Let me start by admitting that I am a born overanalyzer. I can totally find symbolism that doesn’t actually exist. I’m so good at reading subtext, I end up creating subtext.
Sometimes this leads to insight. Mostly, though, it leads to my mother saying “Pffffft yeah, okay then, kid.”
This weekend, I was at it again. I was at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, desperately seeking a thoughtful, patriotic story I could tie in with my cross-Canada trip (or, as my Eastern European grandfather called it in an email last week, “the BACK-PK TRAVEL GO WEST YOUNG WOMAN “). I had been watching Canadian comedians like Jay Barachul and Mark Little (who you should all check out because he is hilarious) at the Festival for days, and had a notebook full of words ready for me to twist outside of their actual meaning.
My “Media” badge was staring me down. Canada. Comedy. There has to be a story here.
I considered digging into the CRTC, or geoblocking, or something else technical/policy related. I collected evidence against the infuriating Vanity Fair article “Of Moose and Men,” which claims Canadians aren’t funny. Maybe, I could approach bilingualism and language in comedy. Or maybe, I could pick out enough Canada-specific humour; lay on the superficial psuedo-identity.
Basically, I had it in my head that there is such a thing as “Canadian Comedy.” There has to be. I just needed to figure it out. Maybe sit and eat timbits watch reruns of Kids in the Hall and This Hour Has 22 Minutes for a week straight. You know, research.
Despite this enthusiasm, I struggled to find a real story at the Festival. I figured my opportunity would come on Friday night’s Homegrown Comic Competition, an annual showcase of young Canadian standup. This was going to be a goldmine of Canadianisms! The advertisement had a maple leaf and everything!
The good news is that there was a commonality between several of the performers, something beyond just Citizenship. There was something that stuck out, something unique that that really resonated with the audience.
The bad news is, that thing was jokes about menstruation.
I’m good at finding meaning in just about everything. But I’m not that good.
I had to accept it. Maybe Mark Little is funny because he is funny, not because he is from Halifax. Maybe jokes about a national chain store make Canadians laugh because local references rock, not because of an unwritten “Tim Horton’s Brotherhood.”
In a free country, chances are someone will be using that freedom to make people laugh. In a capitalist country, this “someone” will probably go wherever that skill is most marketable. And in a massive country (say, around 9,984,670 km²), different people in different places will probably find different ways to make people laugh. So yeah, Canada has entertainers. And those entertainers are a big cultural export, especially in the American biz.
I felt deflated. Unless I wanted to sound off about Canadian broadcasting policy, or confirm that Just For Laughs is an amazing festival, it seemed that my nationalistic meaning-finding was just about over.
But then I remembered an earlier conversation, some small talk with an Australian guy in my hostel room. We were talking about our plans for the night, and I mentioned the Homegrown Competition.
“Oh! That sounds cool. Canadians are funny.”
“Yeah? Really? I mean, yes, but…yeah?”
(Note: I’m very articulate when talking to strangers. That morning, I spent a full minute trying to pronounce my own name as I fumbled through awkwardly introducing myself to Dan O’Brien from cracked.com. So much charm, so little time.)
He nodded. “Yeah, well, that’s what they’re known for. Funnier than Americans, that’s for sure.”
The guy had hit my Canadian comedy fan g-spot. I melted, shooting an appreciative grin his way.
I couldn’t prove what he said to be true. I didn’t know what it meant or where he got it, really. I agreed because I am patriotic, and because Canadians have a pretty good track record of making me laugh–not because I could prove he was actually right. There is no defensible argument for borders and geography affecting hilarity, unless you make some long-winded historical argument or factor in the education system to an extreme.
I’m not willing to do that here.
I didn’t find my story about “Canada. Comedy.” on stage at the Just For Laughs Festival. It wasn’t a certain brand of funny, something I could understand by over-analyzing comedians and collecting quotes. Instead, my story was in that hostel room. It was the fact that the Festival exists at all, and that people from around the world have heard of it. The fact that the Homegrown Competition is a thing. The fact that people from other countries believe Canadians to be funny (how great of a reputation is that?!).
Mostly, it’s the fact that fans like me get excited by even the idea that Canada has an identity, and that the identity involves funny people.
And so, with very little proof or reasoning, I will keep considering Canadians funny. Or maybe, I will keep considering funny people funny, and get weirdly excited when they are Canadian.
Also, this foreign stranger saying “Canadians are funnier than Americans,” is the best pick-up line I’ve heard in months.
You want Canadian identity? That’s a good start.