Stand-up Comedy Comes to Canada
There are no written histories of stand-up comedy in Canada. Canada’s role in this form of entertainment, as in many others, has been that of borrower from the United States – because of proximity, first borrower. Nowhere can Canada be seen as a contributor to the line of development that started with Mark Twain, notwithstanding the success in the United States of some famous comics who got their start in Canada, more of which later.
N EW YORK NORT H
There are at least two reasons the international extension of the artistic ferment in New York began in Toronto. Toronto is close to New York. This is significant, for the link between the entertainment communities of Toronto and New York in 1974 had to be a personal one. Remember that the mass media stand-up comedy on HBO was still at least a year away. Furthermore, the art being exported was, at the time, strictly Anglophone. Toronto is Canada’s largest city as well as the acknowledged trendsetter for many aspects of Canadian popular culture.
COMED Y WEST-COAST STYLE
At the time Breslin was opening his Yorkville club, Rich Elwood was inaugurating a club in Vancouver in a basement rented from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Restaurant. There was born The Punch lines Comedy Theatre, an entertainment enterprise that now competes with Yuk Yuk’s for engagements in western Canada and to a lesser extent in Ontario and Quebec. Punch lines also books Canadian comics into rooms in Idaho and Washington State. It is unrelated to the previously mentioned Atlanta chain with a similar name.
LA STAND-UP COMEDI E QUEBECOISE
There exists in francophone Quebec a distinct comedic tradition that has developed largely independently of mainstream comedy in Canada and the United States. Francophone comics are known as humorists or caciques, the equivalent of our generic stand-up comics. Their tradition is a blend of practices and ideas from France and francophone Quebec, Only with the widespread availability of English-language film and television and a population sufficiently bilingual to understand them have Anglophone entertainment influences begun to penetrate Quebecois society.
DERE’S NUTIN’ WRONG WID DAT B’Y
In every community a certain percentage of the population believe that the government is fair game and if they can fulfil their needs by getting any government department to pay for them, then, “deer’s nation’ wrong width buy!” It is like an incurable disease and lasts all through their lives.
CANADIA N HUMOUR
Canadian oral humor consists of much more than stand-up comedy. We have already made brief reference to staged improvisational and live sketch groups. Prominent examples of the latter include Spring Thaw and, today, The Frantic. There have also been famous radio and television sketches, as exemplified in scurvy and the Royal Canadian Air Farce. The Quebecois enjoyed the 1940s radio sketches with the puppet Frivoling in the Fridolinades, and from the 1960s to the present there were the satirical French songs of Robert Charleroi’s and Michel Rivard (Lacomb 1988). There is also a certain amount of ethnic humor.
Such contributions to national and international entertainment are not made overnight. Polished acts are the product of consistent, often intense daily effort over a period of many years. In the realm of stand-up, the fruits of this effort are routinely presented in the comedy clubs and rooms across Canada. Here the novice slowly and usually painfully learns the art and craft of making people laugh.