Prince Rupert’s motivational notes help Joey Jack smile when he’s feeling in the dumps. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

Heart of Our City | Cruise ships, Cleveland and dumpster notes: Happy in strange places

The Joey Jack of all trades

As he cruised through the clear crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, Joey Jack stood on stage and told a joke. Staring back at him were hundreds of faces, each of which were showing their teeth.

Some teeth were pretty and some people looked very ugly the way they laughed. It is this intimacy with an audience which Jack loves most about comedy.

“When you share a laugh with somebody, it’s a very intimate experience. When you can make somebody so comfortable, that they can show their teeth and they can make themselves look… well… sometimes people look ugly when they laugh, right? So if you can make someone so comfortable that they’re able to be so close with you, I just like that part about it,” Jack said.

Jack began comedy in 2003 when he worked on cruise ships. Jack would host karaoke when the staff would have to kill time between singers. His lines were simple: “ Hey! Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! I’m Joe with your cruise director staff tonight, we have a great show. Let’s welcome our guest…”

But Jack must have had a special spark to him because one day, a comedian, which to this day Jack still cannot remember his name, who opened for Seinfield, approached him and encouraged him to say a few words on stage.

As he approached the stage for his first ever show, Jack was not nervous. He was anxious but a good kind, not the kind of anxiety he dealt with in his everyday.

“Comedy is subjective. And people take what they want from what you have to say. And they filter it through their own life experience. And something that 25 people in a room think is hilarious two people might be really offended by it, and you just deal with it,” he said.

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Comedy is Jack’s own way of tricking himself into feeling less bad.

“Sometimes I’ll be in the dumps, but I’ll say something that will make someone laugh and I might not even mean it in a funny way. I might just be riffing on something and if we can laugh from it, then it’s helping alleviate my own feelings of depression,” he said. “To get myself out of 10 situations by maintaining a light, easygoing attitude and making the people around me laugh it’s almost like tricking yourself out of feeling bad.”

Joey Jack finds happiness in the strangest of places.

Jack was born and raised in Kamloops but will tell anyone that listens, that the best way to grow as a person is to get out and go explore the world.

“You know when you’re from an area, not just geographically but also personally, like it’s where we’re from, so you just get used to things and you get comfortable and complacent. And I thought, you know, I think I’ve been here long enough,” he said.

At the age of 20 he moved to Cleveland, Ohio. He had plenty of reason to want to leave his hometown, from restlessness to getting bullied for being his school’s “chunky kid.”

“When I was in school, there was a guy. We were both half First Nations. We both came from fatherless homes. And I think he just decided that ‘well one of us is going to be the victim of bullying here and it’s not going to be me’. So he made me the victim. And that guy was my bully from kindergarten to twelfth grade,” he said.

Joey Jack has had a long career as a journalist, comedian and communications manager, among other things. He is the Joey Jack of all trades. (The Northern View file photo)

“But now it’s fine because at least I got my hair,” Jack chuckled as he ran his fingers through his thick greying Justin Bieber-esque mane.

Jack had also not come out to his family or friends about his sexuality. It was getting a job at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that pushed him to become his own person.

There was no particular instance when Joey Jack realized who Joey Jack was. It was a lot of little interactions with people who had no preconceived notions of First Nations people ot who cared if he was gay.

Jack returned home in less than a year care for his mom, the greatest lady that ever lived and an iron woman in his eyes, who was ill at the time with cancer.

WATCH MORE: Post-surgery monologue comedy gold

While at home Jack came out and nobodycared.

“My family was fine with it. Nobody cared and nobody will care. And if they do that is their problem,” he said.

When his mom started to recover, that is when he made his way to his cruise ship life.

“It took me going to work on a cruise ship to really become who I am. People think they’re stuck, particularly young people, they think they’re stuck. No, you’re not, you can go and be your own person, be yourself.”

In 2017 Jack once again got restless and decided to move to a small city in Northwest B.C. One of the draws was the stickers on its dumpsters.

“I love Prince Rupert’s dumpsters. It’s the only city I’ve ever been to that has motivational sayings on its dumpsters, which I think’s important. I think that’s why we have such a friendly homeless population, because they’re going down the alley and they’re seeing it and don’t give up. It’s important to keep smiling,” he said.

Jack keeps smiling, through the ups and downs as he goes from place to place. Nothing trivial can bother him anymore.

“Someone called me fat. That is just a factual statement! Why did I let that bother me?,” he said. “Nobody should be able to take away anyone’s power. I would rather be the person who says something than the person who doesn’t and wishes they did later.”

Now Jack stands on stage and says whatever is on his mind as he pokes fun at daily life. No one can take away his power and he owes that to the places outside of home where he was free to intimately laugh, teeth showing and all, and hopes others do the same.

“You can always come home like baby salmon. You were born in a stream and you have to leave that stream to become your own person. And you can always come home back to the stream.”

READ LAST WEEK’S HEART OF OUR CITY: The many faces of Carnegie

READ THIS WEEK’S MVP: Alison Sherman lands her first position

Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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