Dining and Developing with Comedian K. Trevor Wilson

Standup stalwart navigates the fickle road to fame

September 10, 2017

“I like a good greasy spoon. I always have.”

K. Trevor Wilson smiles as he sips his coffee. “I like the atmosphere to eat in. No one’s gonna yell at you if you spill gravy on the table, you know?” His warm tone and folksy delivery are magnetic, naturally inviting a listener’s ear. “And you have to be good,” he adds between bites of breakfast. “It’s not a business model you can be subpar at, and last.”

The same can be said of the comedy world Wilson has inhabited for nearly two decades, while methodically and deservedly carving out his space as one of the country’s most respected comics. Seated snugly in one of the Diefenbaker-era booths that line the Patrician Grill – the quintessential downtown diner still going strong on Toronto’s King Street East – the self-described “Man Mountain of Comedy” wields a firm grasp on his industry and his specific role within it.

“I’ve always written life as I’ve lived it,” Wilson notes of his inertly accessible style. Via priceless stories plucked directly from his own experiences, wrestling-driven epics or ruminations on the peculiarities of cross-Canada touring, bits unfurl in calm, conversational increments as the Etobicoke native lulls audiences into a hypnotic rhythm, on a good night eventually culling humour from even the connective tissue of his measured narratives.

Years spent in the open mic trenches taught Wilson the often-hard truths of a business that operates in the late, dark hours, where healthy lifestyles and sound thinking can be scarce. In witnessing the self-destructive behaviour of myriad peers – be it hubris from unproven performers or bitter resentment from those who never fulfilled their dreams (not to mention addiction and depression) – Wilson forged an earnest commitment to professionalism alongside the sculpting of his act. From his present perch, it’s easy to see that focused effort has unquestionably paid off.

A gradual rise on the club circuit has resulted in a groundswell of high profile work in recent days, be it from memorable back-to-back runs on Comedy Central’s Roast Battle, the premiere of Crave TV’s Bigger In Person standup special or – most zeitgeist-y of the moment – a lead role (as smalltown sage Squirrely Dan) on the hit series Letterkenny. In his thoughtful way, Wilson has taken the increased exposure all in stride.

“The airport’s weird because I forget I’m on a TV show,” he chuckles in recalling how disarming it can be to hear his name called out in a security queue, inevitably by a startled admirer. In Sudbury – where Letterkenny films –the cast has grown accustomed to random house party invitations from groups of bashful fan-bros. Thanks to his recognizable and outsized personality, Wilson receives plenty of love nationwide.

Over the past year, though, those encountering the rising star in public have noticed a change: his increasingly-shrinking physique. Wilson – iconic in his magnitude for much of his life – got a sobering wake up call in the form of a diabetes diagnosis in the summer of 2016, and promptly took on the mission of turning his fitness around. Not that he made a big deal of publicizing it.

“Nothing’s sadder than telling everybody you’re gonna do something and then not doing it,” Wilson says of his discrete strategy. “I’ve seen so many friends make the declaration: ‘alright, today’s the day I’m gonna get healthy’ and then they get fatter.” More apt to let his efforts do the talking, he cut out fast food, processed sugars and anything fried, before making a crucial elimination in the alcohol department.

“The weight really started to come off when I stopped drinking beer,” Wilson states matter-of-factly. Long accustomed to wielding a pint while onstage, he was surprised by the ease with which he swapped lager for water without missing a beat. Other simple, sensible adjustments like baking chicken wings, replacing bread with a wrap or – as is made plain over our diner breakfast – ordering tomatoes in place of potatoes, now steadily steer Wilson’s regime. If it’s come as a challenge, he doesn’t let on.

“You have to go all in. You can’t half-ass it,” he expounds. “It’s like: lose weight or lose a foot, you know? It’s diabetes. You pretty much know what’s gonna happen to you.” The ability to remain lighthearted while vigilantly keeping on course – a stark contrast to his former ignorance-is-bliss routine – gives Wilson power over this long trial, and renders his goal of lasting well-being that much more attainable.

The 85-pound drop between Letterkenny seasons has yet to be addressed onscreen in the series, while morsels of weight loss fodder have begun to find their way into Wilson’s act. “There is humour in it,” he admits before describing a new riff on his heretofore improper bowel movement calibration. And it’s not as though his existing material will suffer, having never depended on fat guy clichés. “While I have talked about food and stuff like that in the past, it’s a small part of my life. I’m totally amazed at Jim Gaffigan’s ability to write a whole hour about food, I’ve never sat down and written like that.”

With all the positive progress – both professional and physical – it’s heartening to know Wilson isn’t deprived of little joys, like a classic diner experience (minus the carbs) or preparing a home-cooked meal for his sweetheart. “I do a really mean goat cheese-stuffed chicken breast,” he boasts. Happily, it turns out that balance is just as essential as brawn, even for the Man Mountain of Comedy.