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Bob Rae (left) on Monkey Toast: The Improvised Talk Show, hosted on stage by David ShoreMonkey Toast

Never let it be said that Bob Rae, given a challenge, doesn’t jump in with both feet. Recently, the former premier of Ontario took part in Monkey Toast: The Improvised Talk Show, hosted on stage by David Shore. Rae, the nephew of the late Canadian entertainer Jackie Rae, was in his element, giving as good as he was getting. Politics makes for strange bedfellows, and funny ones, too: Remember it was Rae, while running for the leadership of the federal Liberals in 2006, who took off all his clothes to jump in a lake with CBC’s Rick Mercer. Following his Monkey Toast appearance, Rae unwound with a beer and spoke about thick skins, the politics of laughing and the joy of making a big splash.

In his own words

I’ve always felt that if you’re not able to make fun of yourself, you’re not able to develop any perspective on life. A lot of emotions flow from that, including empathy. I have to confess, it’s taken me 40 years of politics, but you develop a thicker skin. You learn how to distance yourself from some of the things people say about you.

I wasn’t always that way. But now, as the Monkey Toast audience might have noticed when I was on stage, I just got right into the moment. I see comedy as catharsis. I was crying with emotion. I just let myself go.

But humour can be very serious. If you look politically at moments, during the worst moments of the Soviet Union, for example, there was a lot of humour that developed. Comedy was a huge outlet for people – being able to make fun of other people and leadership. Canadian humorists are some of my best friends. Rick Mercer is a very good friend of mine. Terry Mosher, the cartoonist, is as well. They’re not particularly reverent about me or anything else. But I enjoy the irreverence. I love the perspective.

My uncle, Jackie Rae, was one of the first producers of Don Harron’s radio shows. He was with Don when he was inventing the Charlie Farquharson character. My uncle and my father were very funny people. And I often think that my dad felt that his humour may have led people to think that he wasn’t a serious man. But he was, and my uncle was the same. He was very serious about his craft.

I’m comfortable on stage. But people who know me well know that I’m much more relaxed now than when I first started. I’ve made peace with myself. When I decided to jump in a lake on the Rick Mercer Report, people asked me why I did it. I don’t know, we just decided to have some fun. When I did it, a friend of mine told me my political career was over. I told him I didn’t think so. I still have people who come up to me, 12 years later, stopping me in the airport and telling me it was the greatest thing they ever saw on Canadian television. So, people identify with it.

The next edition of Monkey Toast: The Improvised Talk Show takes place Oct. 13, at Toronto’s Social Capital Theatre (

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