Monday, 18 September 2006

Flee the village...

"The Canadians are coming! Armed with plastic knives and forks!"

The comedian (whose name I forget) was on stage at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival, and the audience was bent double in laughter. If there were any soldiers in the audience, they were bent double too.

Canadians like to laugh at themselves, and this is probably why we have a disproportionate presence in the comedy world, by which I mean American entertainment. Other reasons have been put forward for the uncanny number of Canadians in American comedy, but I think they miss the mark. Canadians rule comedy because we are so good at laughing at ourselves.

This extends right up to the highest levels. Years before Al Gore thought to appear on Saturday Night Live, Canadian politicians - including sitting prime ministers - were appearing on political satire shows like Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, not to mock their opponents, but to joyfully skewer themselves and occasionally the satirists for not caricaturizing them well enough.

But it's not only the famous that we have enjoyed mocking. One of my favourite episodes of Corner Gas - gotta love any comedy set in Saskatchewan! - features a bemused American tourist who ends up in "Dog River" by mistake. The "ugly American" proves himself to be consistently well-informed, respectful and courteous, while his Canadian hosts (especially Hank) are prejudiced, obnoxious, and self-righteous. There were no outraged letters to the editor, no dip in ratings, no protests about the attack on the Canadian identity. We just enjoyed the inversion of stereotypes and laughed heartily at ourselves. It remains one of my favourite episodes.

And the skit that triggered this reflection: Royal Canadian Air Farce was portraying Prime Minister Harper and his wife Loreen as stiff, robotic, semi-humans and the children were called in to say good night. Who should appear but the real Harper children!

I can't speak with any expertise on this subject, but I have a hard time imagining an American president lending himself or family members to a political satire show for the express purpose of poking fun at himself. Admittedly, this is not entirely disinterested on the part of Canadian politicians; Preston Manning in particular proved that self-parody will only increase your popularity with the Canadian electorate.

So I ask my American friends in particular and readers of this blog from all parts of the world: how good are you at laughing at yourselves? I don't mean laughing at your opponents, either. Is it common practice for your politicians to mock themselves, and do your comedies skewer your own culture? Or is the mockery generally turned toward the "other"?

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Mirth said...

That comedian would be the eminent Jeremy Hotz. ;) Among others:

Janet Ursel said...

Thanks, Mirth! Very appropriate username, in the context. ;o)


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