Stages throughout the Fraser Valley are well-trodden by the feet of many different performers: musicians, from avant-garde, to folk and punk have all shared spotlights, and collectively laid claim to the stage in venues around the Valley. However, as the popularity of Abbotsford’s Yuk-Yuks underscores, Valley-folk are increasingly heading to stages not to head-bang or dance, but to laugh.
Enter Cliff Prang — husband, dad, funnyman. Prang, a local stand-up comic, has been performing since he was young. As a child, he instinctively turned to comedy to diffuse tension at home. At school, he found an outlet for performative creativity.
“I remember the first competition,” says Prang, “we’re at the national arts centre. There’s like 400 students, and we’re doing a Western scene based on dental hygiene. There was no conflict, so I rode in on my imaginary horse, and said ‘Hi, I’m plaque.’ Everyone lost it.”
The reaction of that now-distant audience set in motion the events that brought Prang to where he is now. However, as far as stand-up-comedians go, Prang is of the less-offensive variety.
“I like dirty jokes, but my personal philosophy is to bring as many people in on it as possible.” He says, “If a joke is funny, it’s funny, whether it’s clean or dirty. Most people, when they come to a comedy show, they’ve come to laugh. I’m the product, right? But they’re the reason.”
That relationship, says Prang, has informed his act.
“The way that I look at it is that I’m their servant. I’m trying to give them something that they want. I’m talking to them, trying to figure out what they want.”
Sometimes, though, Prang’s jokes aren’t either clean or dirty. Sometimes, they’re all too real.
“The set up is that I’m a stay-at-home parent, but I suck at my job, because I’m there — at the show.”
After some jokes about family-life, Prang tells his audience a story about being on vacation with his kids.
“[We’re] in the ocean,” says Prang, “drifting in the waves. It comes to this point where we all ended up in the deep water. I’ve got two kids on my chest, I’m floating in the deep. My eldest son now is struggling to get out of the water. I don’t think I can get to him.”
Prang lets the moment hang before continuing.
“I’m a stay-at-home dad,” he says “and I almost lost my job that day. And the audience erupts with laughter.”
Despite his “squeaky-clean” label as a comic, Prang says that, even while telling potentially polarizing jokes like that of his son, he strives to connect, not alienate, his audience.
“I was able to pull people out of the stress of the moment by adding little jokes,” he says. “My daughter asks, ‘Dad, did you bring the snacks?’ I look at my son (whom I’ve set up to be a bit of an idiot throughout the night — I love him) and my son just [dolphin screech], and says ‘Go faster daddy!’ And then at that point I look out at my eldest son and think Oh no, I’ve saved the wrong kid.”
Laughter, for Prang, is all about bringing people together.
“Whether you’ve seen it on TV, or you’ve been in the same room and felt that electricity, you all laugh together,” he says. “Part of why stand-up comedy has seen a resurgence is that people want to come together, and watch this unique experience for that moment.”
Afforded a degree of perspective after putting together Dad Body of Work, his first comedy special, Prang has some words of wisdom for students invested in performance: put yourself out there.
“Pursue the opportunities that are around you. Tell people that you do it. If there aren’t opportunities, make them yourself,” says Prang. “The biggest thing is, you have to put yourself out there.”
Prang’s special, Dad Body of Work is available for purchase or streaming online.