First time fears

Rookie comedian Ben Bankas begins hosting Thursday open mic nights at Revolutions

Ben Bankas says he plans to finish his classics degree at Queen’s before heading to the US to pursue a stand-up comedy career.
Ben Bankas says he plans to finish his classics degree at Queen’s before heading to the US to pursue a stand-up comedy career.
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It was going to be Ben Bankas’ first time.

This month, the second-year Queen’s student booked a stand-up show in Toronto.

“I prepared out of my mind. I spent the entire day in my apartment, going over lines and videotaping it,” he said about his first show at Toronto’s P.J. O’Brien’s Irish Pub. “I knew if I did it really bad, I’d be a mess.

“Even if I did well, I’d be a mess.”

Though the pub was very busy, Bankas was so nervous he didn’t even register how his jokes went over with the audience.

“I ran through whole routine in like five minutes and then almost collapsed on the ground,” Bankas said. “I’m so happy the first time was done, and I never have to do my first time again.”

He may have no problem eliciting laughs from audiences, but Bankas gets mixed reviews from his family.

“My mom’s like, ‘You have such an amazing future,’” he said. “My dad’s like, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’”

Stories of Bankas’ childhood and family make up much of his new comedy routine at Revolutions nightclub.

“I started realizing, whenever I told stories about being fat or about my grandma being deaf or my uncle being a gynecologist … I got laughs,” Bankas, ArtSci ’14, said.

Bankas said he initially phoned Revolutions after returning from winter break and left a message asking about stand-up opportunities. During a night out in Frost Week, he went to Revolutions to discuss the matter in person and managed to book a set.

After the management saw his performance, he was offered a weekly gig of hosting Thursday open mic nights.

He said his childhood primary interests were comedy and eating.

“I liked McDonalds and lived with my grandma,” he said. “I started watching David Letterman when I was three. I didn’t have a lot of friends.”

Bankas’ father is a violinist and had specific hopes for Bankas’ future.

“He told me I’d get girls if I played violin,” he said. “I said ‘I can’t, Dad, I’m fat.’”

Bankas became interested in acting when he played Claudius in a fifth-grade production of Hamlet.

“As a kid, you don’t understand the gravity of things. You don’t understand ‘I’m doing Hamlet,’” he said.

Soon after, Bankas and a friend performed a ghetto version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for a class assignment.

“We dressed up with bandannas. I was Juliet,” he said, adding that he recited the famous call to Romeo from the top of a hill outside.

“I loved the laughs, and thought ‘Holy shit this is cool.’”

Bankas said the plights of his childhood helped him develop as an artist. Although Bankas took drama in his first year at Queen’s, he felt he wasn’t furthering his acting abilities.

“I was hearing irrelevant stuff that I didn’t need to know for acting,” he said.

Thanks to the encouragement of former segment manager Andrew Osborne, Bankas became involved in QTV. He starred in Insiders, where he played a British talk show host. He was also featured on QTV Live, where he played a diverse set of characters ranging from an archetypal bro to a possessed student. Some of Bankas’ on-air antics included waxing his chest hair and stripping.

“People were like, ‘Holy fuck, this is insane,’” he said. “I’d do anything.”

Bankas soon parted ways with QTV to focus on his career. He’s currently writing and acting in a new project with Osborne called ProcrastiNation, uploaded every Monday on YouTube.

In addition, Bankas is starting to book more stand-up gigs.

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