Jan. 8, 2020

Within the last ten years, Canadians’ diverse sense of humour has flourished and exported internationally through our self-made stars, home-grown talent, festivals and TV productions. As comedians adapt and innovate, industry trends are different than expected.

These are ten of the biggest changes in Canadian comedy.

1. Indigenous comedy reaches a wider audience

In a world where male stand-ups still dominate, these First Nations women behind Manifest Destiny’s Child are claiming the stage. (Fabiola Carletti/CBC)

Canada’s more than 1.6 million Indigenous people are vastly underrepresented in mainstream entertainment media, but an increasing number are using comedy to break through, entertain, and start a much-needed conversation about Indigenous relations in Canada.

Denise McLeod, a member of Toronto’s up-and-coming Indigenous women’s stand-up comedy collective, Manifest Destiny’s Child, told TVO she’s not surprised Indigenous comedians are finding success.

“Comedy was used as a tool of our survival for so long,” said McLeod. “Our humour is directly linked to the years of genocide, cultural appropriation, and everything else that’s happened to us. Of course, we had to make light of this — or else we wouldn’t have survived.”

One significant example is “recovering journalist,” Tim Fontaine, who launched the satirical Walking Eagle News site in 2017 to take a humorous look at the complicated relationship between Canada and Indigenous people. Another landmark moment was Ryan McMahon, an Anishinaabe comedian and writer becoming the first Indigenous comedian to record a one-hour mainstream comedy special in 2012 (and four other specials since).

The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) created big names in comedy. Candy Palmater had her own comedy-variety program in APTN’s The Candy Show, a recurring role on Trailer Park Boys, and a radio program on CBC.

While working as their camp counsellor at age 17, filmmaker Tracey Deer told campers Brittany LeBorgne and Heather White that one day she would create a TV show for them to star in. She did exactly that: Her award-winning APTN comedy series, Mohawk Girls, based on the small Kahnawake reserve community south of Montreal, entered its fourth season in 2016.

Vance Banzo, member of award-winning sketch comedy troupe, Tallboyz II Men made it to national TV in 2019 with CBC comedy show Tallboyz. Banzo is a Saulteaux/Cree comedian, actor, and writer born and raised in Edmonton.

2. Social media: an incubator and platform for comedy

There are several examples of funny online content creators getting big TV deals over the past decade, but none hits the mark like Scarborough YouTube Star, Lilly Singh. In 2015, Singh was dreaming of moving out of her parents’ house.

Little did she know, her vlogs would earn her not only a spot as one of YouTube’s top 10 earners (with 14.9 million flowers), but make her the first queer woman of colour to have her own late-night show on American network TV: A Little Late with Lilly Singh.

Canadian comedian Lilly Singh is shown during the debut of her late-night TV show, A Little Late with Lilly Singh. (Scott Angelheart/NBC/NBCU/Getty Images)

Letterkenny Problems, a YouTube web series created by Jared Keeso in 2013 was developed into the Crave show Letterkenny in 2016 and made its U.S. debut on Hulu. The popular news satire website, The Beaverton, was founded in 2010 and adapted into a series for The Comedy Network in 2016.

Online personalities like YouTuber Elle Mills, author and illustrator Jonny Sun, and Twitter powerhouse Kelly Oxford, have also found success online and used it to launch careers in comedy.

3. Just For Laughs had 10 years of change, expansion and controversy

Howie Mandel made a bid for Just For Laughs when former president, Gilbert Rozon, was accused of sexual misconduct and stepped down in 2017. Mandel won the bid in 2018, along with partners Bell media, Group CH and American company ICM Partners.

While the operations remain in Montreal, Mandel said he aimed to preserve the comedy group as a cultural treasure for Canada, and “grow the global comedy brand.” Just For Laughs has expanded its JFL-branded comedy festivals to Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney, Australia.

Comedian Howie Mandel, one of the new co-owners of the Just for Laughs comedy festival, is seen at the company’s headquarters in Montreal on May 15, 2018. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

In 2019, JFL made several announcements, including that it will curate the Canada Laughs channel on Sirius XM Canada. This was met with backlash from the comedy community, as JFL first wanted to include material from international comedians. After comedians pointed out how few places Canadian comics have to gain exposure and income, JFL announced the radio channel will stay 100% Canadian. They also announced a new record label

4. New comedy clubs, festivals and showcases brought more diverse representation across the country 

A new wave of innovative comedy clubs, including Toronto’s Comedy Bar and Vancouver‘s Little Mountain Gallery have reinvented the institution, presenting not just stand-up, but a wide array of approaches to comedy, including theme nights. Often with five or six events happening the very same night, off-beat performers are free to experiment and grow.

Comedy Bar, located on Bloor St. West in Toronto. (Liam Maloney/CBC)

Comedy festivals and showcases have been a format that gives space to diverse comedians and caters to audiences not often represented in the mainstream.

There are many new must-see comedy festivals, including the Arctic Comedy Festival, which expanded to Yellowknife this year and has been raising awareness and funds to address mental illness. Another notable festival is Vancouver’s Smash Comedy Festival, which promises “patriarchy-crushing” from local women, trans and non-binary performers.

In Toronto, women of colour, especially black queer women in shows like Yas Kween, have paved the way for a lot of comics in the city. Vong Show started RICE: an Asian Comedy Showcase, the very first all-East Asian comedy show in Canada, which continues to fill up every month. It’s all leading up to a Chinese New Year edition in Toronto featuring himself, Cassie Cao, Jennifer Hsiung, and Leonard Chan.

Being Muslim in Canada hosted by Nour Hadidi, featured comedians like Ali Hassan, who has made a big mark this decade: from performing standup across the country; to appearing on CBC Radio as the host of Laugh Out Loud and a regular guest host of q; and moderating the annual CBC Canada Reads competition.

5. Canadian TV comedies go international

CBC shows Kim’s ConvenienceSchitt’s CreekWorkin’ Moms reached fanbases around the world, taking international acclaim for Canadian comedy to unprecedented levels.

CBC’s Schitt’s Creek, which airs on Pop TV in the U.S., is an 18-time Canadian Screen Award winner, four-time Emmy nominee, two-time Webby Award winner and has twice been nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for best comedy series.

(Schitt’s Creek)

The cast have featured on Ellen, sat down with the likes of Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and James Corden, and have visited various U.S. morning programs. They’ve earned glowing reviews in major American publications, including VogueVariety. the LA Times and the New York Times.

Schitt’s Creek was nominated for a 2020 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series. Catherine O’Hara, known as the iconic Moira Rose, was also nominated for her individual performance. Dan Levy, who plays David, won the MTV Movie and TV Award for Best Comedic Performance in 2019.

Kim’s Convenience, a breakout hit in Canada after it first aired on CBC in 2016, soon became more of an international sensation. The show even made a surprise appearance at this year’s G20 in Japan, when Justin Trudeau gifted South Korean President Moon Jae-in a Kim’s t-shirt, and won Most Popular Foreign Drama 2019 at Seoul International Drama Awards.

Vogue’s raving review of Baroness von Sketch Show (which airs on IFC in the U.S.) said it is “the best thing to come out of Canada since Ryan Gosling,” and Workin’ Moms was nominated two years in a row for the International Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series.

6. Canadians get a reputation as the bad boys of Hollywood

One of our most hilarious exports from Vancouver, Seth Rogen, broke through in the early 2000s but has had a very active decade stirring up trouble. His broad political and media satire film The Interview sparked an international incident in 2014 after it was condemned by North Korea as ‘sponsoring terrorism’.

Upcoming Seth Rogen, James Franco comedy’s assassination plot riles North Korea 3:49

Sony Pictures Entertainment bumped the movie’s release date and made alterations to the final cut, but a group calling itself Guardians of Peace threatened to attack movie theatres that showed the film. Sony cancelled the release, but soon the FBI confirmed the threats were made by the North Korean government. Columbia Pictures released The Interview on Christmas Day in about 300 independent theatres in the US and simultaneously made it available for download online.

This decade, Rogen has also pushed boundaries with R-rated films, Sausage Party, This is The End, The Night Before, and Neighbors. Along with his creative partner Evan Goldberg, Rogen was inducted into the Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2018. The pair, who met while attending high school at Point Grey Secondary on Vancouver’s west side, showed their appreciation by putting together their own take on the iconic Canadian television series The Red Green Show:

Ryan Reynolds was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his raunchy, quick-witted performance in the comedy-superhero movie, Deadpool. The 2018 sequel Deadpool 2 became one of the highest-grossing R-rated films of all time, making over $785 million.

(20th Century Fox)

Simu Liu, known for his role as Jung Kim on the CBC sitcom Kim’s Convenience, was cast as Marvel’s first Chinese superhero and will be starring in the highly-anticipated Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

This decade Jay Baruchel was a titan of the silver screen, voicing Hiccup in the blockbuster How to Train Your Dragon franchise, developing the screenplay for hockey flick Goon, and directing the sequel. He also starred in the acclaimed comedy series Man Seeking Woman.

7. Canadians punching above their weight on American comedy TV

Samantha Bee, host of “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” poses at an Emmy For Your Consideration screening of the television talk show at the Writers Guild Theatre, Thursday, May 24, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

After 12 years on The Daily Show, Canadian Samantha Bee became the first woman to host a late-night satirical news show, and was named as one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in 2017. The success of Emmy-nominated Full Frontal With Samantha Bee also highlights the talent of  Canadian producer and correspondent, Alanna Harkin.

Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder redefined the prank-comedy showNathan For You was named the #1 TV show that “explained the 2010s” by Vox for a reason. He “graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools with really good grades,” as the opening credits of his Comedy Central show, Nathan for You inform us. Fielder’s deadpan role of a business consultant whose terrible ideas and stunts inevitably take outrageous turns perfectly ridicules corporate culture.

The Kids in the Hall legend Mark McKinney and Belleville, Ontario’s Lauren Ash star in NBC’s Superstore.

8. The push to get comedy recognized as an art form 

(Sandra Battaglini)

Stand up comedians are currently unable to receive funding under the Canadian Council for the Arts grant programming. Toronto-based comedian Sandra Battaglini has been at the forefront of efforts to get stand up recognized as an art form eligible for grants.

She formed the Canadian Association of Stand Up Comedians (CASC) in 2017, and wrote an open letter to Justin Trudeau calling on him to take action. Her work inspired a week-long comedy festival, Comedy is Art, and she was the subject of a a documentary, Mayor of Comedydirected by Matt Kelly about the obstacles Canadian stand up comedians face.

9. The renaissance of the comedy album

Despite predictions of the decline of the comedy album 20 years ago, the audio comedy experience is again a hot commodity. Within the last decade all kinds of Canadian stand ups recorded albums both as a way to generate revenue on Sirius XM and also as a career calling-card.

Canada’s first and only record label dedicated to releasing stand up and sketch comedy albums, Comedy Records, was founded in 2010.

In 2018,  the Comedy Album of the Year category returned to the Junos after 33 years thanks to the work of comedian Ben Miner, Mark Forward and Graham Clark. Some notable Canadian-comedy albums include JUNO Comedy Album of the Year winners Dave Merheje’s Good Friend Bad Grammar, and Ivan Decker‘s I Wanted to Be Dinosaur.

10. The end of an era 

The 2010s brought us new talent, but it also meant saying goodbye to Canadian comedy staples like Rick Mercer Report.  The political comic’s last show earned big ratings. Since then, he’s released a book, Rick Mercer Final Report, and continues to leave a legacy by weighing in on Canadian politics.

It also marks the last decade of Air Farce. The 2019 New Year’s Eve special will be the last one, and will air on CBC Television and CBC Gem on December 30th.