Local comedian hopes documentary can showcase Windsor’s stand-up scene
A local stand-up comedian is planning to premier a documentary this year that will put Windsor’s comedy community centre stage.
CJ Bernauer says he was always into comedy growing up — watching Saturday Night Live and the Late Show with Conan O’Brien.
He says he couldn’t wait to try stand up for himself.
“They said you can’t go until you’re 19. So it was my birthday on October 14 and I went on the 19th to do my first show,” Bernauer says.
According to him, his first set, at the former Komedy Korner on Dougall Avenue, was not a hit.
“I thought it was good, that’s the worst part,” he explains.
“Then after I got off another comedian said, ‘I told you you were going to suck.’”
Bernauer says many people might not realize Windsor has a comedy scene.
He says people who find out he performs often ask if he crosses into Detroit or otherwise leave town.
The city, however, has had a rich history with the art. It was local comedian Leo Dufour, former owner of the Komedy Korner, who handed Bernauer the mic that first night.
The now-retired Dufour, heralded as a local legend, is one of seven comedians interviewed in Bernauer’s Rose City Comedy documentary. [LINK: https://www.rosecitycomedy.ca/ ]
“I figure I did about 6,000 shows,” Dufour says in the documentary, “and I’m still not famous.”
Bernauer has spearheaded the documentary project alone and is editing himself. He’s hired crews to do some of the filming but says he’s doing 99 per cent of the work.
He hopes for the film to debut at this year’s Windsor International Film Festival — and in the meantime is working on making it possible for interested individuals to provide funding.
His own personal story also serves as a narrative arc through the documentary.
In 2014, about four years after he started doing stand-up, Bernauer’s 18-year-old sister Emily was killed in a car accident.
He says he struggled to perform in the wake of his family’s tragedy, eventually opting to hang up the mic.
“I didn’t want to make people laugh,” he says.
“I was very cynical. I was very bitter. It was not funny. That’s not a funny vibe to have.”
He stopped performing for about seven years, finding humour once again while stuck at home with his kids during COVID-19 lockdowns.
He started performing again in April 2022, but found his old material no longer worked.
“In a way it was like riding a bike, but it’s like riding a bike in a brand new neighbourhood,” says Bernauer.
Aside from discovering the local comedy scene and maybe finding some local comics they want to check out, Bernauer says he hopes Rose City Comedy inspires people to pursue their passions — whether or not that’s stand-up comedy.
“Here’s a bunch of people who are pursuing something that they’re really passionate about,” he says of the subjects in the documentary.
“Some of them are business owners, some have full time jobs, but they still want to do this.”
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