Leading up to Canada Day, the Huffington Post blog team asked prominent Canadians what they would change about one aspect of our country. We are publishing their answers in our series "What I Would Change About Canada" leading up to July 1.
As a proud Canadian fortunate enough to make my living as a stand-up comedian (primarily in Canada) for the past 16 years I'm usually faced with the same question from everyone I meet: "How do you make a LIVING?"
I think what they're really asking is, "how are you still in Canada?" given the state of the stand-up comedy "industry." Which is perplexing given Canadians' propensity for self-deprecating wit and our comedians' proficiency being among the best in the English speaking world (note: I'm told our French comedians are also top notch. I just don't understand what they're saying).
So why do we have world-class comedians that are nationally ignored?
The answer I think is that Canadian media decided long ago that despite stand-up comedy being perhaps the purist form of performance art it would not be acknowledged as such. Music, theatre, dance -- THOSE are performing arts. But one man or woman (yes, our ladies are world-class funny too!) exposing himself or herself (figuratively speaking) on stage and making previously unpalatable topics not just open for conversation but entertaining and even hilarious, well, anyone can do that right? Yeah. In the same way anyone can make the first incision in an open-heart surgery. It's what you do AFTER that first cut which separates top-notch professionals from a malpractice suit (also the fact that "killing" in comedy is a good thing). So the first thing I would like to change about stand-up comedy in Canada is having the media acknowledge that it IS a performance art and give it the same coverage afforded to other performance artists.
Having said this, it would be nice to incorporate stand-ups themselves into the national conversation more often. I am grateful to have this opportunity as host of The Debaters on CBC Radio One where nimble-minded comedians such as Dave Hemstad, Derek Seguin and Erica Sigurdson are able to combine funny with facts and make compelling arguments on everything from big oil companies to the great language debate.
It is infinitely more entertaining than a national leaders' debate and yet only slightly less enlightening. However, when you factor in the fact that no one keeps listening when they are bored and our Debaters have never prorogued anything, our show may actually be more reliable than an actual leaders' debate. Which brings me to my next point: Canadian politicians should hire stand-up comedians to make them more entertaining. There is no group more well-versed in saying funny things out loud and thinking on their feet than comedians (though politicians due tend to take the cake on "non-intentional hilarity"). If even 10% of a comedian's funny were to rub off on an open-minded politician (grow up) it would make them at least 90% more worth listening to.
Finally, our Canadian broadcasters (yes ALL of them) should be incorporating more stand-ups in their programming. Expert panels such as CBC's At Issue or CTV's Question Period would be considerably more entertaining with some comedian expertise thrown in.
And while we're at it, why ISN'T there a nightly Canadian answer to The Daily Show or The Colbert Report? We are a funny, witty country full of smart, secure, self-deprecating personalities. So why are we relying on others to tell us what's funny?
One of the best qualities of being Canadian is being able to laugh at ourselves, yet most of our media choices force us to laugh at others. Canada's stand-up comedians can help fill this void broadcasters. Why won't you let us fill your voids?
I say all this realizing I am far from the first Canadian stand-up to lament the apathy of this great country towards my "industry." I realize the only way to truly fix this may be to start my own media empire (I've already registered "The Patterson Network", just in case). But hey, being asked to write a blog in the Huffington Post CANADA is at least a step in the right direction, right? And in the meantime I'm thankful to all the comedy supporters out there who do make it possible, even if improbable, to make a living here.
Steve Patterson is the host of The Debaters on CBC Radio One. He is the 2011 winner of a Canadian Comedy Award for best male stand-up and is nominated again in 2013. He will appear in his one- man show "This Is Not Debatable" at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal July 22-27.