Celebrating the 21st anniversary of the longest 22 minutes you’ve ever sat through
Infamous for making several people laugh in the 90’s and launching Rick Mercer’s career as an iconic satirist, This Hour Has 22 Minutes has become a Canadian comedy staple, lost under countless posters on a half-remembered, defunct telephone pole somewhere near 181 Queen Street, Ottawa.
Launched in 1993 during the 35th Canadian general election, the show was intended and designed to satirically engage with Canadian politics and lampoon the Reform Party. Far more left-wing than its sister show, Air Farce, 22 Minutes has provided Canadians with a lot of east coast comedy, embittered Liberal ranting, and the rare laugh, such as that time when Carolyn Parrish stomped on a George Bush doll and got canned (in the lampooning gig, she’d be what we call a lampino).
Canadian politicians are routinely harassed by Critch, Jones, Majumder, Walsh, or any number of the CBC’s recycled motley crew of hilarious northern talent. Since its inception, 22 Minutes has provided Canadians with an impressive index of political and social ephemera, boasting over 150 episodes containing fake commercials, news parody, humorous interviews with real public figures, and skits. Sounds like it could [have] be[en] great, eh?
Apart from Mercer’s eye-opening segment, “Talking to Americans”—not surprisingly, the highest-rated comedy special in Canadian television history—the show plays-out like the Second Gulf War: bomb after bomb, followed by an unwanted occupation by government employees. Granted the show runs on tax-payer money, shouldn’t a tax payer, somewhere, be able to laugh as a result of her investment?
Where political satire is concerned, cognitive dissonance and cutting commentary seem like mandatory prerequisites. These elements are noticeably absent in the program. 22 Minutes is a feedback loop to Ottawa, ignoring the rest of Canada (except for the East Coast), blunted by years of gumming Liberal federal leaders and biting at Tory hopefuls. It’s as subversive as a Leafs jersey in Florida, and rarely if ever racy (and when it is racy, it’s straight-out racist).
Had we a time machine and the will power, here are three goals that, if satisfied, would make this abortion of Canadian programming externally viable and sever the aforementioned feedback loop.
First, re-assign Shaun Majumder and/or have him criminally charged for poorly impersonating a comedian. Whether he’s donning black face or debating coffee monikers with similarly vile actors, Majumder’s contributions serve as a constant reminder of how fortunate he was to have the Just for Laughs gig.
Second, default to the political center and take pot-shots at everyone, as opposed to salivating over Liberal eye candy while recycling Preston Manning and Stockwell Day jokes decades after they’re relevant. This might double their audience (to two) and make the show seem less like an LPC commercial.
Third, destroy Cathy Jones’ confidence. She is to comedy what elephantiasis is to an erection. Her gotcha-journalism, while entertaining at its most unsettling, has become so trite that it’s more or less on par with CBC reportage, which is damning for one or the other; perhaps both. If she was more timid, and the interviews more awkward, some natural comedy might fruit. Until that occurs, her Viking-horned square-peg-in-a-round-hole will continue being as innocuous as ever.
22 Minutes is a terrific vehicle for Canadian satire, but its drivers are incompetent, and its alternator needs replacing. Whether it’s scuttled, or reinvented, time will tell. In the meantime, here’s hoping it finds its radical roots and starts some fires.