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Mary Walsh in her new Toyota Matrix in St. John's, NL
Mary Walsh in her new Toyota Matrix in St. John's, NL

My Car: Mary Walsh

Mary Walsh's driving was a joke Add to ...

She's one of Canada's top comedians.

Mary Walsh has won 18 Gemini Awards. Last month, she received the Dave Broadfoot Comic Genius Award at the 2009 Canadian Comedy Awards in Saint John.

At 57, the comedian and actress isn't afraid to tackle new projects in her professional or personal life. In fact, when it came to driving, she got her licence late - at the age of 48.

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Now, the Newfoundlander is mastering another feat - learning to drive a stick shift in her new wheels - a 2010 Toyota Matrix hatchback.

"My husband is teaching me to drive a standard. He's a professor anyways - he's not a bad teacher, if you know what I mean," she says with a laugh.

"Some people instinctively know first, second, fourth - I don't," says Walsh, who is working on a film called Marg , based on the sword-wielding Marg Delahunty, the character from CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes who ambushed politicians like Jean Chrétien and Ralph Klein and left them dumbfounded and speechless with her razor-sharp wit.

Why did Walsh wait so long to get her licence? "My son was 11 then and, when I was a child, I had gone to birthday parties in a taxi because nobody in our family had a car. Personally, I found it so embarrassing to show up in a taxi. I just wanted to be like a regular person and drive my son to hockey."

She took the task seriously. "I was very careful. I went to Young Drivers of Canada, even though I wasn't young. I took lessons and then I failed."

It wasn't just one thing she did wrong during the test. "I can't remember what happened - everything went wrong. Not stopping on the red, not stopping at the stop sign, pulling into the wrong lane, not indicating, not being able to parallel park - just about everything.

"I don't think we even bothered to complete it. But the next time I did well," says Walsh, whose latest film, Crackie , was screened at September's Toronto International Film Festival. She just wrapped another movie, The Love Child , with Donald and Rossif Sutherland and is shooting a new sitcom for CanWest Global called Rise Up .

Even after passing her test, she was still a bundle of nerves behind the wheel. "For the first year I was driving, it was all embarrassing moments on the road. People were constantly laughing. It was embarrassing to be 48 and not know what everybody else knew so well. It was fraught with embarrassing moments - that's why we tend not to want to learn anything as we grow older."

"I was really proud that I was driving. I had my friend with me and we went up to Walsh's Square, which is a very small street. I was showing off a bit.

"I was going, 'I can even do this.' I backed up and went right into a man's veranda - the whole thing collapsed right around the car!" she laughs loudly.

Walsh's first car was a used 1998 Volvo station wagon. It was a weekend loaner from the local dealer, but when she backed out of her driveway, she hit a post. The damage was too great to ignore; she had no choice but to buy it.

"When you get your licence when you're 48, you're very nervous. During the first little while, I had quite a few accidents - not big accidents, but backing up. I'm not a good backer-upper. I tend not to believe in what I see.

"In the first six months that I had the Volvo, I could have taken a taxi to Mozambique and back every month for the amount of money I was spending [on repairs]"

"People go, 'You're going to be so happy driving; it's going to feel so free.' And I felt the very opposite of free. I felt like a person with 2,000 pounds of dangerous, dangerous metal strapped to my back, rattling around," says Walsh, who received the Order of Canada in 2000. She also has honorary degrees from McGill, Trent and Memorial universities.

Later, she bought a new 2003 Volvo V70 station wagon, which she still owns. "I was very happy to have another Volvo - whether it's true or not, the Volvo does give you a sense of security."

The Matrix was her husband's pick. "He's 6-foot-4, but he wanted a compact car with good gas mileage and environmentally friendly that he could fit into.

"Don [Nichol, her husband]loved the fact his head wasn't hitting the top of the car. The Matrix has lots of leg room for me, too. My son is 19 and the back is not that uncomfortable, either."

Her favourite feature on the Matrix is the colour. "Isn't that weird? That's so girly. It's that Sundance orange. I love that. It's just nice.

"It gets good gas mileage and it's a good price. Everything about it seems positive."

The Toyota and Volvo share a similar trait. "I think practicality is what both cars say about me.

"Danny Williams has one of those cars that cost $170,000, obviously more of a toy. I'm interested in being comfortable, feeling safe, getting from point A to point B. I wish we had gotten a hybrid - but hybrids are few and far between on the island. Maybe that's my next way to go.

"Cars have not been a major thing for me. … I'm beginning to fall in love with cars, but it's an early romance."

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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