1.02.2006

what i'm watching: canadian comedy

Allan's been home a lot for the past two weekends - paid time off, what a concept! - and has also had opportunities for some very well-paid overtime. Relaxation generally trumped greed, but he did take some extra hours.

For me, the week between Christmas and New Year's turned out to be very busy. Since I always need to interview kids for Kids On Wheels stories, I took advantage of the school schedule (everyone being home and easy to reach during the day) and got a lot of interviews done. Now there's a pile of tapes waiting to be transcribed. That's the grunt part of my work.

Last night we watched the CBC Comedy special, Comedy Gold, tracing the most famous comedy to come out of Canada. (The second part is tonight.) It was neat to see the behind-the-scenes Canadian connections that I wasn't aware of, and, of course, old clips - David Steinberg's controversial writing for the Smothers Brothers, Dan Ackroyd's Bass-O-Matic, Kids In The Hall in their club days. The older material like Wayne And Shuster was new to us, but I'd love to see a whole Shakespearean Baseball Game. (I'm sure you'll all be posting links to help me.)

I'm always telling Allan that Canada has produced a disproportionate share of comedians, actors and entertainers, given the country's small population. This is generally expressed by the statement, "Everyone is Canadian". (Example: A cartoon version of Michael J. Fox appears on The Simpsons. I point and say, "Canadian", followed by, "See? Everyone is Canadian.") Allan doesn't believe me.

That is, until last night. Enter "Hee Haw". Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, I regarded Hee Haw as a foreign ambassador from some strange land "out there". But Allan grew up "out there", and like millions of Americans, he watched Hee Haw. When he learned (last night) that the show was created by two Canadians, and that this guy is Canadian, he changed his mind: "You're right! Everyone is Canadian!"

I enjoyed the show, and I'm planning on watching Part 2 tonight. Try as I might, however, I don't see anything I would call "Canadian humour" or a "Canadian sensibility". The humour is far too varied; generalizations don't stand up - for me, anyway. And that's a compliment. If you could lump Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Steve Smith, Brent Butt and Dave Foley into a category called Canadian Humour, you'd be doing each of them a disservice, and selling them all short.

11 comments:

James said...

The older material like Wayne And Shuster was new to us, but I'd love to see a whole Shakespearean Baseball Game.

You've gotta see their version of Julius Caesar, too:

Calpurnia: I told him, "Julie, don't go. Don't go, Julie," I said. "It's the Ides of March. Beware already."

There's an edited version online.

this guy is Canadian

Don Harron, though everyone knows him as Charlie Farquharson. He was born in rural Ontario, which is probably why he worked so well on Hee Haw. The character dates back to 1952 on the CBC, though, and has more recently appeared on the Red Green Show.

He's written a number of fun books on Canada, including Charlie Farquharson's History of Canada, which would make a good companion to all your Pierre Burton.

A curious fact I didn't know until just now: his daughter directed I Shot Andy Warhol and American Psycho.

BTW, another great example of rural Ontario humour (I don't know if the CBC show will cover it) is the series of one-man plays, Letters from Wingfield Farm, inspired by the part of Ontario my mother grew up in.

RobfromAlberta said...

If you could lump Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Steve Smith, Brent Butt and Dave Foley into a category called Canadian Humour, you'd be doing each of them a disservice, and selling them all short.

Jim Carrey is a bit of an "odd man out" in the ranks of Canadian humour. French-Canadians love that style of physical comedy, but in English Canada, it doesn't resonate. My perception is that Carrey is much more popular in the US than Canada.

We do have a great tradition of improv and sketch comedy (which I personally find mindnumbingly dull) which owes its existence to the pioneers, Wayne and Schuster. Were it not for those two, I doubt the Second City troupe in Toronto would have become the comedy factory it eventually was. Second City itself, launched the careers of an amazing number of Canadian comics, including John Candy, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Mike Myers, Dan Akroyd, Dave Thomas, Ron James and Andrea Martin.

L-girl said...

It's an amazingly long list, that's for sure.

I don't care much for Jim Carrey, although he's obviously excellent at what he does - and he is very popular in the US. It does seem odd that he's Canadian. Very different.

I love good sketch comedy - but so much bad sketch comedy abounds! People think all you have to do is put a wig on and talk funny and you've got a sketch. Not!

James, thanks for the info. Good stuff to look into!

Marnie said...

Another good Don Harron fact: he wrote the libretto for Anne of Green Gables, the musical, which has been running in Charlottetown for several hundred years now.

... wanders off singing, "Ice cream, is anything more delectable than ice cream, why even the most respectable eat ice cream ..."

andrea said...

I thought Mike Myers' comment on his own home as a child ("If you're not funny you're not allowed in") was symbolic of Canadian entertainment culture as a whole.

James said...

I don't care much for Jim Carrey, although he's obviously excellent at what he does - and he is very popular in the US. It does seem odd that he's Canadian. Very different.

Carrey can do really good non-physical humour, but he doesn't very often. Or, when he does, he spoils it by suddenly switching to his trademark spastic mugging mode.

L-girl said...

He's also a good non-comic actor. He was very good in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Man On The Moon.

When I said I don't care for him, I was thinking of the trademark physical stuff.

James said...

When I said I don't care for him, I was thinking of the trademark physical stuff.

I think he's "cursed" by that face of his. It's incredibly mobile (just look at his old Fire Marshall Bill character from In Living Color) and you can get easy laughs when you can twist your face around like that. The face ended up dominating his comedy work.

Echo Mouse said...

We watched the program last night too. But I kept saying "Where are Bob and Doug?" Nothing. I can't believe it.

They better be in Part 2 tonight or I'll be very upset. LOL

The Hee Haw thing was news to me too. And as others have said, Jim Carey is not my fav. But I don't begrudge him his success :) He certainly deserves it and worked incredibly hard for it.

L-girl said...

But I kept saying "Where are Bob and Doug?" Nothing. I can't believe it.

They better be in Part 2 tonight or I'll be very upset.


Whew. No need for tears. ;-)

opti said...

If your looking for the original Radio broadcast of Wayne and Shuster's Shakespearean Baseball plus other great skits check out Wayne and Shuster Radio Plus other Great CBC Radio plays at Scenario Productions