The Beaverton’s Miguel Rivas has sweaty hands
With more than 6 million views a year, the Beaverton is Canada’s leading purveyor of hard-hitting, investigative satire. To meet the demand for its brand of Onion-esque reporting, the site recently created a “televised adaptation” for the Comedy Network, with comedians Miguel Rivas and Emma Hunter as co-anchors.
We checked in with Rivas for his take on comedy, making the jump to TV, and the benefits of sweaty, dripping hands.
Workopolis: Where did you catch the comedy bug?
MR: Right from a very young age – almost as soon as I could talk – I wanted to be an actor. In high school, though, my tastes gravitated towards comedy, things like Mr. Show, Saturday Night Live, In Living Colour… I went to theatre school to study acting, but I ended up just meeting other people who wanted to do comedy. And really that’s how it started. I found people to collaborate with.
Did you have any interest in stand-up? Or has it always been about sketch comedy?
I’ve always been a big fan of stand up, but I never really caught the bug in the way that I did for sketch comedy. I always wanted to be an actor, and sketch comedy is acting, it’s just acting in a comedic way, where stand-up is more about being a kind of truth teller. I wanted to put a mask on instead of telling everyone my deepest, darkest secrets.
Do you think your theatre training came in handy?
The theatre training didn’t hurt at all and gave me a leg up in certain areas, like dealing with scripts and diction. But to be a good actor, and a good sketch comedian, you really just have to do it. You have to get out there and get the actual experience, which is very easy to do. There’s lot of places to do that in Toronto and Canada – you won’t make any money, but there are lots of places…
That’s really how you improve, just doing it, and having the willpower to continue doing it.
Most comedians have stories about bombing on stage at some point, did you have those kinds of experiences?
There’s always bombing. Pick an era in my career and I’ll give you the highlight reel. But it’s part of it; bombing keeps you honest.
When I started, I was doing sketches with my brother and a few others, and we tried opening for bands, and it went badly, pretty much every single time. People were there to see music, not to see us tell a story about going to the store.
How did you deal with that?
At first you take it really hard because you’re an idiot and you don’t know any better. But it beats some of the shame and embarrassment out of you, which can hold you back from really honest acting.
Some people might succeed all the time, but every comedian I know has bombed more times than they can count, and those are their most valuable learning experiences.
A lot of people struggle to work in teams, especially in creative fields. With your sketch comedy troupes Tony Ho and Get Some, you’ve worked in groups for many years; are there any lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Just to listen. Anyone that has the drive to pursue this as a career – when there are so many odds stacked against you – is going to be strong-minded. The thing is, collaboration is crucial – you can’t do this alone. So even when those strong wills clash, you really have to learn to listen to other people, and to amend your ideas. It’s a wonderful process to be an actor in groups, but you have to learn to rely on that teamwork.
You’ve worked on stage and TV, on video and recorded albums. What medium do you feel most comfortable with?
I like being on camera, and I do feel that that’s probably where my best work comes out. But there’s a rush to being on stage in front of a live audience. You come to crave it; you get addicted to throwing yourself in front of people and asking them to judge you.
The Beaverton is great because we shot in front of a live audience, so it was a TV show, and being on camera, but you also had the live studio audience there, which makes it so much more fun.
A lot of what you do involves things that terrifies people. How do you manage stage fright and nerves?
It comes with experience. When you’re young and strong-minded, you don’t care what the audience thinks, but as you get older you realize how much of it is catering to an audience, and connecting with them. You want to understand what they like, and what they want to see. And that can make you self-conscious. So I think people deal with it differently, depending on the stage of their career.
I always feels comfortable, but sometimes, I’ll have unbelievably sweaty hands; like dripping, glistening sweat, and everyone goes, oh my god, you’re so nervous, and I’m truly not, but my body is dealing with nerves in some other way. It’s a coping mechanism, and it came at the cost of sweaty hands.
How did you get involved with the Beaverton?
The casting directors were big fans of the Get Some show, which they came to see every week. And they took a very close look at everyone involved with that show. Luckily, I just kept getting called back for more screen tests. Eight of them actually.
Eight? I hope the experience has been worth it?
It’s been amazing. Definitely the highest profile job of my comedy career – I’m on a lot of bus stops now. It’s also a really interesting experience for me – everything I’ve done otherwise has been something I created. Whereas with this project, I’m kind of a hired gun.
But I’ve connected so closely with the creators – Jeff Detsky and Luke Gordon Field – as well as the material, that it feels like a learning experience.
What do you see for yourself down the road?
I’d love to get some of my own shows created, and do some feature film work. I want to expand and keep challenging myself – you really have to be multifaceted to be an actor in Canada.
Mitch Hedberg had a joke about expectations for comedians. He said: “’Oh, you’re a stand-up comedian, can you write us a script?’ That’s not fair. That’s like if I worked hard to become a cook, and I’m a really good cook, they’d say, ‘OK, you’re a cook. Can you farm?’”
Ha! Exactly. Nowadays, you’re expected to understand a lot of aspects of the field. It’s a lot harder if you specialize in one thing. But if you learn enough related skills – for example I write, act, and produce – you increase your chances.
On that note: any advice for job seekers looking to break into arts and entertainment?
You have to get out there and work hard. Don’t expect to be paid a lot in the beginning, but just make sure it’s something you really enjoy doing, because that’s the main perk: you get to do a job you really love.