It’s no secret that sometimes comedy is taken a bit too seriously. Comedy obsessives love not just the jokes, but the mechanics and emotions of the comedy world. There are a raft of comedy documentaries exploring comedy and comedians, but do they really have anything significant to add to the discussion? This series looks at comedy documentaries and whether they’re interesting, insightful, and possibly even…funny?
Like Why We Laugh, Comedy Gold: The Hilarious Story of Canadian Comedy is an overview of a culture’s comedy. Comedy Gold is a 3-hour Canadian comedy extravaganza, originally aired over two nights on CBC in 2006. It features an incredible breadth of old TV and film clips, as well as an impressive list of interviewees, including Lorne Michaels, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, and pretty much the entire casts of SCTV and Kids in the Hall.
The documentary spotlights a number of prominent Canadian comedians and comedy projects, in no particular order. There’s little structure, but the show does spend a good chunk of part one devoted to Saturday Night Live and bookends the second part with at look at SCTV and its impressive alums. These two shows are presented as both the brainchild of and the breeding ground for some of the best funny people Canada has to offer.
There is so, so much information in Comedy Gold, it’s hard to condense it all into one description. There are sections on original Canadian TV, Canadians who hit it big in American sitcoms, Canadian political satire, Canadians in Hollywood films, and closer looks at Canadian stars like Mike Myers, Martin Short, and Tom Green.
From an American perspective, the real “thesis” of the documentary doesn’t come until almost the very end. Ivan Reitman, who immigrated to Canada at the age of four, produced Animal House and directed, amongst others, Meatballs, Stripes, and Ghostbusters. “We kept worrying about cultural domination by this great country to our south, but the great irony is that in fact the domination has come from the other way around,” he said. “I think it’s Canadian comedy that’s come to represent what is thought of as the great American comedy of the last 20 years.”
I, for one, am not willing to give all the credit for American comedy to our gentle neighbors to the north, but he does make an excellent point. Over and over again while watching Comedy Gold, I was surprised at the Canadian-ness of some of our most American comedies, including old school staples like Hee Haw and The Partridge Family, which were both created by Canadians.
And it’s striking to note how much classic American comedy, from The Blues Brothers to Cheech and Chong, is partly or equally Canadian. Has a sense of decorum prevented Canadians from demanding that we recognize this all this time? Is it time we acknowledge that we desperately need this northern funny? Humility has never been the most American of traits, but I’ll hesitate before defining anything as “American comedy” again. You never know when a Canadian is lurking underneath.
There’s no trailer for this one, so here’s an old classic that’s as Canadian as they come.
And so, in conclusion…
Is it interesting? Yes, although it’s a bit of information overload. Lovers of Canadian comedy are likely to discover classic comedies that never made it south of the border.
What does it have to say about comedy? Comedy Gold only briefly touches on a definition of “Canadian comedy,” which Michael J. Fox describes it as “weird but not hurtful.” Nonetheless, the documentary clearly sees humor as a defining and unifying element of the Great White North, and one of its strongest exports.
Is it funny? Meh. It’s a typical-talking-head style, with a large collection of well-chosen and appropriate clips that are very funny.
Can I stream it on Netflix? Nope, but it is available on DVD.
Any comedy documentaries you’d like to see discussed? Do let me know.
Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist in New York City. She’s always had a bit of a soft spot for Canada.