What does the world think about us? This question is often pondered by so many Canadians and often leads to us exaggerating how much anyone actually cares about our great nation. To be successful, comedians need to be on the pulse of public opinion. They represent a perfect example of what populations know and care about. So I took to the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal to watch the funniest non-Canadian comedians and make a record of what the world thinks about Canada.
Either due to their own ignorance or a false sense of Canadian importance, American comics rarely knew much about Canada. That isn’t too heavy of a critique, after all, these are the funniest people in the world performing at the world’s greatest comedy festival. However, the bits performed were hardly presented differently in Montreal than they would have been to audiences in New York or Los Angeles. For whatever reason, very few comedians had much to say about Canada, sticking instead to bits about major American news and relying on the Canadian crowds’ knowledge of our southern neighbours.
Neal Brennan, long time co-writer and co-creator of the Chappelle Show alongside Dave Chappelle, in his unique and fantastic “3 Mics” show, asked the audience if the news that “Florida is a shithole” had reached Canada. This theme of asking the Canadian audience if they were aware of the biggest stories in American news before going into their usual bits about them was as far as most got in acknowledging us. It is a simple bit of touching base with the audience to let us know that the artist is in fact aware that they are in a different country, but not so different that material needs to be changed much.
Former Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac was making his third visit to Canada, having been to Toronto and Fort McMurray before. The extent of his knowledge of Canada was that Montreal had better food than Toronto, but Fort Mac had the best crystal meth. His show was hilarious but did not vary from one he would have delivered in the United States. In fact, Cenac lost some of his Canadian audience when he began to discuss American interest in soccer. He went on about how ridiculous that nobody other than America calls the sport “soccer”, which of course ignores that football in Canada, as in the United States, refers to a sport where giants in helmets run into each other repeatedly.
Patton Oswalt, to be fair was most aware of his ignorance, stating that everything he knew about Canada he had learned from SCTV’s Great White North skits. Those sketches also happen to be featured in the music video for Weird Al Yankovic’s Canadian Idiot. Yankovic performed the Canuck-stereotype extravaganza in a red and white maple leaf covered coat for a packed and rain-soaked crowd during his free outdoor concert. Canada could do worse than to have our most influential ambassadors to Americans over the age of 40 be Bob and Doug McKenzie.
Gala host Jane Lynch made no reference at all to Canada, which was unfortunate for us at the True North Times.
Orny Adams understood Canadians to be a bunch of hippies, something that came up continually in his first solo show at the festival. He insisted it had been Canadians who had begun the now seemingly worldwide trend of paying for plastic bags at grocery stores. Adams also thought Canada was over zealous with our recycling, paying a disturbing amount of attention to details in our disposal of cans, paper, and plastic. When one of his jokes fell flat Adams remarked that it was simply a polite and mild mannered Canadian inexperience with his “brash American comedy.”
A recurring theme for as long as anyone can remember is the poutine story every American tourist must obtain whilst visiting Montreal. This dated bit is a common way of briefly acknowledging the non-American audience or perhaps pointing out why we need universal healthcare in Canada. Patton Oswalt, however, brought new life to the poutine adventure-tale with what may be the greatest tourist story ever. Oswalt recalled his first ever visit to the Just for Laughs Festival in the mid-1990s, when he had left a bar on Saint Cathrine street at 3 am called Foufounes Electriques- which he called Foufounes Electronique as many do- and went to get poutine whilst on Ecstasy with Bob Odenkirk. Drugs are normally bad, but if you can eat poutine with Saul Goodman on drugs you should do it because apparently this is best way to consume fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
Whenever a comedian made reference to a distance in feet they would always follow it with a lazy joke about however many metres they thought that was because we use the metric system and nothing else in Canada.
The biggest Canada-related slip up may have been by Pete Davidson, who is of SNL and the Roast of Justin Bieber fame, when he appeared to refer to the Toronto Maple Leafs as Canada’s favourite hockey team whilst in Montreal. Although, he did make up for it later by providing his crowd with an opportunity to boo at the mention of the city of Toronto, always a crowd pleaser in non-Torontonian Canadian crowds.
Is it too much to ask that Americans learn something about us? Perhaps, but as long as American performers keep gracing us with their hilarious acts that make Just For Laughs what it is we have nothing to complain about. Although, unless we start making a conscious effort to teach our neighbours about Canada, we can’t go around thinking they will know anything about us or even care for that matter. As far as Americans are concerned, we are America’s little brother, we speak with a funny accent, use the metric system, we are more polite and less obnoxious, we have healthcare, we like hockey, and other than that we are pretty much American. Don’t get ahead of yourselves Canada, to the most powerful nation in the world we are little more than a collection of dated stereotypes.