or two". With all this success Mr. Breslin does not feel like a celebrity yet he says I don't get asked for autographs in airports, but there are a lot of people who seem to know me". It seems that the performing bug has not totally left Mark's system as he has the second lead in Spencer Rice's "CONFESSIONS OF A PORN ADDICT".

Mark Breslin told The Comedy Green Room that his greatest regret in his career was "not learning to play the Guitar or Piano". Well music's loss became comedy's Canadian legacy.

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