Skip to main content
opinion

Salma Hindy has enormous confidence and guts as a Muslim woman telling observational jokes that get funnier and funnier and are charmingly self-deprecating.Courtesy of CBC Gem

What do we need? Comedy and laughs. What does Canada have by the thousands? Comedians.

It is one of the great boilerplate clichés about this country – we teem with comedians who end up in L.A. and then land on TV shows or get movie roles. If you’re in L.A. and you tell somebody in the TV racket you’re a journalist from Canada, first thing they mention is that Canadians are funny. They imagine there’s a Howie Mandel on every street in every town and city. Then they tell you that Canadians are “sneaky,” appearing to be American, but secretly Canadian. They expect you to laugh at this.

When the streaming services who are reluctant to pay taxes here or actually fund Canadian content get around to making Canadian TV, the first thing they do is round up a bunch of local comedians. Because you’re tripping over comedians here. As a for-instance, Amazon Prime Video Canada recently presented us the abomination LOL: Last One Laughing Canada, a series that had great production values but managed to make you loathe everyone involved. Hey, at least the prize money went to a charity, which is another thing we do well here.

Getting a handle on the current state of stand-up comedy in Canada is a fool’s errand. Yes, the comedians are everywhere, but the sheer volume of material available isn’t so much breathtaking as it is heartbreaking. So many people with so many jokes and so few laughs.

Catch up on the best streaming TV of 2021 with our holiday guide

The New Wave of Standup (streaming on CBC Gem, two seasons) is a good place to start. It promises “a diverse lineup of Canada’s hottest new comics gathered for one hilarious night of stand-up!” Each comic gets 10 minutes onstage and it’s do or die. This being a CBC production, the noble emphasis is on diversity and the aim is to stretch the formula beyond some common-or-garden dude saying, “So, I’m single …” and making terrible jokes about his ex-girlfriend. There’s a lot of that around, as if comedy hadn’t progressed since Henny Youngman said, “Take my wife … please.”

Each comic gets a little intro and then talks about how the set went. The latter part can be quite sweet, as when Hisham Kelati, who works in a bank, is so totally relieved that the audience laughed. Yes, he’s funny. One of the standouts is Salma Hindy, who has enormous confidence and guts as a Muslim woman telling observational jokes that get funnier and funnier and are charmingly self-deprecating. She starts by saying she turned up late because her neighbour mistook her for the Uber driver, so she fulfilled the gig and drove the neighbour somewhere. Hindy also benefits from what she claims is her birthdate, Sept. 11, 2001.

Liking Hindy, I looked up her appearance on Roast Battle Canada (streaming on Crave), a show in which two comedians belittle each other and three judges, also comedians, and including Russell Peters, decide the winner. It is execrable, an appalling journey into witless, racist, sexist, garbage humour. Hindy is battling some guy named Jean Paul and the remarks directed at her are so vile, so childish and tone-deaf, you wonder why anyone would watch this atrocity. At one point she’s told, “You really put the ‘moo’ in Muslim,” meaning she’s being called a cow. Yes, it’s that awful. Hindy holds her own and you can only admire her for it. She’s one to watch, for sure.

A slightly different spin on background and ethnicity comes from Andrea Jin, whose material is mainly about being the only child of immigrants from communist China. There’s a lot of good drollery about family and culture clashes she’s experienced. There’s a dry, sarcastic wit at work here. Mind you, if you look for more of Jin’s work online, you will find her venturing into raw material that has none of the conviction of her family-based anecdotes.

Andrea Jin is a Shanghai born stand-up and writer who was recently selected as a New Face at Just For Laughs Montreal.Courtesy of CBC Gem

A lot of the comedians on The New Wave of Standup are young and some must be indulged for what is slight, wantonly self-absorbed attempts at humour. Both Maddy Kelly and Juliana Rodrigues (who says her comedy comes from anxiety) lay claim to what is Gen Z humour about being young and apprehensive, and you end up having sympathy but not finding much to make you laugh out loud.

As a snapshot of stand-up comedy in Canada, the series is wildly uneven, like the genre itself. There’s some artistry and a lot of artless attempts at being both relevant and funny. It would be unwise to make a definitive judgment because so many of the performers are young or new to the arena. But with 10-minute episodes, you can’t go wrong, and you’ll find that the state of comedy in Canada is middling-good.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.