Levi MacDougall has played many roles in life, from a man who repeatedly loses his cell phone signal at the most inopportune times to Christian saviour Jesus Christ. But there’s one role you probably never knew he played: paperboy.
MacDougall, 32, best known for his role in the ongoing Rogers Wireless campaign and recently hired as a writer on Comedy Central’s top-rated “Important Things with Demitri Martin,” spent his formative years in Hay River and once worked as a paperboy for The Hub. His family, which included his mom Bess, his older sister Jennifer and younger brothers Matthew Davis (who was conceived in Hay River) and Geoff Davis, lived in a home on Riverview Drive close to the West Channel Bridge after moving north from Ignace, Ontario. MacDougall attended Princess Alexandra School from kindergarten to grade three, before his family moved to Calgary when he was eight.
“I don’t think there was ever a point where I was overtly a class clown,” he said on the phone from Los Angeles, California during a break from “Important Things.” “I think I tended to be quieter and joked around mostly with groups of friends. I was never really the big extrovert in class.”
Growing up near the West Channel Bridge, MacDougall said he still has fond memories of his time in Hay River.
“It was really great being able to bike from one end of the town to the next,” he recalled. “A lot of little things, of course, that I didn’t appreciate until I got into the city.”
His stepfather, Ian Davis, worked as a manager at the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources’ Fire Management base in Hay River. MacDougall recalls family of staff members receiving a helicopter ride once a year.
While in Calgary, MacDougall began taking improv courses with the Loose Moose Theatre Company when he was 17, after first being exposed to the world of stand-up comedy at the age of 12. After graduating from high school in Calgary, MacDougall moved to Toronto where he spent the better part of a decade honing his skills as a comedian.
“I think it just came from it seeming like the best way to get funny ideas out to people,” he said of his decision to take up improv and stand-up comedy. “Initally I found the hardest thing was forcing myself to get on stage. Loose Moose … was a really great place to start.”
From there, MacDougall became involved in amateur comedy nights, following his move to Toronto in 2000.
In 2001 he won the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund Award, which is presented by the Ontario Arts Foundation to a promising comic who is in the early stages of their career. Three years later MacDougall recorded a one-hour stand-up special for CTV’s “Comedy Now.” The special went on to win two Canadian Comedy Awards and garnered a Gemini nomination. He was later a founding member of the comedy troupe The Distractions as one of the brains behind a comedy collective known as Laugh Sabbath. He was also a series regular on The Comedy Network’s show “Hotbox” as well as “The John Dore Show,” where he appeared as Jesus Christ. MacDougall’s stand-up career has taken him to festivals in Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Brampton, Halifax, Montreal and Prince Edward Island. He said he takes something away from every experience.
“Every show reinforces, or changes, my view of what my voice is or what will work best for jokes,” he said.
The Rogers Wireless campaign “was a bizarre side road that just came up along the way.”
“It certainly helped to keep me sustained as stand-up was not so lucrative in Canada at the time,” he explained.
His next big break came last July following a show at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles, California. After posting a clip of himself performing on the Comedy Death-Ray show to his website – www.levimacdougall – MacDougall received a call from Demetri Martin offering him a writing position on his show. The writing team behind the show includes a number of veteran comedy writers and Emmy Award winners from such hits as “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “Late Night with David Letterman,” and “Newsradio.”
“The nice thing about this show is it’s been all over the place as far as formats go,” he said. “You can have a small, 12-second joke between sketches (or) there can be longer sketches. It’s a pretty good receptacle for pretty much any idea. It doesn’t mean you have to throw something out because it doesn’t fit in a larger context.”
While he enjoys stand-up, MacDougall said he also enjoys writing because it’s less nerve-wracking and also allows him to work with jokes and ideas in a more “pristine, ideal state on a page.”
“I think most of the performances I have been involved in have stemmed from the writing as far as sketch and stand-up go,” he said.
A return trip to Hay River is in the planning stages. Last Christmas MacDougall gave a small, glass inukshuk to each of his siblings with the promise of a road trip north to Hay River sometime this year, if his schedule allows.
“I kind of made a point of obligating myself (to return) because it was something I’ve been putting off for so long.”