(How I Failed At) Seeking Canadian Comedy

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!

homegrown

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.

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20 Things to Do in Ottawa this November

I know the exact conversation we will ALL be having in exactly two days. It’s the same conversation we had last year. And the year before. And the year before that. You know, this one:

“Wait…wasn’t it just Halloween? Why is there Christmas music on? Why is there tinsel on that cash register? It’s NOVEMBER FIRST, you guys! What gives?! ”

I’m a big ol’ holiday season nut, I’ll admit it, but the commercial transition between seasons is always a bit over-the-top. Truth be told, I find November pretty boring. It’s a bit too far from Christmas for decking any halls, so I just see it as the mellow spot between Halloween season fun and Christmas season fun. Mellow is alright, I suppose, but…I kinda like my fun.

Luckily, Ottawa is full of fun no matter what.  I know this.  I know this firsthand. I know this in spite of people telling me it isn’t, because after living and breathing this city for a few years I can assure you that it’s anything but boring.

My proof: A calendar-esque list of 20 things happening in throughout November that are worth checking out.  I’ll also be tweeting these out each day as a reminder that cool stuff is happening.

Yep, that’s right, cool stuff in Ottawa. In November. Don’t even question it.

November 1: Thursday nights from 4 to 8, admission to Ottawa’s national museums is FREE.  It should be an interesting time to check out the Museum of Civilization, as it (controversially) prepares for rebranding into the Canadian Museum of History.

November 2: I’m all about those Halloween leftovers, like Pheonix Players’ presentation of The Death of Dracula. It’s only $15 for students, and is on until November 3rd.

November 3: Last day of the Haunted Walk Halloween season! If you want one last taste of Halloween, take a special evening tour of Ottawa’s creepy past. The 3rd is also the last chance for the Zombie Adventure at the Diefenbunker. Yeah. Shooting Zombies in the Deifenbunker. Amazing.

November 4: If you have never seen the Ottawa burlesque scene, here comes a chance to check it out! Ottawa Burlesque Playground Presents Movember Mahem at the Elgin Street Yuk Yuks.  These shows are always such a creative, brilliant, sexy, entertaining time–and a portion of your $10 ticket goes to a Movember drive!

November 5: Hit the market for some local talent with The Rainbow Bistro‘s Monday night open mic.

November 6: Get your hockey fix!  The Ottawa 67s play Kingston at Scotiabank Place at 7 pm.

November 7: My favourite local improv troupe, GRIMprov, holds a show on the first and last Wednesday of each month at The Imperial on Bank Street.  $5 is a small price to pay for some side-splitting hump day hilarity.

November 8: Check out WWII play, Padre X,  at the Canadian War Museum. $7 for youth, $10 for adults. Runs from the 8th to the 11th.

November 9: Opera Lyra’s presentation of Cinderella promises to be a great introduction to Opera for performance fans young and old. I’ve heard great things about OLO lately! (Note: If your budget’s too tight, or you want to introduce a young’un to the scene, a 20 minute excerpt of the opera for kids will be performed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization on the 25th.)

November 10: Mayfair Theatre on Bank Street presents its monthly late-night showing of The Room, aka the worst movie of all time. This also makes it, of course, the best night out with your friends of all time.

November 11:  Remembrance Day in the capital is always a big deal. Be sure to go early to get an okay view of the national ceremony and pay your respects at the War Memorial.

November 13: Back to the Mayfair for an epic double feature tonight: Kill Bill Vol 1 and Kill Bill Vol 2 hit the big screen at 7 and 9:15, respectively.

November 14: I feel like Wednesday night karaoke at the Bytown Tavern is Ottawa’s best kept secret. There are always a handful of really fun, spirited, off-key singers from all walks of life every time I go. Not too full, not too empty.  Cheap drinks and a total judgement-free zone? It’s a party.

November 15: All Gershwin, All Pops is the latest installment of the NAC’s Pops series. I have gone to see Pops shows several times since moving here–$12 student Live Rush tickets for the best seats in the house are hard to resist. World-class talent backed by the full NAC Orchestra always makes for a brilliant show.

November 17: Photojournalist Louie Palu will be at the Canadian War Museum from 2:00 to 3:30 to talk about his experience in Afghanistan.  Admission to Kandahar: Photographing the Frontline is free.

November 18: The Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show is happening at the Convention Centre all day Sunday. If you’ve never been to a show at the Convention Centre…it’s awesome. So is vintage. So, this is double awesome.

November 20: Tuesday is open mic night at the Laff. I know the place had quite the rep back in the day, but as far as I can tell the 2012 Laff is one of  the chillest, cheapest places for a beer and some tunes…places really don’t get any more come-as-you-are than this.

November 24: Saturday Night Drag @ the Lookout. ’nuff said.

November 28: Wednesdays are Pro/Am night at Absolute Comedy. I’ve been to Absolute on a Wednesday more than once, and I have to say…a solid comedy show for $6 makes eternally grateful that I don’t have classes Thursday mornings.

November 29: Anyone else down for geeking out to old war stuff? The Canadian War Museum is hosting a special presentation of Hamilton and Scourge: Archaeological Exploration of Two War of 1812 Shipwrecks. The illustrated talk starts at 7 pm, and it’s free!

There you go, Ottawa–twenty things to keep your November exciting.  Hopefully, this will tide me over until Christmas spirit can be in (guilt-free) full swing. I promise you, come December, I will be outrageously jolly. Till then I will just be…well, out!

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November Events Added by Readers (aka YOU!):

November 2: Shannon Lecture Series presents Dr. Barbara Lorenzkowski’s “Sensing War: Children’s Memories of Wartime Atlantic Canada, 1939-194.” Dr. Lorenzkowski will be at Carleton University (303 Paterson Hall) at 3:00.

All month: Mo’vember is here.  Personally, I’m not usually a huge fan of the mustachioed look…but, hey, it’s for a good cause right? Register now!

November 15 to December 2: 27th European Union Film Festival presented by the Canadian Film Institute.

November 21-December 8: Pride and Prejudice, part of the NAC’s English Theatre series, hits the stage for 2 1/2 weeks starting November 21st. Live Rush tickets available.

November 29: The Rotaract Club of Ottawa presents the Roaring Twenties Cocktail Fundraiser with proceeds going to rebuilding an orphanage and daycare centre in South Africa. Awesome awesome awesome!