Why Are Canadians So Funny, Eh?

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Why Are Canadians So Funny, Eh?

Words by Mr James Mullinger

17 September 2014

The national comedy club chain in Canada was established in 1976

Messrs Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays and Ian Brown of The Stone Roses, two of the pioneers of the Madchester scene, were in their early twenties when they got their big breaks at The Haçienda. But some of the biggest names in Canadian comedy were still kids when they first took to the stage at Yuk Yuk’s. Mr Rogen, who would go on to star in Knocked Up and Superbad, did his first stand-up gig when he was 13; Mr Carrey was 15. “Jim Carrey went on stage at the very first Yuk Yuk’s in 1977,” remembers Mr Breslin. “He wore a powder blue leisure suit and did terrible show-biz impressions. A few years later he came back with a better act. A critic was in the audience, deemed him ‘the future of comedy’ and the next night there was a line around the block.”

The third-highest grossing comedian in the world right now, according to Forbes, is an Indian-Canadian comic named Mr Russell Peters who made $21m last year from stand-up. He did his first ever gig at Yuk Yuk’s in 1989 and was groomed by them for superstardom. “I did Yuk Yuk’s’ open-mic night and I was awful,” recalls Mr Peters. “But, I got a couple of chuckles and that was it: I was hooked. After that I spent the next 15 years picking up gigs anywhere I could. I’d take a gig if there was free food at the club, or if I’d make 25 bucks to cover my gas. And then I got on the Yuk Yuk’s circuit.”

Mr Breslin remembers Mr Peters’ rise: “Russell was a case of ‘slow and steady winning the race’. He was as good as he is now for some while, but it took producers a long time to catch on. He wasn’t black, he wasn’t white. What was he? He was outside the box, and most people did not get that there was a new global marketplace emerging that didn’t care about the box.”

Yuk Yuk’s has long been a feeder for Just For Laughs in Montreal, widely considered to be the world’s best comedy festival. Unlike Edinburgh Festival Fringe, you can’t just pay your way in to perform at Just For Laughs; everyone on the bill is scouted and personally invited and it is a huge honour to be asked.

If Yuk Yuk’s is The Haçienda, then Just For Laughs is Factory Records. The talent is nurtured and given room to develop and grow by Yuk Yuk’s before being presented to the global market on the big stage in Montreal. The likes of Messrs Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Bill Cosby, Chong, Rogen and Peters still perform there because of the prestige, and because it launched their careers. It is also where Messrs Todd Phillips (Road Trip), Judd Apatow, Seth MacFarlane and the bookers for The Tonight Show go to find the next big comic to break Hollywood. Here are six Canuck comics who have just about made it already…

Mr Dan Aykroyd

Left: Mr Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live, 1978 NBC/ Getty Images; Right: Messrs Aykroyd (left) and Jim Belushi in The Blues Brothers, 1980 Kobal Collection

Age: 62

Born: Ottawa, Ontario

First foray into funny: At 17 he appeared in Canadian sketch show The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour with Mr Michaels, who then created Saturday Night Live in 1975 and where Mr Aykroyd made his name.

Loudest laugh: 1984’s Ghostbusters.

Make us laugh: As Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers: “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark... and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

Mr Jim Carrey

Left: Mr Carrey appearing at Yuk Yuk’s in the 1980s, Toronto Courtesy of Yuk Yuk’s; Right: Mr Carrey on a poster for Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, 1995 Allstar Picture Library

Age: 52

Born: Newmarket, Ontario

First foray into funny: Mr Carrey’s father would drive him to Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto to perform when the comedian was only 15.

Loudest laugh: 1994’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective made him a household name and in 1996 he set a Hollywood pay check record for a single movie when he bagged $20m for The Cable Guy.

Make us laugh: “One thing I hope I'll never be is drunk with my own power. And anybody who says I am, will never work in this town again.”

Mr Mike Myers

Left: Mr Myers on a poster for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, 1999 Kobal Collection; Right: Messrs Myers (left) and Dana Carvey in Wayne's World 2, 1993 Photo Kobal Collection

Age: 51

Born: Scarborough, Ontario

First foray into funny: At age 10 he appeared in a television commercial with Ms Gilda Radner and after high school began touring with The Second City before moving to London where he was a founding member of The Comedy Store Players.

Loudest laugh: His popular SNL sketch “Wayne’s World” became a $20m movie, which grossed $183m at the international box office. His three Austin Powers movies then subsequently grossed more than half a billion dollars.

Make us laugh: “Canada is the essence of not being. Not English, not American, it is the mathematic of not being. And a subtle flavour – we're more like celery as a flavour.”

Mr Russell Peters

Left: Mr Peters hosting the The Juno Awards in Calgary, Canada, 2008 Rex Features; Right: Mr Peters performing at Palms Casino Resort, Las vegas, 2013 Denise Truscello/ Getty Images

Age: 43

Born: Toronto, Ontario

First foray into funny: Began performing stand-up at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto in 1989 and broke out in 2004 when a Canadian television comedy special went viral.

Loudest laugh: Not that well known in the UK but last year he made the Forbes rich list as the third-highest grossing comedian in the world (Mr Jerry Seinfeld was first) when he made $21m.

Make us laugh: “I have a theory. I believe that the size of your penis is in indirect correlation with how much sex you will have in your life. The smaller your d***, the more you will f***. You don’t believe me, look at the two largest populations in the world.”

Mr Seth Rogen

Left: Mr Rogen at the Four Seasons Hotel, Beverly Hills 2013 Rex Features; Right: Ms Katherine Heigl and Mr Rogen in a still from Knocked Up, 2007 Kobal Collection

Age: 32

Born: Vancouver, British Columbia

First foray into funny: Did his first stand-up gig aged 13 and won the Vancouver Amateur Comedy Contest at 16 before landing a role on Mr Judd Apatow’s Freak and Geeks a year later. He recently returned to live comedy again at this year’s Just For Laughs comedy festival.

Loudest laugh: Mr Apatow’s 2007 smash hit Knocked Up, which made Mr Rogen an unlikely leading man.

Make us laugh: “I apologise in advance if I am out of line here, but are you in gay porn?”

Mr Tommy Chong

Left: Mr Chong at a press conference announcing the Cheech & Chong "Light Up America” tour, LA, 2008 Landmark Media; Right: Messrs Chong (left) and Marin in Cheech & Chong's Next Movie, 1980 Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

Age: 76

Born: Edmonton, Alberta

First foray into funny: Beginning his life as a musician before meeting draft dodger Mr Cheech Marin in the late 1960s when they began performing as Cheech and Chong.

Loudest laugh: 1978’s stoner classic Up in Smoke, which grossed more than $44m at the box office, and this 2010 Just For Laughs performance

Make us laugh: “Hemp will save the world but then forget where he put it.”

The best of the rest

Other great Canadian comedians

Messrs Will Arnett, John Candy, Michael Cera, Derek Seguin, Martin Short, Matthew Perry, Pete Zedlacher, Mike MacDonald, Jeremy Hotz, Norm Macdonald, Harland Williams.

Bubbling under

The best Canadians working the UK comedy circuit right now

Messrs Mike Wilmot, Pete Johansson, John Hastings, Wade McElwain, Stewart Francis, Craig Campbell and Mses Katherine Ryan and Allyson June Smith.