After watching this documentary on Canadian comedy, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart finds his hours only have 22 minutes, and craves back bacon with a Nightcap. Trouble is, he can't book a table at CODCO, eh.
"It's Canadian comedy that has come to represent the Great American Comedy of the last 20 years."—Ivan Reitman
"My mother would kill me if I became an American."—Dan Aykroyd
Good day, eh.
I'll start off by saying that I went after this one because I wanted to hear what Roger Abbott and Luba Goy had to say, since they're part of what may be the funniest TV show I've never actually seen, Royal Canadian Air Farce. I picked up their long-running CBC radio show down here in the States on a shortwave set via Radio Canada International; I haven't had a chance to see an entire episode since they made the move to TV in the 1990s, though I've seen and heard clips on their Web site.
That should tell you something about Comedy Gold: The Hilarious Story of Canadian Comedy. It's Canada-centric, as you'd expect from a documentary made for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Don't worry, there's plenty of information on Michael J. Fox, Mike Myers, Martin Short, and the other Great White North comedians who ply their trade in TV and movies South of the Border. It's just that Americans could find themselves scratching their heads over Roger Abbott (not Bud's nephew) or CODCO (not a seafood restaurant chain); this production takes it for granted that you'll know both.
Though many of the names are familiar in the States, many of the shows aren't. Thus, you'll see clips of Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future) in Canada's Leo & Me ("It was more sit than com," Fox says of the show), Eric McCormack (Will and Grace) in an episode of Hangin' In, and Tom Green in an early cable show.
Even if you aren't familiar with the shows, the footage and reminiscences about 1950s variety shows like The Big Revue might tickle your fancy, since they recall the age of live TV and give insight into how it honed comic talent. Two of the Canadian shows not screened here particularly piqued my interest: Nightcap, a 1960s show which featured the writing of Chris Bearde (Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In), and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which features the sort of satire and man-in-the-street interviews brought to TV here by Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. The clips suggest that these two shows have had an influence on their American comedy counterparts. Overall, the segments on Canadian shows reveal a TV comedy slate full of sketches and satire—the sort of material that night owls David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Saturday Night Live turn out—rather than the sitcom format.
Of course, Comedy Gold features the expected, with segments on SCTV and its legacy, The Kids in the Hall. It highlights the many Canadians who have worked under one-time Canadian variety show star Lorne Michaels on Saturday Night Live, and the reminiscences of familiar stars like Mike Myers (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery) and impressionist Rich Little. Though most of the segments here are on TV-era personalities, there's a bit on Canadian Mack Sennett, who directed the Keystone Kops and helped develop Charlie Chaplin's talent.
The personalities featured here are generally good-natured and self-deprecating. Michael J. Fox ("It's already a goofy name for a place, so if you get started in Chilliwack, you have a good chance of developing a sense of humor") and Dave Thomas (his explanation of the genesis of Bob and Doug McKenzie will be a highlight for SCTV fans) fare the best in Comedy Gold's interview style, which features the actors sharing their reminiscences and thoughts with an unseen, unheard questioner. It's a pleasant surprise to see Tom Green talking in low-key style about gross-out humor and other wild on-camera antics.
The narration by Paul Gross (Due South) and the quotes from comedians sometimes overshoot their mark with ruminations on the Canadian character, but Comedy Gold mostly scores with its look at the influences that bred many of the world's most famous comedy stars.
The picture and sound quality are decent but varying, as you'd expect for an assemblage of clips. The documentary, which would have taken up four hours of CBC time, has its episode titles and credits clipped so it plays as one long feature. Though I would have preferred to keep the separate episodes rather than face one three-hour block, scene selection lets you go easily to the parts you want or jump back in if you can't watch the whole thing at one sitting.
Additional interview segments are the only extras here. It would have been nice, if rights could be had, to show more of the Canadian series for an American audience unfamiliar with some of the topics here (Newfie newbies, in other words). It might be nice, for example, to see whether an entire episode of current sitcom Corner Gas is as funny as the clips shown here.
Though long segments on unfamiliar shows might put off many Americans, Comedy Gold will interest anyone with an observer's interest in comedy or the workings of low-budget TV, or anyone else who's among the dozen or so Air Farce fans in the United States.
I also noticed that Comedy Gold didn't mention the unique French-speaking culture of Quebec and its comedians. They might not be as famous in the States, but they'd still be fun to see.
Not guilty, eh.
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