MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

The comic who cuts up Canadians

JON RUDDY October 1 1967
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

The comic who cuts up Canadians

JON RUDDY October 1 1967

The comic who cuts up Canadians

John Barber doesn't want to come back to Canada — or simply doesn't dare

A DRUM ROLL almost drowns out the rattle of swizzle sticks at San Francisco’s hungry i. Enter a fresh-faced comedian, bouncing. “Hi! I'm from Canada.” Tentative applause from a seersucker jacket in the third row. Comic: “I know how great you feel, sir. I’m not going back either.”

Terrific! For years Canadians have been denigrating themselves at home

— “What is Expo anyway but a flash in the pan that isn't even paid for yet?” Now at last all we nay-savers have got a popular spokesman in the U. S. John Barber’s schtick is to flay his native land with the bogey-whip of cultural and economic deprivation. Of course. U.S. audiences don't get the thrill out of this sort of stuff that Canadians do — Flay us again, John!

— but they appreciate the humor.

In nightclubs and nationally on TV (six appearances so far with Merv Griffin and the first of three with Dean Martin), Barber is introduced as a Canadian and leaves them for dead with such lines as: “The Communists tried to take over our government. but they had to give up. They couldn't find it.” And: “Canada's like a lot of southern states in that you can't vote if you're illiterate, but you can get elected.”

Barber, who is now 29 and lived in Toronto until his late teens, says the only attitude his audiences display toward Canada is gross indifference. “They just don't give a damn. They like to laugh at other countries, though.” His biggest problem is finding things they know about Canada.

“If it’s not topical down here, then it doesn’t mean anything.” Since there is a feeling in California that Canada is some kind of haven for pinkos, Barber gets a big laugh with: “Coming from Canada I can tell you that socialism won’t work. I know a number of socialists in Canada and they won’t work.”

For periodic trips east he has worked up some anti-New York patter. “In Canada we have the largest world’s fair ever, Expo 67, and there’s parking for 30,000 cars at a huge empty lot called the New York World’s Fair . . . In order tc build the area for our fair we filled the St. Lawrence with 300,000 tons of dirt — actually it was the Hudson River.” But mostly he sticks to a self-deprecating line. Moving onward and downward, Barber will say: “The U.S. is a land of opportunity where any boy can grow up to be President. But how many Canadians can grow up to be Queens? More than you know . . . We’re too conservative to call them homosexuals. We call them Mounties.”

Barber is married to a San Francisco singer - dancer (retired) named Serita. He lives comfortably in a North Hollywood apartment and hasn't been back to Canada for years. But he has retained his Canadian citizenship. "I haven't got my U.S. citizenship yet but my brother got his,” he tells his audiences. "That's a day he'll never forget because that's the day he was drafted.” JON RUDDY