| [Photo: Kevin Van Paassen,
Ron James brings his one-man show, The Road Between My Ears, to Toronto on June 6 and 7 at the Wintergarden Theatre.
T oday I'm investigating whether Canadian humour is funny. Or, as a friend puts it, why Canadian humour is so unfunny. My research subject is Ron James, the Nova Scotia native whose comic credentials include This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Just For Laughs, Ernest Rides Again (so my kids tell me), and a one-man show, The Road Between My Ears, which he is currently touring around the country (he is performing on June 6 and 7 at the Wintergarden Theatre).
I wait for James in the purple and green foyer of his office. He's late. A punctual sort, I don't find this funny at all. Finally he arrives, 20 minutes after our scheduled time.
He is full of apologies. "I was at the CBC ... they had interviews lined up ... I was stuck in traffic ..." This annoys me even more. "What are you going to do to get me out of this mood?" Then I add sarcastically. "What appointment would you be on time for?"
"I wouldn't be late if there was a cheque involved," he tells me, "and I'm never late for the weekend. Or vacation."
OK, that's kind of funny, but he'd better do better than that.
And how is life as a Canadian comic, I ask.
"I don't get rich, I get recognized," he says. "People say, 'Hey, you're the crazy guy from that show with the canoe and the pretty lady [Blackfly, in reruns on Global TV]. A round of pickled eggs for my buddy.' " (That last bit is apparently an East Coast legion joke. Don't worry, I don't get it either.)
James tells me one of the perks of his huge recognition factor is that, "I drink free -- all the way from Windigoostequin, up to the Qoogebankewak, and down to the Catchawichitiwakamahtah."
"Are those real names?" I ask, after he spells each out for me. He insists they are.
He tells me a bit about himself -- that he has two daughters and that his wife is from "a long line of dairy folk who would sell their soul for a squeaky bag of curds." In 1991 he went to Los Angeles in pursuit of fame and fortune. "I hit the wall. Ron Howard hired me to be part of a show and it was cancelled. I was in Newsweek on Tuesday, cancelled on Wednesday and on Thursday I was pulling a tree out of Robert Urich's front yard, God bless him, with my buddy's pool digging company."
Didn't Urich die, I ask.
"Yes, and I had nothing to do with it," he quips.
I'm convinced. James is funny -- and very Canadian (his cellphone rings to the Hockey Night in Canada tune and when someone leaves a message it plays O Canada).
His final test is to tell me an authentic Canadian joke.
"I told one at my event this morning," he informs me. "It didn't go over."
I urge him to try it out on me.
"I said something about Canadian reporters, that they weren't embedded, but then again I don't know what action they were getting back in the crib." He laughs heartily.
I tell him I don't get it and he tries to explain. He tells me that "crib" is a jazz term for "home" but I still don't get it. We agree that it's not a good joke if you have to keep explaining it. I concede that maybe it's just me.
I ask him to tell me a joke that usually goes over well.
"They gave me a bun on Air Canada that was as hard as the hobs of hell," he says in an East Coast accent. "Stale? This thing came off the table at the Last friggin' Supper. And in the middle was a slice of ham so thin the pig never even felt it comin' off his arse."
I laugh. That was very funny. And I have to admit that James has pulled me out of my foul mood. And he's proven to me that Canadian humour can be very funny.
I decide to get in on the action, and tell him a Canadian joke that I made up: "Two guys are talking," I say in my best East Coast accent. "One guy says, 'I hear you had to shoot your cow. Was he mad?' The other guy answers, 'Well, he wasn't very happy...' "
James roars. He likes it.
I ask him to rate it on a scale of one to 10.
"A seven," he says, "and take your time with the delivery."
A seven? A lousy seven? This Canadian comedy is a tough business.