DEMERS, Charles

Author Tags: History, Humour

Growing up, Vancouver-born Charles Demers was a politically sophisticated fat kid with a void in sports and cars. These days he’s still more widely known as a humourist than as an author due to his CBC Radio stints on The Debaters and stand-up comedy performances in clubs and at festivals.

Charles Demers' little-noticed novel The Prescription Errors (Insomniac Press 2009) was soon followed by a "no-holds-barred look at Lotusland" entitled Vancouver Special (Arsenal, 2009), a critique of neighborhoods, people and culture, featuring photography by Emmanuele Buenviaje. Demers' short essays were born of a friction between estrangement and engagement; his loyalty to the city is ambivalent but inescapable.

Or as his friend Kevin Chong wrote in an endorsement, "It's only fitting that a city with so many unlikely facets--its conspicuous wealth and conspicuously ignored poverty, its inscrutable WASPiness and inscrutable Asian-ness, its left-wing face and right-wing heart--should be both celebrated and excoriated by a writer with such multifarious abilities." Demers' concluding chapter 'Vanarchism' cites his affinities to the likes of philosopher George Woodcock, punk rocker Joe Keithley, labour historian Mark Leier and APEC protestor Jaggi Singh.

In 2010, Demers co-hosted at The CityNews List for television; the he made his debut as a playwright with his "East End Panto" version of Jack & the Beanstalk, staged in 2013 and 2014 as family entertainment--all of which led to a teaching gig at UBC Creative Writing.

Move over Bill Richardson. Having hosted the BC Book Prizes on several occasions, Charles Demers re-entered the literary world with The Horrors (D&M 2015), an A-to-Z compendium of all things awful. Demers gives new meaning to a 26-er by starting with "A" for "Adolescence", recalling his sexless teenage years in a Trotskyist sect. "B" for "Bombing" recalls the sickening sensation of knowing your comedy act stinks. "D" is for "Depression." "F" for "Fat." "J" for "Junk Food." "M" for "Motherlessness." And so on.

Now married with a child, Demers is one of the brightest lights to emerge in B.C. literature since Ivan E. Coyote--as likeable as he is clever and socially progressive.


The Prescription Errors (Insomniac Press 2009)

Vancouver Special (Arsenal, 2009)

The Horrors: An A-to-Z of Funny Thoughts on Awful Things. (Douglas & McIntyre 2015) $24.95 978-1-77162-031-4

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Vancouver Special

[BCBW 2015]

Nominated for Vancouver Special
BC Book Prizes (2010)

from BC Book Prizes catalogue
Vancouver is at a crossroads in its history — host to the 2010 Winter Olympics and home to the poorest neighbourhood in Canada; a young, multicultural city with a vibrant surface and a violent undercoat a savvy urban centre with an inferiority complex. Charles Demers examines the who, what, where, when, why and how of Vancouver, shedding light on the various strategies and influences that have made the city what it is today (as well as what it should be). From a history of anti-Asian racism to a deconstruction of the city’s urban sprawl; from an examination of local food trends to a survey of the city’s politically radical past, Vancouver Special is a love letter to the city, taking a no-holds-barred look at Lotusland with verve, wit and insight.

The Dad Dialogues
Review (2016)

from James Paley
The Dad Dialogues: A Correspondence on Fatherhood (And The Universe) by George Bowering & Charlie Demers (Arsenal Pulp $17.95)

The Dad Dialogues: a correspondence on Fatherhood (And The Universe) is an exchange of seemingly off-the-cuff, long messages—we used to call them letters—written between prolific, elderly and venerable George Bowering and thirty-something comedian Charlie Demers who divides his promising career between standup, stage plays, books, radio gigs and teaching.

Whereas Demers writes with the raw anxiety and wonder typical of a new father, Bowering’s comments on paternalism are more reflective and composed, though sometimes laced with the old fears.

The letters begin with Demers anticipating the birth of his daughter, due in a matter of days. Bowering responds with tales of his own daughter’s birth, over forty years ago. Each author relates the saga of his daughter’s first year in vivid detail.

Thea Bowering was born in October of 1971. Josephine, Demer’s daughter, was born in January of 2014. Their histories, although separated by more than forty years, share similarities. Both fathers share fears about the world their daughter is growing up in. For Bowering, this meant raising a child during the cold war. For Demers, who suffers from anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, he worries about oceans turning to acid, tiny lungs being punctured by smaller ribs and red blotches on the skin.

Demers is a dedicated father who can’t stand spending time apart from his kid soon after her birth. Every other task he’s presented with becomes a chore, pure drudgery that separates him and Josephine. Instead of feeling relief at finally having time to himself when he’s away for work, spending the night in a hotel room is the loneliest he’s ever felt.

Bowering casts back to his diary entries to relive his first trip away from the family. It was a series of train trips he made from Vancouver to Prince George to Edmonton and back. Without the added convenience of cell phones and discount flights, the time out of contact felt eternal. Add some northern weather and the whole trip was pretty bleak.
So this is a seemingly unplanned book that is less about events than it is about emotions.

The stories told are mostly about ordinary events, milestones that every parent can identify with. Women have been sharing such stories with one another for aeons; men not so much. Because Demers and Bowering, as males, are sharing anecdotes about their reactions to their infant daughters, how they feel, ostensibly this makes The Dad Dialogues into unusual literature.

Cloying or fascinating, there’s an undeniable buoyancy to their friendship that keeps the dual narratives afloat. Typically, when Demers recounts ‘Joji’s’ first visit to the emergency room, over a small red mark on her face, the beginnings of a light bruise, Bowering counters with a story about his own daughter drinking lemon-scented furniture polish when she was a year old. The hour-long drive to the ER was peppered with curses and pleas.

As Demers chronicles the first year of Josephine’s life, Bowering reciprocates, like a good shepherd, reminding Demers that he is not alone in his feelings. The Dad Dialogues affords an intimate look at the diapers, despair and overwhelming joy of fatherhood. Not war stories from the trenches; instead a rare advertisement for male nurturing.


James Paley is a Vancouver freelance writer.