Shaun Majumder is dressed up to look like a slightly dishevelled Laura Secord as he prepares to mock Stephen Harper’s obsession with the War of 1812.
It’s a pretty incongruous picture – the Newfoundland-born comedian of a European mother and Hindu father playing the Canadian heroine for laughs, running through the woods in Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park carrying a box of what else? – Laura Secord chocolates.
One of four cast members of CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Majumder is shooting a scene for the premiere of the show’s 20th season, which airs Tuesday night. Shot in Halifax, it is one of the corporation’s longest running shows but not quite up to Front Page Challenge’s 38-year run.
There is no dialogue, only a narrator who notes that Laura Secord was running from the “beavers that tried to steal all her favourite chocolates and leave just the cherry ones.”
The premise of this sketch – in which Majumder also wears another bad wig as he plays a member of Canada’s First Nations armed with a rifle and tomahawk, and a sombrero-wearing, mustachioed Mexican – is that Canadians know nothing about the War of 1812.
This, despite the fact, that the Harper government has spent about $30-million on the war’s 200th anniversary celebrations. In fact, the 22 Minutes sketch spoofs the government’s ad “War of 1812: The Fight for Canada,” which is on Youtube and has been playing on television. A smoke machine is used quite liberally to emulate the drama of the ad.
“We imagined it through the eyes of what regular Canadians actually know or think about the war … as if a Canadian who can’t remember much about the war is trying to tell the story,” says Peter McBain, the show’s producer, who has a background in both comedy and news.
Poking fun at politicians is 22 Minutes’ bread and butter originated by the original cast members Rick Mercer, Mary Walsh, Greg Thomey and Cathy Jones. Politicians of all stripes still like to get on the show.
Well, perhaps not all. 22 Minutes made national headlines last season when Mary Walsh, back for a guest appearance as journalist Marg Delahunty, surprised Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in his driveway. He called 911, fearing for his life.
The Harper government, however, is providing much fodder for this season, especially with the way in which it is rewriting Canadian history through a very conservative lens.
“It almost feels as if they had a meeting with some consultants who said ‘royal family, put royal back in everything, talk about war, support the troops and talk about hockey more’,” says McBain, adding that this spoof is a “a nice little backhanded way to take a slap at the government.”
But they want to do it “subtly,” he says.
There is tension between the CBC and the Harper government. In fact, as 22 Minutes likes to tweak and poke at the Harperites, they poke right back at the entire corporation. Over the years, the Conservatives have raised thousands of dollars by tapping their supporters who believe there is a left-wing bias at the CBC. In the spring budget, the government cut $115-million in CBC funding over three years – but 22 Minutes was not affected.
Not so subtle is this sketch, however. “The war of 1812 was ... a war in ... I don’t know the year but back in the olden days,” says the narrator. “It was between the red team and the American Yankees and the Indians were on our side because it was before we gave ‘em the shaft. No, wait, it was the Mexicans.”
So, Majumder as a Mexican and the suggestion that perhaps the Mexicans were also involved in the war; newest cast member Susan Kent (also a Newfoundlander) playing a red-coated soldier who ends up in a Canadian Olympic hockey jersey fighting with a hockey stick and Cathy Jones as an American soldier wearing a Yankee’s baseball cap. (Later, she will be in her Mrs. Enid role, speculating about the x-rated bestseller, 50Shades of Grey.)
Mark Critch, their other cast member, does not appear in this piece. Rather, he’ll be playing the loud and aggressive Don Cherry and taking a shot at Canada’s favourite sport – hockey – which has been experiencing some labour difficulties.
And then there’s the guest appearance this week by Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban. He’ll be having some fun with the hockey labour issues, too.
The weekly 30-minute show reaches an average of 800,000 viewers and last season hit over one million viewers four times. There will be the usual 21 episodes this season.
“Okay, happy with smoke?” asks a crew member to the show’s new director, Samir Rehem. He is.
“Action,” says Rehem. “And exit and cut. Good.”