Guest Columnist Jim Slotek: Canuckleheads 2
Geoff Pevere is on assignment for CBC Radio and will be posting every other week for the next little while. This week, one of Geoff’s peers, Jim Slotek, shares his own views on Canada’s Current Comedy Standings and Comedy in general.
To paraphrase an old axiom about actors, my erstwhile film reviewing colleague Geoff Pevere could rewrite the phone book, and it would make for interesting reading. But I’m sorry to say I’m not down with his last column.
That would be the one where he discovered that the actors doing cover versions of Moe and Curly in The Farrelly Brothers’ The Three Stooges – Chris Diamantopoulos and Will Sasso – were Canadian. Which got him to thinking about how funny Canadians are, sending him on the well-paddled stream-of-consciousness from Wayne and Shuster to SCTV to Saturday Night Live to Jim Carrey.
Problem is, I’ve been hearing about how naturally funny Canadians are since I began covering comedy in the ‘80s. And though we produce our share of funny people, I think the average Canadian is overly earnest. Irony is just as endangered up here as it is in the lower 48.
“Canadians are naturally funny” is a self-fulfilling trope, on a par with “deaths come in threes.” One believes it, therefore one’s observations make it so.
I could make a case for Bostonians being funnier than Canadians, pound-for-pound. That one city has offered up Jay Leno (okay, bad example), Conan O’Brien, Steven Wright, Louis C.K., Denis Leary, Steve Carell and Dane Cook (okay, another bad example). Chicago is the world capital of improv, giving us Second City (which, yes, is now owned by a Canadian, Andrew Alexander) and graduates like John Belushi, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Carell and Stephen Colbert, plus the likes of Bernie Mac, Bob Newhart and Redd Foxx.
Homeboy Lorne Michaels still does interviews on why Canadians are so fuckin’ funny, even though he hasn’t hired one since he fired Norm Macdonald back in 1998. Yes, the one-time home of crazy Canucks like Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short and Mike Myers, has been Canadian-free for 14 years. The closest to a Canadian on the show these days is Taran Killiam’s viciously hilarious impression of Michael Cera.
Which is not to say we’re entirely out of the game in today’s cutting-edge comedy pool. There are The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee and her husband Jason Jones, who came out of the Toronto sketch troupe scene. Russell Peters is one of the world’s most popular standup comics and filmmaker Jason Reitman is picking up where his dad Ivan left off, creating dry comic masterpieces like Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Young Adult.
The truth is, Canadians who are funny and want to make a living out of it generally go to LA where they get noticed, and cause people to wonder if all Canadians are so funny (in a few cases, like Jason Rouse and Mike Wilmot, they make a living in the U.K.).
There is great comedy here, but outside the CBC, a living is problematic. Toronto’s Second City arguably offers the best sketch comedy in the country, but its cast are paid like Tim Horton’s employees and aren’t paid at all for their writing. They all augment their living with commercials. Or, again, they move to LA.
There may be some potential in pay cable for comedy not blessed by the U.S. HBO Canada’s Call Me Fitz and Less Than Kind are both beautifully scabrous sitcoms, shot, written, acted and produced by Canadians.
But we are ill-served by the Comedy Network, which is supposed to be our answer to the U.S.’s Comedy Central, and which instead is mainly a platform for Comedy Central programs. The ugly politics in front of the CRTC – which led to the licensing of the Bell-owned Comedy Network – saw promises made of generous Canadian comedy production budgets. And as soon as CTV got the licence, it fired the guy who made the promises (the late producer Joe Bodolai) and gave us every variation of a guy with a mike asking how many couples are in the audience. The cheapest programming they could get away with.
Another supposed feather in our comedy cap is the Humber College School of Comedy. Yes, there are kids who actually major in comedy (“Dad! You know that RESP you’ve been contributing to since I was born so I could have a better life than you did? Guess what I want to spend it on!”). Though a couple of decent young comics have come out of it, majoring in comedy is counterintuitive in a business based on life-experience and truth-telling.
I’ve seen great comics come out of law school (Demetri Martin and the late, great Greg Giraldo), Yale drama (Lewis Black), even real estate sales (Simon B. Cotter). Kids, if you want to be a great comic, go live life. Come back to me when you’re at least 30 and have had sex and then tell me what the deal is with women and men.
This is true on both sides of the border. These aren’t exactly glory days in comedy in general. So if we want to tell ourselves we’re the funniest people in one of the lamest eras of funny, well, we’ve told ourselves worse lies.
Geoff Pevere returns next Friday
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An award-winning newspaper columnist, movie critic and comedy script-writer, Jim Slotek has interviewed literally thousands of celebrities for the Toronto Sun and various entertainment magazines. His script work runs the gamut from an acclaimed documentary on Mexico’s Day of the Dead (El Dia, La Noche y los Muertos), to CBC variety specials (the Gemini Awards, the NHL Awards, CBC Canada Day Special).
For more than a decade, readers of the Toronto Sun have followed Jim’s domestic adventures with his family, wife Bianca Kapteyn, two sons and dog Otis weekly in his popular syndicated Sunday column.