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Growing up in Baie Verte and Burlington, Newfoundland, Shaun Majumder couldn't help but develop a sense of humour. He was surrounded by it, whether it was his grandfather's wry take on the world or the crazy antics of the gang on SCTV. These days, Shaun is one of the fastest rising talents in the country, with a burgeoning career that includes stand-up comedy, ensemble work, writing, hosting his own comedy specials and doing guest spots on TV and film. He's been a regular host on several shows for YTV, has written a couple of short films, and auditioned for more than 20 pilot projects in Hollywood. He works with funny, creative people all the time. But it's still the folks at home who manage to make him laugh the hardest.

"Newfoundland has this culture, and it's so wild in the way the people use language and that their observations on the rest of the world are so different and filled with humour," he says. "When I say 'humour' I don't mean jokes, but the way they see things and the way they voice their observations, it never ceases to amaze me."

Delivered in that famous Newfoundland accent, even the mundane takes on a laughably profound irony. "I was out on a boat with a childhood friend recently, and he was talking about the light he had on the boat," Shaun chuckles. "He made a joke about it later on when it got dark, and this is an example of how Newfoundlanders view things. He said 'Man, that light is sure good - th' darker she gits, th' better she is.' He's talking about this light, and how it works better when it gets darker - like the actual light adapts to the darkness! That's the way Newfoundlanders use language, and it's just brilliant. I love it. Growing up surrounded with that in every day conversation...I think that's why Newfoundlanders are so funny."

Shaun's public performing career began in his home. As kids, Shaun and a cousin would tape record their own take on the beloved characters of SCTV - hoseheads Bob and Doug Mackenzie and the whiny Ed Grimley were favourites - and play it back for members of their family. They also showed an early flair for entrepreneurship by charging a nickel to perform skits. A few years later, young Shaun would get his first taste of stage acting in a Grade 7 play. What he now sees as the start of a continuing learning experience was, at the time, a complete disaster.

"I still remember hearing the announcement at school that they were looking for people to act in a play," he recalls. "My sister was very involved in drama, so I decided to go. We all sat in this room and they would say, 'Okay, we have a part for Trevor, who wants to be Trevor?' and kids would put up their hands. I mean, those were the auditions, right? So I put up my hand for a part, and it turns out to be the lead. I would go to rehearsal and not think too much about it, because I was waiting for someone to say 'Okay, good, we're all going to switch parts now,' but that never happened. When the night came to do the play, it was supposed to take an hour and it was over in 20 minutes because I didn't know any of my lines."

It's likely that early brush with failure played a role in enabling Shaun to develop his unique take on the peaks and valleys of a performing career. While most people try to forget their failures and build on success, Shaun all but embraces failure as a chance to learn. Knock him down with silence, and he's determined to bounce back with better material.

"In the beginning it wasn't the success that drove me, it was the failure," he says. "Things like being on stage at the Laugh Resort in Toronto and totally bombing, getting no response and thinking 'my God, this is awful, I can't believe this, I'll never do it again.' That's when you have to step up and grow. Sometimes I'll try new material and it just doesn't work, no response at all, but I'll think that's okay, because you never know what will work until you go there. Failure is just a word somebody made up, and it has negative connotations, but to me you can use your failure and make it a positive."

The truth is, there have been many more successes lately for Shaun than there have been failures. He stuck with drama through high school in Burlington, Newfoundland and later at Clarksdale Secondary in Mississauga, where he went to live with his father when he was 14. While he enjoyed acting, he didn't initially see himself making a living on stage. Science had always been his forte, and he spent a year at Dalhousie University in Halifax with the intention of pursuing sports medicine or anthropology. In the summer following his first year, he returned home and did a few stand-up shows in the Toronto area. It was then he decided he wanted to make performing his life.

"I can clearly remember being at my dad's and deciding this was my dream and passion and what I wanted to do," he says. "For one thing, I didn't have the money to go back to school. And the fact is that while I love knowledge, I was never a very academic type of person."

Science's loss has been comedy's gain. After honing his stand-up routine, Shaun was invited to join the touring company of the Second City comedy troupe, an experience he describes as an "honour". From there, Shaun was hired to work on a succession of programs on YTV. The most recent, Uh-Oh, has him travelling across the country hosting what's known as the Slime Tour.

"They pay me to travel across the country, meet all these awesome kids and do very little work," he laughs. "They have these races, and I'm on camera for about two minutes saying 'and...GO! Okay, that's a wrap.' We'll spend five days filming, so then for five days I get to hang out in Victoria or Dawson City or Drumheller or these other great places."

More than just a guy who makes jokes, Shaun has taken his early style of comedy, which entailed going for the quick laugh, and developed it into a routine where he now makes hilarious observations of society at large. "My comedy used to be about coming up with funny stuff on stage, whereas now I talk more from true life experience," he says. He has continued to hone his talent through acting and improv workshops, as well as working with his own six-member troupe, The Bobroom (named after the "smoking closet" in one member's apartment that featured a poster of Bob Dylan. He had a small role in the John Cusak movie Pushing Tin, and also appeared in guest roles in CTV's Once a Thief and The City (in a purely dramatic role). He describes as a great learning experience the six weeks he worked on the writing team for This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

"On Monday everyone would start clipping newspapers, and then you'd spend a couple of days coming up with your own stuff and stockpiling material," he explains. "On Thursday there would be a read-through with the cast, the writers and the production crew (the show taped on Friday night) and that's when it would be decided what was in and what was out. Some days you'd write something that you thought was genius and no one would respond, and other things would just be off-the-cuff and for whatever reason it would get a big laugh. It's a crap shoot, and as a writer you can never get attached to the material."

Shaun considers himself both an entrepreneur and a salesperson pitching himself as the product, and to reach his full potential he has to go where the vast majority of the buying takes place. "I'm trying to take responsibility for my career, as I've come to understand it is a business," he says. "I think the reason I've gotten to where I am is because I've taken that approach, and I've set goals for myself the same as if I was operating a hot-dog stand."

Still, Shaun is proud of his roots and the part he has played in adding to the Canadian comedy tradition. And he knows that if he ever starts to run out of ideas, all it will take to get the creative juices flowing is a trip to the East Coast. He downplays the role of his unique talent in his success on stage and screen, and points to the natural talent he saw around him every day growing up.

"In my small hometown of Burlington, you could put together five or six comedy groups," he says, shifting again to his Newfoundlander's voice. "All you have to say is 'okay, siddown b'ys, an' we're gonna write some skitches,' and they would do it. Sometimes I think about what I'm doing now, and I'm doing the exact same thing I did when I was five years old. And they want to pay me for it. It's just make believe and being silly, but I think people forget how to be silly because of adulthood. When you do that, you're just robbing yourself of all that fun."

by brent sedo