After several years of provoking intense hilarity, this is the thesis developed by Chris Bryant and Allan Scott, two young Montreal comics who have been seen by audiences in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa and who, having tested the U. S. climate in Texas, are headed next month for a New York club called the Blue Angel, which specializes in contemporary comedians.
“Finding topics that are funny to Canadians is as difficult as finding the fabled Canadian identity,” says Bryant. “It amounts to the same thing," adds Scott. “On the outside, Canadians are pretty much like Americans. You don't hit the real Canada until you get beneath the surface.”
Beneath the Canadian surface, they’ve found that people have more in common than is commonly supposed. Nothing succeeds like secession, for instance, when it comes to getting laughs from Canadians of different backgrounds. Audiences in Ontario as well as Quebec have applauded a Bryant-Scott skit that shows Canada seceding from the
Commonwealth, Quebec from Canada, Montreal from Quebec, Westmount from Montreal, and so forth. There’s a trans-Canada response to parodies of Montreal police, the Calgary Stampede, Ottawa’s Charlotte Whitton. Prime Minister Diefenbaker, and our immigration laws (Bryant portrays a brilliant Hindu scholar who enters Canada as “unskilled labor”).
Bryant and Scott have discovered surprisingly few taboos in their attempts to milk humor from Canadian sacred cows. The Queen, of course, is sacrosanct, “much more so than in England.” Religion is a tricky subject, though Canadian audiences roared delightedly at a reference to “The Boss” in a Biblical skit which drew outraged comment in Texas.
The Texas tour confirmed their suspicion that Canadians and Americans laugh in different directions. “On opening night in Houston,” says Bryant, “most of the lines were the same as the ones we used in Canada but the response was totally different. We had to scrap some material, particularly a skit about who won the war, and substitute a sketch based on nursery rhymes. We
discovered we really didn’t have a clue to what went on in the American mind.”
Bryant, whose offstage name is Chris Dobson, has been studying the North American mind since he arrived from England about five years ago to work for a master’s degree in civil law at McGill. Scott—Allan Shiach in private life—came a little later to take a B.A. in English, and the two joined forces to help write McGill’s annual revue. In 1959 the manager of a Montreal night club got in touch with them after seeing a university performance. For five weeks, while Dobson lectured at the law school and Shiach studied literature, Bryant and Scott played three performances each night at the El Morocco club.
Dobson left McGill in I960 to become associate private secretary to Justice Minister Fulton. Last spring, Shiach graduated from McGill and Dobson resigned from the civil service. Since then, Bryant and Scott have been keeping themselves in sports cars by keeping people in stitches. But only temporarily, they insist. “One of these days, we’ll retire to a quiet life of law and English literature.” PETER DESBARATS
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