What is a Canadian? Brothers Will Ferguson and Ian Ferguson are happy to present their book-length instructions in How To Be A Canadian, Even If You Already Are One (2001). Mullets and donuts are involved.
In short, Canadians are known around the world for their ability to instantly translate cereal box text into a second language. And “Canadians write a mean memo.”
Nothing is sacred in this text, from the national anthem to linguistic relations to queen and culture. Anyone can get a Canadian driver’s licence, “as long as you agree to respect the rules of the road. (Offer void in Quebec.)” There’s a history primer and sections on fashion, chesterfields and s-e-x, eh.
We rock and we rock on, and the Fergusons have written a humorous insider’s guide that draws open the curtain to expose the naked Canuck. Or at least the naked Fergusons. Not that anyone needs to have that picture in their head.
It’s time to move along. Quickly.
Allan Gould has written a book about Canadian identity that focuses on a comparison to them — to Americans. It’s titled Anne Of Green Gables Vs. G.I. Joe: Friendly Fire Between Canada And The U.S. (2003). Gould’s dual citizenship informs a humorous insider’s guide that draws open the curtain to expose the naked Canuck, insecure about standing next to the apparently better-endowed Yank. Indeed, the American has quite the big gun.
This is a tit-for-tat comparison of vocabulary and culture, and lots more. Of course some of the topics mirror those of the Fergusons’ book (sports, beer, literature), but in a very different way. The Fergusons are stand-up comics with a stream-of-consciousness delivery, playing on our own stereotypes about ourselves and often making things up for the laughs. Gould’s tome is carefully researched (with only occasional lies!), though he’s not above anecdotal tales of lost mail, late trains and how important the monarchy is, as it gives Canadians perspective when it comes to patriotism.
Now for some of that very Canadian culture that’s been satirized non-stop. Salt-Water Moon was first performed in 1984, and is one of the best-known Canadian plays ever written –it’s still performed widely around the country (a production toured British Columbia last year, and it was shown in Bay Roberts, NF in September). It’s won more awards than can fit comfortably on this page, and is one of playwright David French’s masterworks.
Salt-Water Moon is set in 1926 Newfoundland (the then-independent Dominion of Newfoundland), on a porch right by the sea.
On the eve of a funeral, 17-year-old Jacob returns from a foreign land — Toronto. He’d left a year before, abandoning the girl he courted.
Now she’s engaged to another, a boy whose family has made an enemy of Jacob’s family. Jacob and Mary spend an evening on the porch, getting re-acquainted, under the moon.
Last but not least — and writer Drew Hayden Taylor might be able to make a joke out of that — there’s Me Funny, a 2005 compendium. Editor Hayden Taylor is half Ojibway, half white, and he’s quite worried about Whites. Whites have no sense of humour.
This book mixes jokes with short essays analyzing Native humour — humour is, of course, about power. The teasing that forces conformity; the laughter that expresses the refusal to conform; the freedom to make fun of whatever you want.
Ian Ferguson, co-author of How To Be A Canadian, has an essay here. Other contributors include CBC Radio’s Dead Dog Comedy Hour creator Thomas King on making puppy stew, playwright Tomson Highway on religion, and storyteller Louise Profeit-Leblanc on booze.
Some of the essays are written by academics, but most are more relaxed. As stand-up comic Don Kelly says: “Hey, I’m an Aboriginal citizen living in Canada. And I just want to say to you, on behalf of all of us: We love what you’ve done with the place.”
Happy Canada Day.
– Eleanor Brown, July 1, 2011