The Toronto actor and comedian on technological gaffes, banal superpowers, and how failure helped launch his career.
Getting dumped by the theatre helped him find his true passion.
He’s snuck into your living room with memorable small screen roles, like Oz, a goofy EMS worker, on CTV’s The Listener, and Eddie, a curmudgeonly caretaker, on MuchMusic’s now-cancelled The L.A. Complex. But before he was the go-to comic relief on CRTC-approved prime-time dramas, actor-comedian Ennis Esmer cut his teeth on the Canadian comedy circuit, performing with the likes of Dave Foley and Seàn Cullen on the series The Toronto Show, an ill-fated variety program that was taped in the Distillery District during its abbreviated 2003–2004 run. But it was getting booted from York University’s theatre program that truly launched the actor’s career. “Not going to university was a non-starter for my parents and there’s no ‘Acting for TV’ major in Canada, so I took theatre,” he says. “I say I got kicked out like it was rebellious, but truthfully, I just wasn’t doing well.”
He has some advice for General Petraeus.
Despite his initial love/hate relationship with the stage, the 34-year-old Torontonian makes his return to live theatre this month with a timely tale about the slippery slope of social media privacy written by Kjartan Hewitt. Don’t worry—it’s a comedy. In fact, he claims Claire, From the Bus is “the funniest hour of theatre you can watch about sexual blackmail and moral ambiguity.” Esmer’s character, Ralph, is generally hapless, struggling to make sense of his girlfriend’s moral deceit, technology’s treacherous power, and a potentially underage dalliance on his 31st birthday. Jokes aside, he says he was particularly interested in the role as an opportunity to explore the logic behind the kind of online behaviour that causes otherwise rational adults to commit glaring digital faux pas and get caught with their pants down (literally and figuratively). “You hear all these stories about people like General Petraeus and Anthony Weiner putting these photos out there,” he says, “and I just think, Don’t they teach you that in school? Where’s the common sense?”
He’s got at least one technological blunder in his closet.
Esmer can’t claim a pristine cyber track record. “I was on MSN,” he begins, sheepishly. “I think I was having a convo with a young lady over the course of the evening—some drinks were involved—and in lieu of sending a naked photo, I changed my profile picture to something lewd and forgot to change it back in the morning, and I unwittingly exposed myself to some friends.” Well, at least his mom wasn’t online. Despite the graphic goof, he does have some advice for would-be Facebook flashers. “At least put a filter on it,” he offers. “Like a little soft glow, or use shadows, negative space. You know, as opposed to just, ‘Here, look: male balls!’”
He’d make a useless superhero.
On CTV’s The Listener, Esmer plays the partner of a telepathic paramedic who solves crimes by reading people’s minds. The titular “listener” escapes any ethical dilemmas by saying he’s just really good at reading facial tics. But Esmer doesn’t quite buy it: “Is it okay to do that? I find it suspicious there’s not more internal investigation about this guy—those are the questions I would ask if I were a different character on the show.” One unanticipated benefit of being part of a TV show about a guy with paranormal abilities, though, is that you get pretty skilled at sussing out what your own superpower would be. “Now I just say, ‘I’d like to be able to turn bread into toast,’” Esmer says. “Like, voilà! Here you go: toast!”
Claire, From the Bus runs from Feb. 15–28* at the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W., clairefromthebus.com.
CORRECTION, FEB. 14, 2013: The original version of this article, as it appeared here and in the Feb. 14, 2013 print edition of The Grid, included incorrect date info for Claire, From the Bus. The show runs until Feb. 28.