POLITICS

Toronto, eh? Late-night TV cracks up audiences with jibes at Mayor Rob Ford

05/22/2013 10:20 EDT | Updated 07/22/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - American talk-show hosts have discovered the joys of a favourite Canadian pastime: cracking jokes at Toronto's expense and poking fun at the stereotypes of a boring city the rest of Canada loves to hate — all courtesy of the cocaine controversy swirling around Mayor Rob Ford.

Late-night audiences giggled or roared at gags, mock interviews and phoney drug parties involving the beleaguered mayor and a flag-waving moose, eh.

"I think of Canada, I think of politeness and clean streets," host Jon Stewart mused late Tuesday.

"I mean it's like Canada is that friend you had in high school that all your parents loved because he's so polite — he calls everybody Mr. and Mrs. — and then you find he's actually like a date rapist."

Ford himself has all but refused to address the allegations made by the U.S. website Gawker and the Toronto Star that a drug dealer captured him on a cellphone video appearing to smoke crack cocaine.

His curt dismissal of the claims as "ridiculous" and a suggestion the Star article was a smear job have been followed by days of deafening silence that have seen the mayor evade reporters and duck any questions.

On his show, Jimmy Kimmel said the entire scenario "sounds like a joke."

That was followed with a Skype call in which he asked Ford look-alike Jim O'Heir to comment on a mock video of the alleged video that reportedly appears to show the mayor smoking crack.

At various points in the skit, the "mayor" is seen wearing a sheet and jumping on a hotel-room bed. At another, he tries, in vain, to keep from blowing smoke on camera.

"Mr. Mayor, are you saying that that was not you?" Kimmel asked on his "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

"I didn't say anything," the fake Ford responds. "These people are pathological liars."

Not everyone is seeing humour in the situation.

At city hall Wednesday, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said he wants people around the world to know Toronto is a "great place."

"We want people to come here because they think they're going to have a good time for the right reasons," Holyday said.

"Some of the things that I guess have happened as a result of this last incident certainly haven't been positive and that's very unfortunate."

In a segment that stretched to more than six minutes, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" played clips of various embarrassing incidents involving Ford.

They included the mayor falling down while trying to throw a football, and walking into a television camera last month.

"You've got to wonder: Is this dude on crack?" Stewart asked, as a lead in to the segment on the controversy.

"Don't judge him: Maybe he's cleaning up the city by smoking all the crack in it. You're next, prostitution rings!"

A Stewart interviewee, billed as a senior correspondent in Toronto, added smoking crack is one of Canada's most cherished pastimes.

Jay Leno joined the comedic pile-on on Monday night. "To be fair, there's not a lot to do in Toronto," Leno said.

If nothing else, Leno continued, Ford is "still qualified to be mayor of Washington, D.C.," a reference to Marion Barry, the former mayor of the U.S. capital who was convicted of using crack cocaine.

Neither the claims of U.S.-based website Gawker nor the Toronto Star about the cellphone video have been independently verified but the website has raised more than $106,000 toward the $200,000 it says it needs to buy it.

The Star itself has reported it cannot verify the authenticity of the video, but has said it stands by its reporting.

On Wednesday, Ford's brother, Coun. Doug Ford, lashed out at the media as unfairly targeting and maligning the mayor.

Ford also said he believed his brother's denials, saying family and lawyers had told them not to say much about the issue.

Friends and rivals have urged Rob Ford himself to address the allegations.

Holyday said he didn't know why Ford has been so opaque, but suggested it might be on the advice of lawyers.

"The mayor has to come out and speak to the media," Holyday said. "I don't know when that's going to take place but I believe it has to happen."