In the last couple of decades, Canadian television humour has had a damn fine track record. Almost every history of Canadian TV humour will lovingly point further back to a horrible pastiche of lifted eyebrow smarm called Wayne and Shuster. Actually that is according it more substance and wit that it ever mustered..its more like if all humour were food, it would be papier mache; not even in the same category. And then things began to look up. A few steps up the ladder and we came to SCTV which was low budget but managed to create some memorable characters and launch many talents.
A few of these spent a little time on SNL but Michaels didn’t quite know how to use them so they languished. Martin Short‘s Ed Grimley but lasted but a year.
Bob and Doug McKenzie were the best known but other great characters included John Candy‘s The Mambo King, Andrea Martin‘s Edith Prickley, Dave Thomas‘ Scottish Bluesman and his unsurpassed Bob Hope parody, Rick Moranis‘ Woody Allen and so many more. The lasting legacy of SCTV are the Christopher Guest movies which are anchored by SCTV regulars Eugene Levy and Catherine OHara, and have are imbued with the same sensibility. See this blog for a much deeper dive into the SCTV pool.
And then, and yes, there were many lower profile shows I won’t go into, and then we had the unsurpassed Kids in the Hall. Still the exemplar of edge pushing sketch comedy. Not only was the writing top notch but it was courageous anything goes comedy backed up by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation which always supported pushing the envelope and wasn’t scared of gays on screen. Apart from developing memorable characters like the lascivious Chicken Lady, the key was deep character studies and leaving enough normalcy in all the sketches to highlight the radical elements. It is still the most pro-gay comedy series ever having the inimitable Scott Thompson who took gay humour on the little screen to the point where not only were there great characters but also had the balls to use the stereotypes as well much like the stretch in black comedy that occurred on MadTV a few years ago.
Here’s a couple of sketches (best of youtube but not the best of the Kids): Sausages.
Stand in the New Style.
SCTV started it but having Kids in the Hall is why so many Canadians found Saturday Night Live almost unwatchable. In comparison it seemed badly written, badly performed and juvenile. Exceptions there were but all in all, there was a hell of a lot of filler, a few too many sketches with the diapers still on and kept in the playpen, and a cuteness factor that didn’t compare with the chuckle into the abyss that was Kids in the Hall. For the true comparison, imagine the last show of SNL whenever they let it die. It will be a homage to days past, a loving caravan of stills and sketches, and tears on stage at the final hug. The last show of Kids in the Hall, the final sketch, was a grave being dug, they are tumbled in, its covered in, and Paul Bidini, one of the writers, and a recurring rolly polly figure dressed only in a hotel towel around his waist, dances on the grave and says “thank god,that’s over.”
The closest thing to good comedy in shouting distance that I’ve seen is MadTV which has developed some real beautiful standouts like Miss Swann, Lorraine, and now all I have to do is see Bobby Lee‘s face and I start laughing. Most of the Kids have found work since, Scott on Larry Sanders Show, Dave Foley remarkable straight in the really good News Radio, and the others here and there.
In a slightly different direction we had a show which came out of Newfoundland called Codco which kind of morphed into a weekly political comedy commentary which is called This Hour has 22 Minutes and this season so far as been great. For those outside the country, there are quite a few in jokes but I think someof it should still come across. I would check out the interviews by newcomer Nathan Fielder. The show is put online after each airing so you can watch almost the whole episodes with some not aired if you follow the link.