Comedian Vance Banzo was bitten by the comedy bug early in life. A class clown as a kid in school, Banzo loved cracking up his classmates.
A member of the Fishing Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, the young Saulteaux/Cree comedian, writer and actor was born and raised in Edmonton where he first cut his comedy teeth working dinner theatre.
“I was a character server,” says Banzo over the phone from his current home base in Toronto. “I was getting paid to go to tables and make people laugh and play different characters.”
Now a member of the Toronto comedy crew TallBoyz II Men, Banzo is pretty thrilled to be back with a second season of the troupe’s popular CBC produced sketch comedy show TallBoyz.
Inspired by the idea of establishing a career in comedy Banzo decided to leave Edmonton and make a move to Toronto to enroll in the Comedy: Writing and Performance program at Humber College.
It was there that Banzo met up with cast mate Tim Blair on the first day of classes at Humber when Blair sat next to him. The pair soon hit it off and began working on sketches together. The two fast friends then began honing their skills on the live improv scene while also hitting all the open mics around Toronto.
While making the rounds and working various comedy events in the city, Banzo and Blair would eventually connect with aspiring funny guys Guled Abdi and Franco Nguyen. Forming a solid friendship around their shared passion for absurd edgy humor, the four young comics decided to form their own comedy crew and TallBoyz was born.
“When we first started on stage we came up with all of our ideas through improv,” Banzo says. “Nothing would make it on paper until four or five shows of getting it right on stage. We were very much writing sketches through the process of stand-up comedy—what works, what doesn’t—until we would eventually get it down on paper.”
The TallBoyz II Men crew would eventually get their break when Banzo was discovered at Humber College by Kids In The Hall alumnus Bruce McCulloch who saw something special in the young comedy writer. When McCulloch accepted an invitation to come out and see TallBoyz II Men perform he was inspired by the possibility of building a new fresh comedy sketch show around the crew.
Under the direction of McCulloch, the TallBoyz hit the mark with a successful first season overflowing with their unique, absurd and sometimes provocative brand of farce and social satire.
Working with a revolving cast of hilarious supporting cast members the big challenge for the TallBoyz and director McCulloch occurred when it came time to film Season 2 deep in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asked if the influence of COVID-19 protocols ended up working their way into the new sketches this season, Banzo admits “it was kind of the elephant in the room. We had everything written and then COVID hit in March and it was like ‘OK, everyone back into the writing room’. So, we went back and basically rewrote the whole season.”
In addition to the troupe’s comedic commentaries on woke culture, racial issues, Canadian politics, and their regular hip hop parody collaborations with award-winning rapper Shad, TallBoyz Season 2 contains some hilarious sketches dealing with COVID themes, such as enforced social distancing, working from home, and the current Zoom conferencing phenomenon.
Asked if his Indigenous background has shaped his writing Banzo is quick to acknowledge that fact. “Yeah, most definitely. There's no running from it, “he says.
“I’m on Native Twitter all the time just to learn more about what’s going on. Just to have my ear to the ground, because it’s something I care about and you want to give back as an Indigenous artist, speaking on issues with the platform I now have.”
The award-winning actor and comedian admits that he also has an interest in exploring more dramatic roles after appearing as a cast member in the 2017 film Indian Horse, an adaptation of late Ojibway author Richard Wagamese's 2012 novel of the same name.
“I'd like to polish the chops doing some more dramatic acting,” Banzo admits. “I really enjoyed working on Indian Horse. I loved working with the people, a completely Indigenous cast and crew. That was a very fond memory for me.”
But for now Banzo remains dedicated and focused on hitting the writing room again with Abdi, Blair and Nguyen to work on TallBoyz Season 3, with the long-term goal of building up their audience and hopefully breaking into syndication south of the border.
“Ultimately, I hope the show is quotable. Something people want to share with their friends and family. If our show could achieve something like that, I think it would be wonderful.”
Season 2 of TallBoyz premieres on Tuesday, Feb. 16 on CBC and CBC Gem.
By David Owen Rama, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com