Canadians: Boring or Bastards
Tina Fey, Bossypants (2011)
This book seems to be a cross between a memoir and a humour book; it’s difficult to say precisely what it is. It’s not exactly crammed with profound insights into the human condition, but it does have some funny passages. And, excitingly for us here at Wow Canada!, Fey’s life in the world of comedy has involved a few brushes with Canada and Canadians.
Here she is discussing the Second City comedy group:
There’s a Second City in Chicago and one in Toronto, and between the two they have turned out some mind-blowing alumni, including John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Steve Carrell, Amy Sedaris, Amy Poehler, and Stephen Colbert.(81)
Nice to see the Canadians getting name-checked – by my count, 5 out of 12 comedians mentioned in that list are Canadian – nearly 50% – suggesting Northern roots to a lot of American comedy. This reminds me of a TV special I watched years ago – I think made by the CBC – called The Canadian Conspiracy. The idea was that Canadian comedians were working together to take over the American comedy system, and as I recall it featured a sweaty Eugene Levy confessing all the details of the “conspiracy” in an interrogation room.
The following passage refers to Fey’s first meeting with Saturday Night Live producer (and Canadian) Lorne Michaels:
I could have never guessed that in a few years I’d be sitting in that office at two, three, four in the morning, thinking, “If this meeting doesn’t end soon, I’m going to kill this Canadian bastard.” (121)
It’s at least moderately exciting to think of a Canadian as a bastard, if only because it conflicts with our more expected polite image.
In the following passage, Fey is asked in an interview (around the time of her famous Sarah Palin impersonation on SNL) what she would do if the McCain-Palin ticket won the election:
I said in a joke-y, actress-y voice, “If they win, I will leave Earth.” It was clearly a joke about people who say stupid things like that. No matter what your political beliefs, everyone knows some loudmouth: “If Bush wins, I’m moving to Canada.” “If Bush wins again, I am seriously moving to Canada.” (224)
This idea of Canada as a place where Americans can escape from the unpleasant realities of American politics has arisen before.
The italics in the first instance seem to mark Canada off as a strange, distant place; the fact that someone would do something as extreme as moving there indicates their horror at the idea of Bush as President. Of course in the second quote it’s “If Bush wins again,” indicating that they didn’t actually move to Canada the first time – because things are never so bad that any American would actually choose to move to Canada, right? They’d rather endure Bush and hope for better next time.
And the last mention of Canada, in a passage about how Fey & her family spend their holidays:
Our annual pilgrimage from one set of in-laws to the other happens every December 26, or, as they call it in Canada: Boring Day. (245)
I can’t get much out of that one – is it just the idea that Canadians are boring? – an idea so tired, by the way, that it is itself boring. Or is our Boxing Day shopping frenzy just not frenzied enough to impress someone hardened by the outlet malls of suburban Pennsylvania?
Overall, I feel like this book gives a reasonably positive impression of Canada: we’ve produced some great comedians, and Lorne Michaels may be a bastard, but he’s a successful bastard. American loudmouths threaten to move here without ever really intending to because our country is just too far-off and obscure – but as Fielding says, let them know, to their confusion, that we don’t really want them anyway.