V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer

Our home-grown comedy is finding its own identity

Published in The Toronto Star, September, 2010.
Part 3 of 5 in a special series on inaugural Canada's Walk of Fame Festival.

Are hosers funny?

If a Canuck, an American and a rabbi walked into a bar, who would be more likely to bring the house down?

That, experts and comedians say, depends on your audience.

For a long time, Canadian humour was an amalgam of our most dominant influences: the dry British wit and the physical, slapstick humour of America.

But the tide has recently turned, says funnyman Colin Mochrie, who has worked both the Canadian and American comedy circuits and will be performing at the Canadian Comedy Awards on Oct. 17, which wraps up the four-day Walk of Fame festival.

“We used to have to be funny for Americans,” Mochrie said. “Now we can be funny for ourselves.”

Jim Carrey and Mike Myers are the most obvious examples of successful Canadian exports that Americans have mistaken as their own.

But Mochrie, who is now touring with The Colin and Brad Show, along with Whose Line Is It AnywayCorner Gas as an example of an unequivocally and unapologetically Canadian TV show. Same goes for the cult following of Trailer Park Boys. star Brad Sherwood, cites

“Over the years, I think we've become more confident about our country.”

As the kinder, gentler nation we like to think we are, Canada also responds best to material that's subtle and smart, experts say, as opposed to brash, in-your-face humour.

“I tend to think we react most strongly to observational humour, when something is presented to us in a way that makes us see something with new eyes,” said Kenn Scott, who teaches comedic writing at Ryerson University.

Take Russell Peters, for example, an equal-opportunity offender who leaves no race, ethnicity, or religion unscathed — our homeboy from Brampton can mimic a Chinese, Jamaican and Indian accent with uncanny, hilarious accuracy.

His whole schtick (insert Jewish-Indian joke here) is based on contorting old, controversial stereotypes. And given his ability to sell out stadium crowds at the Air Canada Centre, it seems, we love it. Here's why.

“One of the things that happens when you make everyone laugh is that, on a primitive level, you're creating consensus amongst the group,” explains Andrew Clark, director of Humber College's Comedy Writing and Performance program.

“You're creating a group, a community and cohesiveness, and that's something Canadians are into.”

Mochrie points out that Peters' comedy also fills a niche that had been void for too long.

“Russell is reaching out to an audience that was starved for seeing stuff about themselves,” he said.

So what does that make us? Fragmented Canadians? Navel-gazing narcissists? No, it means that we can readily laugh at ourselves, Mochrie said.

“We're the first to call ourselves out on anything.”

Case in point: instead of glossing over our humiliating, international gaffe when one of the pillars failed to rise during the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics, we poked fun at ourselves. A mime popped up at the closing ceremonies two weeks later to mock-fix the problem, with some mammoth extension cords, a few flying sparks, and an apologetic shoulder shrug.

“I hope that sent the message that while Canadians take what we do seriously, we don't take it all too seriously,” Scott said. “The Olympics aren't the be all and end all. That, to me, is pretty Canadian.”

The Canadian Comedy Awards take place Oct. 17 at the Wintergarden Theatre and feature Colin Mochrie, Mary Walsh and Don Ferguson. Tickets are $50-$60. Call 416-872-2555 or go to cwofest.ca.

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