Small guy gets big laughs

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By Matthew Tulloch

At Yuk Yuk’s, a hush falls on the audience the moment Andre Arruda clambers on the stage but the comedian immediately turns the awkward silence into giggles. He grimaces and sighs, fusses with his microphone and takes several long swigs from his bottle of Evian. Then the jokes begin.

When his time under the spotlight is over, Arruda descends from the stool like a ladder and slowly makes way toward his scooter in the corner. He milks the crowd for applause as he goes, then earns a few shocked moans taking a nasty tumble from the stage. It leaves some of the audience visibly uncomfortable but to Arruda, it’s the funniest part of his set.

Two-dollar amateur night at Yuk Yuk’s is better than the name suggests. The stereotype about Canadians holds true, our long winter and brief summer fosters a great sense of irony. Many rookie comedians can get big laughs with the right audience, but Arruda is one of few young comics around who consistently wins crowds over.

At 3-foot-4, Arruda has a tough time getting around – with or without his scooter. Despite this, he does not find it difficult to earn laughs doing comedy across southern Ontario. Mark Breslin, founder of Yuk Yuk’s, has unique insight into Arruda’s comedy: “I was curious about him the moment I first saw him. There’s no way getting away from the fact he’s physically handicapped. Most people in his position don’t become comedians and don’t dare to have a career in the arts. It’s too unstable.”

Arruda was born with a rare condition called Morquio syndrome, affecting the development of his joints and growth of his bones. But when it comes to doing what he loves, Arruda is not handicapped at all. As a comedian, he’s able to turn his uniqueness into strength.

“He’s able to use it as a hook. Certainly, you don’t want it to be the only thing, but you have to turn all your disadvantages into advantages. Especially if you’re a comic, turn all those things into a source of your own power,” says Breslin. “It makes no difference if you’re fat, if you’re short, if you’re a minority, you can’t go up there and just talk about the weather. People want to know.”

Breslin frequently plays master of ceremonies for the big weekend shows at his club on Richmond Street and the enormous respect he’s earned from established comedians is evident. Breslin knows funny, so he put Arruda on the Fast Track. Being on the Fast Track means that Arruda is given a slot every amateur night to refine his material. Before long, Arruda will likely be touring Yuk Yuk’s across the country. Exposure like that would mean chances are good that Arruda might become the next to make it big, or at least get his own Comedy Network Presents show. Growing up in Kitchener, Arruda was often able to overcome his obstacles to ‘fitting in’ with his warm personality and sense of humour. He remembers being drawn to comedy at a young age.

“I used to watch Just For Laughs all the time. Even back when I was a kid, five or six years old, when people asked me what I wanted to be? A comedian.” High school was a positive experience for Arruda, giving him dramatic experience and confidence to move to Toronto and attend Humber College.

Humber’s comedy writing and performance program is where Arruda was formally introduced to comedy. Alan Guttman, director of the program, says Arruda’s attitude, work ethic and sense of humour was an inspiration for other students.

Arruda now has a number of genuinely funny routines that he’s honing to perfection. To get a true sense of his comedy, you’ll have to see Arruda perform for yourself. There’s slapstick, a lot of sarcasm and witty observation.

“[His comedy is] delightfully abrasive. I actually find it moving: I think he’s an exceptional person,” Guttman says.

College was an essential stepping-stone for Arruda, who credits much of his budding career to his education.

“Humber was a great experience for me. I didn’t know anything about the comedy business, but I’ve always loved stand-up.”

For now, Arruda is focusing on stand-up and on his sketch comedy troupe, Tum Down the Grill. They’ve given a number of sucessful performances at Second City and the Rivoli. Arruda is also developing a screenplay.

“One of the reasons I first got into writing is because I knew I would be typecast into the same roles. There aren’t a lot of movies out there with a midget as the star… besides Willow,” he says. “I want to show that someone like me goes through regular, everyday problems.”

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