Dave Merheje, the renowned Juno Award-winning comedian, is making a much-anticipated return to his roots with two upcoming shows on December 22 at The Shadowbox Theatre in Windsor. In a rich and revealing interview with 519 Magazine, Merheje opens up about his Windsor upbringing, the profound influence of his Lebanese heritage on his comedy, and his journey through the ever-changing landscape of the entertainment industry.

Reflecting on how Windsor shaped his comedic beginnings, Merheje highlights the integral role of his cultural background.

“You know, I think back then, I was probably talking a bit about my family or gravitating towards speaking about my culture. And in Windsor, there’s a significant Lebanese community. That has always been, and still is, a major source of my material—my family, all of whom still live in Windsor. So, definitely, the city and its culture have had an influence on my act and on me as a person,” he shares, his words painting a vivid picture of his early influences.

His connection to Windsor remains strong and influential in his life and career.

“Oh, 100%, I carry my Windsor roots with me. Growing up there, spending my formative years, leaving only after college—I was around 24 or 25 when I left. So, I spent a significant part of my life there. It’s a dear place to me, and ever since I left, I’ve tried to come back at least once a year to do a stand-up show in the city. I’m there every Christmas, with maybe one exception,” he explains, his voice carries with a sense of nostalgia and affection for his hometown.

Merheje traces his desire to perform back to his youth, crediting family interactions and exposure to comedy legends for igniting his passion.

“I remember hanging out with my cousin Danny and my sister Mary, just wanting to perform. I didn’t know it would be stand-up comedy then. My uncle used to show us tapes of Richard Pryor, Andrew Dice Clay, George Carlin, and Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious.’ That’s where I grew a liking for stand-up comedy,” he recalls, acknowledging the role of these early experiences in shaping his comedic path.

His Lebanese heritage plays a significant role in his comedy, particularly in the stories he tells. “Story-wise, my family is where I get a lot of my material. Stories about how we were raised, about my dad, situations from growing up, school—just all of that. Even now, going back and having conversations with them, I find out new quirks or experiences from their lives that I can draw from. In the last seven or eight years, I’ve talked about it a lot more, expressing the love I have for them through my material,” Merheje says, highlighting the deep well of inspiration his family provides.

Merheje’s memories of Windsor are filled with fondness and vivid details. “There are so many memories. Visiting my grandparents, attending the Lebanese festival, the Polish festival, the Greek festival, the Italian Fest, and the Carousel of Nations. Playing road hockey, walking down Ottawa Street, going to the cinema in Forest Glade, and that old arcade by the water—it’s all so memorable. And the Lebanese bakery, where you could smell the pita bread being made and see it coming down the conveyor belt—those are wonderful memories,” he reminisces, his words painting a rich tapestry of his childhood experiences.

His Juno Award win for ‘Good Friends Bad Grammar’ holds special significance for him.

“It meant a lot. Watching musicians and artists win Juno Awards, you admire them and see them being rewarded for their work. The stand-up category had been gone for a long time and had only recently come back. So just being nominated was exciting and something I was grateful for. And then winning? That’s a memory I’ll cherish forever,” he shares with a mix of humility and pride.

Discussing his role as Ahmed in the Hulu series ‘Rami’, Merheje talks about how this experience has enriched his career.

“I’ve always wanted to act, to do stand-up and then find my way into acting. I was able to get some experience on ‘Mr. D,’ which was on CBC and is coming out on Netflix Canada. That experience gave me comfort in front of the camera. Then, getting ‘Rami’ was amazing. The show is great, the actors are top-notch, and I learned a lot from them. It helped me grow as an actor, which is something I want to continue pursuing,” he explains, his voice reflecting his passion for acting.

As for his upcoming shows at The Shadowbox Theatre, Merheje is excited to perform alongside Courtney Gilmour. “We’re doing a co-headlining thing, and we have some guests as well. I’m looking forward to it. You’re going to get a performance full of energy. It’s not just about the Internet; it’s about giving everything I have on stage,” he says, his enthusiasm for live performance evident.

Merheje, with his grounded approach and keen observational skills, sheds light on how he crafts his material. “When I started, I used to write everything out fully. Now, I jot notes down in my iPhone and then have a couple of points and an idea of where I’m going to go,” he explains. This process, a mix of spontaneity and structure, allows Merheje to develop his jokes organically. “The more times I repeat it on stage, it gets fleshed out into something complete,” he adds, outlining a process that is as dynamic as it is thoughtful.

For Merheje, performing in Windsor holds a special significance, giving him a unique comfort and freedom in his material. “Windsor is different because I feel such a comfort being from there, with family in the audience. There’s a certain comfort in the things I can talk about,” he notes. This connection to his audience in Windsor enables him to explore topics with a familiarity and intimacy that might not be as pronounced in other cities.

Addressing the role of comedy in tackling social and cultural issues, Merheje offers a balanced perspective.

“If it’s in good taste, you can push boundaries. It’s about not being mean about it,” he says, emphasizing the importance of empathy in comedy. In a world where the boundaries of humor are constantly being renegotiated, Merheje believes in the power of comedy to address sensitive topics, provided it is done with consideration and respect.

“If it’s not mean-spirited, I think you can tackle those issues. You’ve seen Carlin do it,” he remarks, paying homage to one of the greats who masterfully balanced humor with commentary.

Merheje also opens up about the mental health aspect of comedy, providing a candid glimpse into the struggles and revelations that have shaped his approach to life and comedy.

“Comedy can contribute to discussions around mental health,” Merheje begins, reflecting on his own experiences. “I’ve seen a therapist for the last five years. It’s probably been the best thing I’ve ever done. Honestly, it was the best thing for me,” he shares, his voice carrying the weight of personal discovery. Therapy, for Merheje, has been a transformative journey, not just in terms of personal well-being, but also in enhancing his comedic expression. “Getting therapy has helped me do comedy better and be healthier,” he acknowledges, highlighting the often-overlooked connection between mental health and creative output.

Merheje’s insights reveal a deeper truth about the relationship between comedy and mental health. “I have that tool now to help me rethink things or think things through before reacting. It helps being up there, doing stand-up, or even acting. It’s therapeutic for me personally. So that does something as well where I can just get things off my chest,” he explains. This perspective shatters the misconception that comedians must be ‘fucked up’ mentally to be funny. “There was a long time where I believed that if I didn’t fix myself, my funny would go away. But that wasn’t true at all. That was something I told myself,” he admits, dispelling the myth that personal struggles are a necessary fuel for humor.

Merheje’s journey through therapy and his ongoing battle with mental health challenges underscore a crucial aspect of comedy often hidden from the public eye. His experience serves as a reminder that behind every joke, there’s a human being grappling with life’s complexities. It also highlights the potential of comedy as a platform for initiating important conversations around mental health, breaking stigmas, and encouraging others to seek help and healing.

Merheje’s approach to comedy, blending personal anecdotes with broader cultural observations, reflects a deep understanding of the medium’s potential to connect, entertain, and provoke thought.

His process, honed over years of experience, and his insights into the evolving landscape of comedy, highlight his adaptability and commitment to his craft. “There’s more opportunity now, especially with the Internet.

You’re not waiting on someone; you can make your own lane, create your own fan base, and reach people all over the world. It’s a great time for comedy,” he concludes, optimistic about the future of the industry and his place in it.

As he prepares for his performances at The Shadowbox Theatre on December 22, Dave Merheje’s fans in Windsor and beyond can anticipate a show that is not only humorous but also heartfelt and thought-provoking at the same time. Tickets are $28.25 and available at The Shadowbox Theatre.

For more tour dates go to www.davemerheje.com

As seen in the December 2023 issue:Print and Digital copies can be purchased at MagCloud.

Photo: Zaiden
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