Mike MacDonald, a pioneer of the Canadian standup comedy scene, has died.
The longtime comedian died on Saturday afternoon from heart complications at the Ottawa Heart Institute, his brother J.P. MacDonald said Sunday.
MacDonald was a regular on the Just for Laughs stage and also appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Arsenio Hall Show”, and starred in multiple CBC and Showtime specials.
His brother said MacDonald loved nothing more than to make people laugh – something he discovered in high school.
“Obviously it’s easier in high school to make friends if you can make people laugh. But there was more to it than that. He was just really good at it, he was brilliant at it,” said J.P. MacDonald, who is also known by his stage name Johnny Vegas. “It always just stuck with him and that’s what he wanted to do.”
MacDonald, who was also a gifted drummer, got his comedy start at an Ottawa punk rock club called the Rotters Club in the 1970s. He prepared a mountain of material: Three 45-minute comedy sets, which J.P. MacDonald noted may be standard for a music gig, but not a comedy one.
“If you try to tell that to a young up-and-coming comedian today, I don’t think they’d be able to wrap their head around it, because most young comedians are working on their first five-minute routine,” he said.
“He was that creative, it just flowed from him. Over the years, he wrote hours upon hours of comedy routines and movie scripts and TV scripts. He was very proficient and gifted at his art.”
Mike MacDonald kicked a drug-use problem in the late ’80s or ’90s and had been clean ever since, his brother said.
In a post on Facebook in 2012, MacDonald announced he had been diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2011. The post stated how the disease led to his kidneys shutting down. He received a liver transplant about five years ago and became an advocate for organ donations, weaving mention of it into as many sets as he could thereafter, his brother said.
Comedian Jeremy Hotz said MacDonald was considered the best in Canada, when he took Hotz under his wing as a young performer. The two were regulars at Toronto’s Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club in the 1980s.
“He had a manic, completely original and unique way that set him apart from every other comic who was doing standup at the time,” Hotz said in an interview from Hollywood. “So when you saw him on stage, you always remembered him.”
As news of MacDonald’s death spread in the comedy world, social media tributes came pouring in.
“Mike MacDonald probably did more to popularize stand-up in Canada than anyone else of his generation. He inspired many comics in the 1980s and ’90s to enter comedy,” writer and comedian Kliph Nesteroff tweeted. “For most of us, sharing the stage with him for the first time was a really big deal.”
“Respect must be paid. Thank you for the laughs, Mike. Thank you for the work ethic and being a real deal comic influencer,” American comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted.
Brent Butt, standup comedian and creator of “Corner Gas,” tweeted that the news left him numb.
“Spent so many nights (late80s/early90s) into the morning, playing cards and laughing ourselves sick. And fighting. Then laughing more,” he wrote.