Why the choice of this memoir by the British novelist, who gained notoriety for the death sentence ("fatwah") that was placed on his head by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 for his novel "The Satanic Verses"?
Well a few short weeks ago, a Montreal Metro ticket taker had the audacity to tape a homemade sign on the glass in front of the booth in the subway station where he was working. It said -- in French -- that "In Quebec, we do everything in French". Not content to just be complacent about another shot fired in the ongoing Quebec language war, Joey decided to do his bit of civil disobedience in response to the ticket taker's stance on language. So he decided to take a photo of himself, posing in all-Canadian maple leaf shirt, pants and headgear. He then posted it on his Facebook page and announced that he would take his case to that Metro ticket taker in person ... maple leafs and all.
Needless to say, his human Canadian flag photo created a media maelstrom. It garnered a great deal of positive responses; however, the storm was fast and swift. Lawyers from Astral Media (the parent company of CJAD, where Elias hosts his nightly "Comedy Show" broadcasts) told him to pull down the photo and all the posts from Facebook and was told to state that his opinions were of his own and did not reflect those of both the station and the parent company. Then he got angry letters from three French language organizations (including the ultra nationalist organization the St. Jean Baptiste Society, which issued a press release on the matter).
"It was flattering to think that I'm that powerful and that my picture can incite that kind of reaction," Elias told me in a recent interview on the terrace of a local Starbucks. However, he also received several death threats along with all those supportive and angry responses.
Hence, the decision to read Rushdie's recently published memoir.
"I'm reading it to get some helpful survival hints in case they decide to declare a 'fatwah' on me," he quipped.
Elias' maple leaf incident is one of the stories that he will recount to an audience at Club Soda this Sunday night (October 21) in a performance of his one-man show "In My Head ... and Out of My Mind".
One of Canada's top comedians to emerge from Montreal, Elias has been plying his trade for 20 years, and performs 200 stand-up shows a year in clubs across NorthAmerica, not to mention his share of commercials, TV shows and films (he played a security guard in the disaster epic "The Day After Tomorrow" that starred Dennis Quaid). He started writing the script for his one-man show (which took him five months to complete) as a way to respond to all the questions that his fans, friends and family kept asking him about how he started out in comedy, and what it's like to be a professional comedian.
"I was never a big believer of the idea that everybody's here for a purpose, but when I started telling those stories to friends and family of what happens on the road and in my life, I realized that maybe that was my destiny," he said. "So I started to write the show as a away to answer all the questions that I ever had."
The inspiration for "In My Head ... and Out of My Mind" came from comedian Billy Crystal, in particular, his Tony Award-winning autobiographical solo show "700 Sundays", in which Elias read the companion book with a great deal of enthusiasm. "The book to Crystal's play was so amazing," he said. "You're reading one page and you're dying of laughter, and then you're crying uncontrollably. You're not going to cry uncontrollably at my show, but there are more serious moments to it."