April 6, 2010
NEW YORK, April 6, 2010/ Troy Media/ — Only Americans think that they’re best at everything. In the comedy department, they could learn a thing or two from their Canadian counterparts.
Americans love to boast about all things American – the United States’ sprawling urban meccas that define its wealth, for example. New York City, “the Big Apple,” is known as the nation’s financial-services hub; it’s known for Broadway, host of big-dollar musicals and dramas; and as home of the United Nations, symbol of world peace. California has Los Angeles, home of Hollywood, which turns out multimillion-dollar, blockbuster films with factory-like precision; and it has Silicon Valley, still considered the world’s technological-innovation hub. Michigan has Detroit, the apex of the American automotive industry.
There are dozens of US cities that are known worldwide for their products and services. And there are hundreds of famous Americans in all sectors – business, technology, science, engineering and entertainment – that further define the US as the best and biggest in the minds of Americans, who shamelessly flaunt its bigness and wealth in glowing superlatives.
And in the glamorous film industry, what country can compete with America’s endless list of matinee-idol film superstars?
Canada takes the Oscar
But when it comes to producing world-class comedians, Canada has the US over a barrel. Of course, no American comedy lover or comedian would ever admit it. And, predictably, no self-respecting Canadian comedian would even entertain the thought that he delivers a cleverer, subtler, and more sophisticated brand of comedy than his American colleagues.
It’s not in Canadians’ nature to boast. Right up until their extraordinary comeback at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, they’ve been content to play second fiddle to the US on the global stage.
It’s doubtful that being Numero Uno in the comedy business is important to most Canadian comedians. What is important is bringing their special brand of humour to the world.
They’ve accomplished that in a big way. First, in their own country, and next, they’ve done it in the entertainment world’s proving ground — you guessed it — the US of A. From there, they catapult to global fame.
Superstar US comedians
Not that the US doesn’t have dozens of comedians who have achieved international fame. The lengthy list includes the late John Belushi, Richard Pryor and George Carlin, as well as Jerry Seinfeld, Dane Cook, Dave Chappelle, Mike Ward, Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Brian Regan, Eddie Murphy, Steven Wright, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart, to name a few of the current crop.
So what differentiates the above comedians from their Canadian counterparts?
Unlike Canadian comedians, American comedians lack an identifiable style. Like its country’s melting-pot society, its comedians serve up a potpourri of styles that range from outrageous, clever and eccentric to ribald, off-color and brassy.
Many of the US’s big-name stand-up comedians delight in excess, pushing the proverbial envelope and going beyond the boundaries of good taste. Comedy aficionados who religiously frequent America’s well-known comedy clubs and watch late-night TV’s stand-up comedy shows relish popular comedians’ no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners, no-subject-is-off-limits, let-it-all-hang-out style.
Every American comedian who’s made it big has honed two distinct comedy routines: Cleaned-up routines, sans expletives and X-rated language, for prime-time TV specials and talk shows, and routines written for late-night cable TV comedy shows and nightclubs, designed to both shock and offend.
Prudes and religious zealots be warned: Steer clear of some of America’s outrageous stand-up comedy showcases. You will indeed be offended, because no subject is sacred-religion, sex, perversion, even motherhood.
Class clown of the global schoolhouse
In a Readers Digest article, Lorne Michaels, creator of “Saturday Night Live” said: “Canada’s most prominent cultural export remains humour. During the past few decades, Canada has definitively emerged as the class clown of the global schoolhouse.”
The reasons? Michaels observes: “America is huge and dominant; we are small and not. And there can be perhaps no more fertile ground for the development of an entirely justified penchant for self-deprecation, which is an essential cornerstone of the brand of comedy perpetrated by Canadian comedians.”
He adds, “Canadians prosper as comics because comedy tends to thrive on the margins, on the fringes. The 49th parallel is in many ways the world’s longest undefended window display, and we are a nation whose noses are pressed up against the glass. This can’t help but shape who we are.”
What’s so special about Canadian comedians?
There are no definitive answers, just a bunch of observations. This writer’s favorite is Heather Summerhayes Cariou’s explanation in an accompanying Troy Media special feature (Why Americans Love Canadian Comedians).
Writes Summerhayes Cariou: “Could be there’s a deep, mysterious need in the American psyche that only our exotic Canadian humor can answer. Or maybe it’s because Canadians are funnier because they all grew up wearing toques.”