Friday, 15 February 2008

On Comedy: Canadians Can Be Funny, Honest...

One of the best kept secrets in the comedy world is the presence of Canadians in just about every facet of North American comedy. This is especially true with television, with many Canadian writers and performers being responsible for everything from the corny hokum of Hee Haw to Saturday Night Live's glory days and beyond.

Now some, the more intelligent among you, are probably wondering why?

Well the answer is simple.

Canadians are funny.

But there's more to it, but it's where you can begin.

Canada is a nation of watchers. We're wedged between the big cultural juggernauts of Britain and the USA, and traditionally we've been liberally bombarded by both cultures while being uncertain of our own culture. This uncertainty, this lack of cultural confidence, can lead to a certain amount of lashing out. And since it's culture we're lashing out at, parody and satire are the natural results.

In the mid-1970s Second City's Toronto troupe was a major centre of such satire and parody, which led many of its cast members to be poached to work for Canadian expat Lorne Michaels' little show Saturday Night Live. The poaching was getting so aggressive that Second City Toronto's management started their own TV show to keep their performers in the fold. That show was called SCTV.

It was a TV show about TV, that used the language of TV to create laughs. Take for example these commercial parodies, which made the show both timely, yet timeless...

Stairways to heaven


During the 80s, after the passing of SCTV's last incarnation, Canadian comedy went on to the middle class social satire of Kids In The Hall, and the skewering of regional identities by Newfoundland's CODCO.

The 90s saw the rise of more news related satire, with This Hour Has 22 Minutes. From their phony news-desk they'd skewer politicians and their political parties as well as pop-culture figures in the news like Oscar winner turned documentarian James Cameron:

Former 22 Minutes alum turned solo-act Rick Mercer also does his own satire, like this piece where he makes fun of Canada's rather stiff taxes and a popular bank commercial.

But one of their strengths is interacting with others, from the rich and powerful, to average people in everyday situations...

Now another reason Canadians are so funny, is that Canada has some of the toughest audiences that you will ever encounter. If you can make a Canadian audience laugh, you are on your way. This is especially true of Newfoundlanders, one comedian once remarked that he secretly hated playing in Newfoundland because he knew that everyone in the audience was funnier than he was.

This makes the Canadian comedy scene the comedic equivalent of Parris Island Boot camp, creating lean, mean comedy machines. So a lot of Canadian performers and writers end up in New York or Los Angeles working American sitcoms and sketch comedy shows.

In fact, American comedy without Canadians does seem to lack something.


  1. Don't forget Corner Gas.

  2. I was just scratching the surface and sticking mostly to sketch based parody and satire for this post. I left out Wayne & Shuster, the Frantics, and others.

    Actually, successful Canadian sitcoms are a more recent development. In fact the struggle to make a Canadian sitcom, when most American sitcoms had Canadian writers, is probably worth a post all on its own.