Monday, July 1, 2013

"In Canada, It Begins With An 'H'"

I don’t know if it still is – I don’t know if it ever was – which is a good start for a post grounded in ignorance – but besides hockey, which ranks “Numero Uno” in Canadians’ hearts and minds, Canada’s dominant focus – though maybe it wasn’t, but let’s say it was for the purpose of this blog post, and who knows I may accidentally be right  – was on its preeminent international export…


Which, as this post title indicates, is accurately pronounced in Canada as if it begins with the letter “H.”

So what you hear is, “Hwheat.”

As in Hweetabix.  Or Shredded Hwheat.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, not necessarily to unanimous approval, an often- important element in comedy is ignorance.  Hopefully, collective ignorance, meaning both the comedian’s and the audience’s ignorance, rather than just the comedian’s, a type of comedy I am not particularly fond of.

The latter case involves laughing at comedians – immigrants, rural “hayseeds”, drug-addled “head cases” – for being dumber than the audience.  You take pleasure in their ignorance, and feel better about yourself because you’re smarter.  I personally take no satisfaction in being smarter than a stupid person.  My pleasure derives from feeling as smart with a smart person – Jon Stewart, Lewis Black – someone at least whose comedic sensibilities do not appear to emanate from a near overdose or their having been kicked in the head by a horse.

So okay – two colliding realities:  One – Hwheat (the last time I’ll be spelling it that way) is an essential Canadian commodity, and Two – I know nothing about wheat.  Which grows primarily in the province (Read:  state) of Saskatchewan, which is two provinces to the west of the province of Ontario where I grew up, and which I have never visited in my life.  (I almost did.  A CBCCanadian Broadcasting Corporation – radio producer once proposed that I hitchhike across Canada in the winter and call in with daily progress reports, but I – wisely, I believe – nipped that exciting adventure in the bud.)    

My first foray into “wheat ignorance comedy” occurred when I was writing and performing comedic inserts for that same CBC radio network.  For a period of time, I had a job where I recorded five sketches every two weeks which were then syndicated across the country.  I am honored to recall that, to attain that position, I beat out, among other applicants, SNL’s and Ghostbusters’ Mr. Danny Aykroyd. 

(I have, stored in my garage, the original boxes containing reel-to-reel audiotapes of these forty-plus year-old broadcasts.  I am afraid to touch them, fearing, as with prehistoric dinosaur bones, that they would immediately disintegrate to dust.  If they are not dust already.  Why then do I keep them?  What are you saying?  That’s my life you’re telling me to toss out!)

The segment in question was entitled, “We Interrupt This Program.”  This two-minute comedy bit was structured as a mock “Breaking News” bulletin.  I actually got in trouble for using that title, because, in CBC parlance, “We interrupt this program,” is an official “Alert Directive” reserved for terrible events, you know, like if war breaks out.   When the military hears “We interrupt this program”, fighter planes take off, and battleships are dispatched out to sea.

You are not supposed to use that for comedic purposes.

But there I am, trumpeting a fabricated “Red Alert.”  And what exactly is my dire announcement to the nation at large?

“Giant seals have invaded Saskatchewan!”

Followed by,

“It is not known what the giant seals are doing in Saskatchewan.  However, it is feared they have come to jump on the wheat.”

Which, in Ignoramusland, sounds like a monumental disaster for Saskatchewan wheat farmers.

Not to be outdone is my knownothingness, partnered with my brother, who knows as much about wheat as I do, I amped up my brainlessness, co-writing a sketch for my brother (and his partner Lorne Michaels’) television show, wherein two stereotypical farmers rock on their front porches, pondering the government’s recently-instituted policy, paying Canada’s farmers generously for not growing wheat.

It is during this moment of relaxation that one of the farmers bolts upright, terrified that he had mistakenly not grown oats instead. 

The agitated farmer is distraught at the thought of government inspectors nosing around and discovering that the crop the government was paying them not to grow – wheat – was not in fact the crop they were not growing, but that they were not growing another crop entirely – oats – which they were not being subsidized to not grow. 

The reason why this is a worry but not a certainty is that the distraught farmer is unable to recall what it was he didn’t plant.  To which, his more fatalistic fellow farmer replies,

“Well, we’ll know pretty soon.  If she don’t come up in the fall, she’s wheat.  And if she don’t come up in the spring, she’s oats.”

Let us now count the number of “stupidities” involved in this comedy routine.  First, we are lampooning without evaluation a government policy paying farmers for not growing something.  Secondly, we are poking fun at the farmer’s inability to distinguish between wheat and oats.  (“It’s just seeds.”)  And besides, they had not planted anything!

Thirdly, we are maligning the farmer’s memory for being unable to recall what he didn’t plant.  And finally, we are categorically stating that “If she don’t come up in the fall, she’s wheat, and if she don’t come up in the spring, she’s oats”, oblivious to the reality of when either of those crops would actually “come up.” 

Plus, adding insult to “quadruple injury”, we have our farmers referring to their non-harvest as “she”, ignoring whether farmers ever apply personal pronouns to their crops, feminine or otherwise. 

And yet, to me and to my brother,

“The Wheat Sketch” was – and continues to be – extremely funny.

Is ignorance a prerequisite for comedy?  The Big Bang Theory suggests otherwise.  The four “regulars” say smart stuff all the time.  The “Ignorance Factor”, if there is one, seems to lie with the audience, who accepts their gibberishal Geniuspeak but has no idea what they’re talking about. 

But wait.  Upon further examination, the four nerdy eggheads, light years ahead of the “Intelligence Curve” in physics, sit distantly – and hilariously – on the other end of that “Intelligence Curve” –especially the “Sheldon” character – when it comes to social skills.

Ignorance may not be a prerequisite.

But as a purveyor of comedy,

I would be loath leave home without it. 

Coincidentally - there was no premeditation in this matter - Happy Canada Day!  My "Home and Native Land" has a lot it can to teach louder countries.  Who knows?  Maybe, someday, they'll listen.  

1 comment:

Frank from Vansterdam said...

After viewing Canadian tv "sitcoms" for the last two years I can honestly say the tv "comedy" execs up here are so incredibly overpaid it just isn't funny. Happy Canada Day Earl, eh!