Canadian Humour Lives Between Internal and External

Watching Extras will make you a better person.

Well, maybe not, but if you took the time to watch Ricky Gervais’ comedic opus from start to its concluding special, you will have seen one of the greatest comedies on television. True story.

This made me wonder about the state of Canadian comedy and, in particular, where we define ourselves. I think we lie somewhere in between the two major players in the comedy world: the U.S. and the U.K.

The differences between American and British comedy are pretty obvious. Our cousins to the south have a long standing tradition of appropriating concepts from BBC shows and “Americanizing” them, or as I call it, “Watering the ideas down to make them more palatable”.

I’m not trying to be harsh on American comedy, but it distresses me when they repeatedly ruin good-quality BBC comedies by importing the ideas … and removing the heart and intent.

OK, that was a little harsh. So for a more concise view, I asked local comic and fellow media consumer, Roslyn Woodcock, to describe the differences between these two comedy powerhouses.

“Generally speaking,” says Woodcock, “American comedy spends a lot of time dealing with external reactions to physical attributes or scenarios. For example, Arrested Development’s Blue Man scenes, the Stair Car or Job’s magic acts; while British comedy spends its time dealing with the internal (mental) reactions to the external: Peep Show’s ongoing inner monologues or Coupling’s in depth descriptions of what characters are thinking during absurd situations.”

Woodcock sums it up nicely.

“The British seem more willing to delve deeply into human frailty. They dig weakness while Americans dig the absurdity that comes from ignoring weakness.

So, how do we fit in there?

“Canadians, do a bit of both”, says Woodcock, “but there are just too few of us to really say we have created our own niche.”

Our style does seem to meet in that middle, as our most popular comedies deal directly with how self-aware we are as a people.

I would posit that if we had a resting comedic state, I would say that it lies directly with our identity and the exploration thereof. We take all of the external and internal and then filter it through our ideas of being Canadian.

We’re pretty paranoid about being compared to Americans, which pushes our identity into ridiculous avenues.

Needless to say, Canadians are pretty darn good at laughing at themselves and we can certainly take it further than the States, but we’re not willing to go quite as far as the UK.

While the world sits around and debates whose comedies are better, there we are in the middle of it all … being ignored. And this is a good thing.

If our Canadian identity is our strength, then our subtlety is our stamina.

We don’t take ourselves too seriously. In fact, we’re the best at taking ourselves down a peg when needed. And who better to satirize Canadians than themselves?

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