The roots of comedy run deep in Canada.
Despite our fabled politeness and insecurities about living next door to America, we remain a nation that likes to laugh and, perhaps more tellingly, to make other people laugh. As with real estate, location is everything.
"Canada itself is in such a ideal place for comedy," says Samantha Bee, the Toronto-born correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. "We're at this great intersection of having a little bit of British-ness and a little bit of American-ness. And Canada has these cold, dark winters, so what else is there to do? Play the fiddle by firelight?"
Arguably the funniest Canadian woman currently on American television, Bee and her husband, fellow Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones - who proudly hails from Hamilton - host The Canadian Comedy Awards 10th Anniversary Special (Saturday, Comedy Network at 10 p.m.).
Taped last fall at Toronto's Masonic Temple, the special showcases several Beaver Award-winning stand-up comedians from the past decade (yes, it's really called the Beaver Award). But disregard the program's title: no actual trophies are handed out.
"When we agreed to host, we sure thought it was an awards show," says the 40-year-old Bee, laughing over the line from her Manhattan home. "To tell you the truth, we didn't really understand what it was, but we had a game-plan going in."
Bee and Jones make a perfectly charming team on the non-awards show, which includes turns from comedians such as Nathan MacIntosh, Graham Clark, Kate Davis, Tim Steeves and the sketch troupe The Imponderables. The tender median age of the talent was not lost on Bee.
"They're all so young and so funny," she says. "Sometimes I feel I can't relate to them at all. They're like creatures from another planet, these young whippersnappers."
Look who's talking. Bee's own comedy leanings began in grade school, courtesy of reruns of the seminal Canadian comedy series SCTV. "I was so into SCTV as a kid," she says. "It aired every day at 6:30 p.m. and I watched it every day. Catherine O'Hara was my idol."
Oddly enough, Bee never explored the performing arts until her later years of university, and her first instinct was toward serious drama. "I told myself: 'I'm going to be the most amazing Lady Macbeth. I know I'm small, but I'm powerful.' And then nobody took me seriously, which was a reflection of how bad an actor I was. I feel like the world told me to go into comedy," she says.
When Bee did make that move, it was to join a Toronto-based all-female improvisational group called The Atomic Fireballs (the members are briefly reunited onstage in the awards special). "For years we were constantly working on shows or putting on shows," she says. "And we certainly weren't making any money. That sort of comedy is tremendous fun and makes you a better person, but it's hard work. You have to love it."
Bee was still honing her improv skills with the Fireballs in Toronto cabarets when she was invited to join The Daily Show in 2003. Unlike most of her all-male co-workers (she was the only female correspondent on the show until Kristen Schaal signed in 2008), Bee was not a comedian, but simply a funny lady. She had never even tried standup.
"I have great admiration for standups," she says, "but it was not something I ever aspired to because, frankly, the lifestyle did not appeal to me. There's so much travel in the beginning, and for no money. You're up late every night. It's exhausting. I'm much too lazy."
Similarly, her husband was a sketch-comedy player before The Daily Show. One of the funniest segments on the Canadian Comedy Awards special has Jones attempting a standup routine, which includes his lame observations on iPods ("How stupid is that? They don't go in your eyes. They go in your ears!"). All the while, his wife glowers at him from the wings. "It's so painful," Bee groans.
In between her Daily Show duties, Bee has blocked out the next month to promote her new book, I Know I Am But What Are You?, which arrives in stores on June 1.
"Mostly it's embarrassing stories about me coming up in the world," she says. "It's a departure from what I do on the show. This is personal and I hope people find my life funny."
The bigger news: Bee and Jones, already the proud parents of a four-year-old daughter, Piper, and a two-year-old son, Fletcher, have baby number three scheduled for arrival this August. "We're just procreating like we're farmers and need someone to work the onion fields," says Bee cheerfully.
Even then, the fake news must go on - Bee plans to file reports for The Daily Show until the last possible minute.
"When I had Fletcher, I went into labour at work," says Bee. "The medical system is different here and you only get eight weeks or so for maternity leave. If you take your mat leave when the baby is not actually emerging, you're wasting your time off."
Check local listings.