Q&A

‘PEOPLE REALLY WANT TO LAUGH'

War or not, this top Canadian comic says audiences want the joking to go on

COLIN MOCHRIE April 21 2003
Q&A

‘PEOPLE REALLY WANT TO LAUGH'

War or not, this top Canadian comic says audiences want the joking to go on

COLIN MOCHRIE April 21 2003

‘PEOPLE REALLY WANT TO LAUGH'

Q&A

COLIN MOCHRIE

War or not, this top Canadian comic says audiences want the joking to go on

NOTHING IS SACRED to the irreverent cast of CBC’s satirical This Hour Has 22 Minutes. They regularly spoof everyone from Jean Chrétien to the Pope. But this season the series really hit a nerve with its “Apology to America.” In the sketch, cast member Colin Mochrie—in his role as reporter Anthony St. George—travels to Washington and offers the collective regrets of Canadians for calling George Bush a moron, beating the Americans in Olympic hockey and for burning down the White House during the War of 1812. The piece created a buzz on the Internet. But in an interview with Senior Writer Sharon Doyle Driedger, Mochrie, who also stars on ABC’s improv Whose Line is It Anyway?, points out that comedy can be tricky during crises.

These are troubled times, and yet you still know how to make people laugh.

In some ways it’s easier, because people really want to laugh. The last two years have been just amazing for bad news. Pretty much since Sept. 11, This Hour's been focusing on terrorism and war. After a while it gets to you, and it’s very depressing because the writers, the cast, everyone watches the news 24 hours a day. But I think comedians have probably been satirizing war since the days of the first joke. The beauty of it is, there’s always a lot of material out there. It’s just finding the right way to go about it, because you don’t want to disrespect the people who are over there fighting the war or people who have lost people. It’s hard finding the right balance, so there are days when we are just so happy when Jean Chrétien says something silly.

Are there any aspects of Sept. 11 and the Iraq war that are off limits?

We’re not making fun of the soldiers or the people of Iraq. It’s more the policies, the reasons why we go to war. Pretty much, we’ve always been allowed to do whatever we want on the show. But our producers keep an eye on the taste of a piece. Of

course, they have round-the-clock lawyers working on it too.

Are people easily offended?

When I did “Public Apology to America” some Americans were deeply offended. To me, the piece wasn’t any more scathing than anything on Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show. But Americans have a problem with other cultures making fun of them. I guess it’s the same thing as, you know, sometimes you can say something bad about your wife, but if somebody else says something bad about your wife, you get really angry.

Did Canadians like your apology to the Americans?

Yeah, most did. We’re a fairly self-deprecating country to begin with. There are times when I watch 22 Minutes and go, “My God! ” Like when Mary Walsh goes up to the Prime

Minister and puts her arms around him. If that was America, she’d be down on the ground with a gun at her head. I guess we’re a little more relaxed here and we’re able to laugh a little easier at ourselves.

On the other hand, Chrétien actually tried to choke somebody.

At least he didn’t have Secret Service guys do it. There’s something charming about that. You know, he chokes his own attackers. I mean, George Bush choked on a pretzel. But we have a prime minister who fights back. And his wife attacked someone with a sculpture. The whole family’s dangerous. Don’t cross us.

Do you think Americans are just more sensitive now because of the war?

They’re definitely more sensitive since Sept. 11. God knows, it’s certainly understandable.

They probably feel more vulnerable than they have ever felt. Now they’re actually worrying about why other people “don’t like us.” I don’t think that was something they ever thought about before.

So are jokes on Canada-U.S. relations too touchy for them right now?

Actually, lately I’ve been doing a lot of shows in the U.S. where a couple of us from Whose Line have been doing improv. The entire show is based on the audience’s suggestions and we have yet to get anything that has anything to do with the war, the government or Canadian-American relations. People come to those shows to get away from it all.

What allows us to start laughing again after the horror of war?

They say comedy is tragedy plus time. I think you can almost make fun of anything— it becomes sort of a survival tactic. I’ve known people who have faced terminal diseases and after a certain amount of time they treat it lightly and make jokes that

you could never ever make. You have to find some humour in it just to survive.

So humour is cathartic?

It is. I love doing my job, but you think, “well, I’m just being goofy and making a living at it.” Then people come up and say how much the shows mean to them. After Sept. 11, a New York-based trauma therapist was telling her patients to watch Whose Line. So humour does have a place. When you go through bad times a good laugh can cure an awful lot. I’m no doctor, but it’s amazing how healthy you feel after a good laugh.

Do you consider yourself a comedian or a satirist?

I see myself more as a comedian. I don’t think I could ever be accused of being a great political satirist. Most of my stuff is based on everyday life. With satire, in a way you’re trying to change the world, although you never really can. But I can at least, perhaps, show the world the idiocy that we go through sometimes.

Who is your favourite target? Saddam? Bush? Chrétien?

Chrétien’s a great target. What I love is you can just play a clip of him saying something and you usually get a laugh. There have been some things I’ve watched, and I thought, “My God, it makes no sense.” Bush doesn’t always inspire me to write because he scares me—and Saddam, the same thing.

How does Bush scare you?

He always seems to know exacdy what to say when he’s talking about how we have to root out America’s enemies. Those are the times it seems he’s on top of things. I guess that’s what scares me.

And Saddam?

You know, you just don’t want to piss him off—or his doubles. To me, the thing I always get frustrated about with the news is never really knowing what’s going on. Is he alive? Is he dead? I want everything to be known. I hate that we still don’t really know who killed Kennedy. It bothers me that you may die without ever finding out all the answers. 171