When Canadian comedian Rick Miller was offered a spot hosting ABC's version of the candid-camera show Just for Laughs he thought about it for a grand total of 10 minutes before accepting. It was a nice gig, great exposure and good money for easy work. On the other hand, the American network is owned by the Walt Disney Company; and Miller dislikes Disney programming and doesn't let his two young daughters watch commercial TV. So, what do you call that? Hypocrisy - or just real life?
And there is the dilemma at the centre of Hardsell, Miller's new one-man show created with director Daniel Brooks currently running in stage at Canadian Stage in Toronto.
"We pay taxes that pay for a war that we may not support. We are complicit. We drink Coke but we ignore what these corporations do... Coke tastes good. We choose to ignore things because it is so tiring to think about them," Miller, 39, said in a recent interview before heading into rehearsals.
Brooks, the son of a Toronto ad man, and Miller, the son of a Montreal office-furniture salesman, figured that these days everything is a sell.
"We are so enmeshed in this culture of the sell that is partly based on lying, it's hard to determine what is true. There is always a spin, always an angle," Miller said, pointing to the current economic crisis as proof that people in positions of power lie.
But this is not an I-told-you-so show, nor a moral judgment on its audience. No, it's a comedy, with fart jokes no less.
To create it, Miller has fashioned an alter-ego for himself, one Arnie, an older and more cynical version of the comic, a stand-up who has spent his life on the road making people laugh as he ridicules anything and everything.
This devil twin is contemptuous of "Rick Miller," that well-meaning family man who drives a Toyota Prius and gives money to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to help fight AIDS in Africa. Still, the all-knowing Arnie has nothing to show for his cynicism.
"His realization is that cynicism has a cost," Miller said.
Miller hopes that the audience will not feel judged by Arnie's uncomfortable questions but rather changed by them, emerging from the theatre in a different psychic spot than they entered. After all, every one of us lives on the same shifting moral sands that provide our contemporary world with its unstable foundation.
Tickets available at this link: CanStage Company