There is something organic about Rick Canavan’s act, a quality that comes from his comfortable demeanor and wealth of personal material. No topic is off-limits for the Medway native. Prior relationships. Growing up with psoriasis. His love of comic books.
From playing alongside national headliners to hosting his own monthly show, Canavan has become a familiar face in just six years on the circuit. Last month, he auditioned for the prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. Just a few months earlier, he took part in the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival in Brooklyn.
For Canavan, being able to draw upon his personal life has been one of the keys to his success as a performer.
Canavan sets up one of his well-known bits with this line: “My mother said, ‘Rick, so you don’t get upset, why don’t you make a list of all the good things there are about having a skin disease?’ ’’
Rising to the forefront of the Boston comedy scene was a lengthy process for Canavan, who began doing stand-up in Rhode Island. After performing sketch comedy during high school, Canavan became interested in doing stand-up in 2003. He saw an advertisement for a club in the Providence Place Mall and called, asking if he could do a spot. He got a spot, but his inexperience showed. For the next two years, he frequented venues on the Rhode Island scene, learning the ropes of stand-up.
It wasn’t until 2005 that he began taking stand-up seriously, Canavan says, and he credits the change to Lexington native Eugene Mirman.
“He has done a lot for me without even knowing it,’’ Canavan, 30, said of Mirman, who is now based out of New York and has released three comedy albums. “After just a few years of failing as a comedian in Rhode Island,’’ Canavan said, “I saw him perform one night. And everything he was doing was working. Seeing that lit a fire under me and I decided to take it more seriously.’’
Canavan began performing in the Boston area. He challenged himself to write five minutes of new material every week - no easy task - and would perform at an open-mike event every Tuesday. Eventually, he worked his way into the main clubs, including the venerable Comedy Studio in Harvard Square, where he hosts a monthly show and was named Comic-in-Residence for a month in 2009, performing every night.
According to Canavan, moving from Rhode Island to the Boston scene was crucial for his development as a comedian.
“I was very lucky as a comic,’’ said Canavan, who has performed alongside a number of national headliners in his career, including Shrewsbury’s Mike Birbiglia and local hero Tony V.
“I was able to learn the basics while I was down in Rhode Island, and by the time I began performing in Boston, I had a sense about what I was doing. When I started, I was welcomed by the other comics who were already here.’’
Canavan tries to perform at least five nights a week. He balances his comedy career with his day job as an employment coach in Norwood for people with developmental disabilities. His eventual goal is to make stand-up his primary source of income.
For club owners in Boston, Canavan has been a delight to watch develop.
“It’s been a blast to watch Rick go from a comic with all the pieces, trying to figure out how to put them together, to a comic that’s absolutely confident in his voice as an artist,’’ said Tim McIntire, co-owner of Mottley’s Comedy Club in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, where Canavan often performs.
“He’s developed that easy confidence in who he is on stage that all really good comics have. He knows he’s funny, he knows why he’s funny, and he knows how to make an audience know it, too.’’
For McIntire, it is Canavan’s ability to tackle personal topics that makes him so effective as a comic.
“He’s so confident and so easygoing up there that everyone just wants to go along with him, no questions asked.’’