Book Review: Huge
Best known for his hit TV series Corner Gas, which ran for six seasons on CTV and spawned a spinoff movie and animated series, award-winning Saskatchewan-born actor, comedian, and screenwriter Brent Butt is back in the spotlight with his debut novel Huge.
An unexpectedly dark and twisted thriller, Huge follows three stand-up comedians as they embark on a run of shows across a remote stretch of rural Canadian countryside. It’s 1994, a time before cell phones and YouTube, and Dale is a 40-something comic from Chicago who’s on the back half of a mediocre career and thinking about quitting the business. Rynn is a 20-something fast-rising star from Dublin with a big Hollywood break on her horizon. And then there’s the new kid they’ve been lumped with. Hobie Huge is a last-minute addition to the bill, a towering hulk of a man whose comedic talents leave a lot to be desired.
After a life honing his craft on the road, Dale’s better-than-average stand-up skills have left him with little more than a broken marriage, an estranged daughter and an empty bank account. In contrast, Rynn’s comedic star is on the rise. Young, ambitious and specialising in off-the-cuff material, she has her eye on a lucrative gig hosting a regular TV show. She just needs the right exposure to the right people, and this tour can deliver it.
Dale initially deems Hobie’s offer to drive and pay for gas a fair trade for having to babysit the fledgling comedian. However it quickly becomes clear that Hobie does not take constructive criticism well, let alone the inevitable banalities of small town hecklers. With decades of experience reading the crowd, Dale turns his finely tuned senses to his new colleague, and doesn’t like what he sees. But he needs the money, and everyone struggles with heckling when they start out, right? But as the tour rolls on, for Dale and Rynn it becomes less about getting laughs and more about getting off the road alive.
Primarily a survival thriller, Huge is peppered with tantalising insights into the internal thoughts of a stand-up comedian. Through the eyes of Dale and Rynn the reader gets a small taste of what it might be like to take to the stage in front of a room full of strangers.
Early in the novel, Dale teaches us how to read the room in a new venue.
No cover—not a good sign. It was the second not-good sign he had encountered on his way into the place—the first being the fact he saw no poster, no banner, no anything to suggest there might be a comedy show tonight…He couldn’t see anyone anywhere who looked like a bouncer, which meant that crowd control would fall entirely on him. A few TVs were on, mounted at various heights and angles around the room to provide patrons with an option to his face. There wasn’t even a microphone on the riser. Only one spotlight pointed at the stage area and it had a red bulb in it… No seating near the stage…A lot of factors working against him.
Through Dale, Butt also delivers the kind of coffee shop humour that he is well-known for.
Dale launched into seven straight minutes of local material, starting with what he thought of the name “Horsewater” for a community. “Makes me wonder what names were voted down,” he said, “Pigpuddle? Goatsoup? Come on, that would’ve been a better name. ‘I’m off to Goatsoup, Manitoba, for the weekend!
The three characters are easily understood as versions of Butt at different points in his career. Rynn is starry-eyed, and has a world of possibilities at her feet, whereas Dale is coming out at the other end of his career and wondering what’s next. By extension, Hobie Huge reads as the larger-than-life, conveniently psychopathic, alter-ego created by Butt as an outlet for dealing with thirty plus years of problem hecklers.
An enjoyable page turner, readers beware that Huge is not for anyone with a weak stomach. But for anyone with a penchant for graphic violence, Butt has birthed a unique anti-hero in Dale, and his adept application of his people reading skills to the realm of trying to outsmart a serial killer makes Huge a must read for anyone who enjoys their revenge fantasies bloody.
Brett Butt is featured in the Saturday Night Special: A Killer Night of Comedy, Murder and Mayhem on Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale now. Get 10 percent off until Oct. 1.
This review first appeared in the Whistler Pique Newsmagazine.
Review by Kate Heskett. Heskett is a writer, poet and canoe guide happily stuck in the Whistler bubble. They are currently working on their first novel.