MARCH 9, 1978
Dave Broadfoot's Canada
AN ADDRESS BY David Broadfoot
CHAIRMAN The President, Peter Hermant
Ladies and gentlemen: One of the truisms of human experience is that the easier a skill appears, the more difficult it is to acquire. The well-grooved golf swing, the beautifully executed tennis shot, the sailing grace of an acrobat and the effortless beauty of a dancer are all good examples of that fact.
Undoubtedly, ease of excellence is a result of a combination of factors, but mostly it consists of long hours of hard work, talent, practice and dedication.
In the world of entertainment, probably the most difficult art to master is that of comedy. Perhaps this is so because no one really knows or can define precisely what comedy is.
Christopher Fry wrote that "Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. It believes in a universal cause for delight, even though knowledge of the cause is always twitched away from under us. . . . In tragedy every moment is eternity; in comedy, eternity is a moment." And J. B. Priestley commented that "Comedy ... is society protecting itself--with a smile."
Despite this lack of definition and the inherent difficulty of "trying to think funny, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week," as Joey Adams put it, our guest of honour today, Mr. David Broadfoot, has indeed succeeded in achieving excellence. He makes being funny look easy. Dave Broadfoot was born in North Vancouver into a devoutly religious and strict family. He left school early to work in a shipyard and eventually went to sea and spent five years exploring foreign ports in Europe, Africa, India, and Australia. During his sea career, he studied for his marine engineer's papers--but more important, he used his free time in ports all over the world to go and see stage plays.
The life of a merchant seaman is a lonely one, however, and Broadfoot returned to Vancouver where he took a job selling clothes with his father's wholesale clothing company and later with retail stores. At the same time, he joined the North Vancouver Community Players.
"I was a misfit," he says. "I never really felt part of anything until the first time I got a big laugh on stage." When that happened, Dave Broadfoot's life changed abruptly and he began to believe in the possibility of a career in show business. He started to work on an act.
"In order to have an act," he says, "you have to learn how to write. And you should probably be able to sing adequately, too. You have to learn how to do everything."
He played his act for the first time in Victoria, British Columbia and in spite of the advice of friends who warned him that stand-up comedians were liable to starve to death in Canada, he said, "I decided to give it a try. I gave myself two years to make it in professional show business and came to Toronto." He arrived the day the CBC began live television broadcasting and, of course, he didn't have to wait for two years. "I didn't have enough material," he remembers. "I wasn't good enough for TV--but I bugged them."
He got his first TV shot and was immediately seen by one of Canada's foremost impresarios, Mavor Moore, who asked him to join the cast of Spring Thaw.
From there, his career has been meteoric. His credit sheet looks like a Who's Who of the entertainment field and he has worked in England, the United States and spent some six years living and working in Montreal.
Of course, Dave Broadfoot's specialty inside the realm of comedy is that of political satire. In his own words, "To keep democracy healthy we must have free expression of satire about our leaders, our emotions, our religions and our racial divisions. When I do political satire, I use the names of actual politicians and they usually love it. I'm tolerant of them and they're tolerant of me."
Today, David Broadfoot is one of Canada's best known and most respected entertainers. He continues to work on the fragile bond between a performer and his audience. In his words, once again, "There's a curious relationship between a comedian and his audience. You sense how far to go. You get caught up with them."
Of course, Broadfoot is a Canadian.
"My involvement is here," he says, "and I can't avoid it. Here we've got to work harder because we compete with the best from England and the United States. I'm a nationalist--I've come to terms with myself and with my roots. I understand the rhythms of this crazy, wonderful country of ours.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure for me to introduce to you one of Canada's great artists, Mr. David Broadfoot, who will address us under the title, "Dave Broadfoot's Canada".
Bon jour, mesdames et messieurs. Good day, my dames and my sirs. Voici le spectacle de David Piedlarge . . . here is where Dave Broadfoot makes a spectacle of himself ... and vous etes bienvenue ... and you're welcome to it.
It has been written by students of history that comedy originated in the sadistic pleasure that people received in observing the misfortunes of others. In other words, comedy began as cruelty. I have performed comedy for the past twenty-six years in Canada--that's not sadistic, that's masochistic--and I believe that today we have come along far enough to be able to laugh at ourselves. I find, for instance, that if I parody a hockey player in front of a group of hockey players, there I will get my biggest response.
"Well, it's a great game at the Gardens tonight, with the final score Toronto Maple Leafs 15, Penticton Pigeons 12. And I have one of the three stars here with me tonight ... Big Bobby Clobber. Hi, Big Bobby."
"Hi, Big Jim."
"Bobby--you scored forty-two goals last season. Do you think you'll have a better year this season?"
"Well, on that, Big Jim, I gotta say so far this season I got, uh, two goals, so I figger if I get another ... uh ... twenty ... uhhh ... another forty goals ... and then add them to the two that I already got, that's going to give me forty and two. . ."
"Right on, Big Jim. Which is what I got last season. Then, of course, if the season isn't ended yet, like we still got one extra game to go and I get another goal in there, well then, that could give me another one. Of course, I'm only guessing on that, because, like, we don't know how the season's going to go, but I believe that with that extra effort out there on the ice, and the kind of spirit the team is showin' out there, with that extra goal we could end up havin' a better season this season than the season I had before this one, which wasn't as good a season as this one could be yet with the other goal that we're talkin' about in the future. So, uh, I have to answer your question with a qualified ... I dunno."
"Bobby . . . a lot of hockey players get injured in the head every year."
"Do you think hockey players should be made to wear helmets at all times?"
"No way. Only durin' the game."
"Bobby ... you have an incredible number of teams that
you have to play these days. How do you find the game schedule working out?"
"It's ridiculous, Big Jim. Ridiculous. You're playing 363 days outta the year. So how many days does that leave off? Figure it out for yourself. You got one day for a bit of skate sharpening ... and one day to catch up with the wife. He shoots . . . he scores . . . and then we're back on the road again. Some of the younger guys go back with dull skates!"
It does take a certain amount of nerve to do that before an audience of hockey players. I just don't hang around after the performance. I believe in the theory of the moving target. But I have impersonated a number of political leaders with them sitting right beside me at the head table. I remember once, Lester Pearson had to follow me. He got nicely into his speech and all of a sudden he stopped and said ...
"You know, I don't know whether I'm doing Lester Pearson, or whether I'm doing an impersonation of Dave Broadfoot doing Lester Pearson."
He always enjoyed it. It never bothered him.
Recently during a performance in Ottawa, I was portraying a flood disaster as it would be done by television news. The City of Windsor had just disappeared in the floodwaters, and we cut to Ottawa for a reaction from Joe Clark, the Leader of the Opposition.
He said, "I think this flood is a very bad thing for Canada, and a semi-bad thing for Windsor. If we're elected, the country I see is a place where men and women can go to bed at night without fear of flooding. The country I see is a place where there is no shortage of tall, well-built dikes. The country I see is ... Australia."
Well, who should be sitting ten feet from the stage but Joe Clark! He loved it. He came up on the stage afterwards, and he shook me by the throat ... by the hand. He really did enjoy it.
On one occasion, Mrs. Stanfield was sitting in the audience when I was impersonating her husband reacting to the same flood disaster.
"As, uhhhhhh, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, I sssssay that this, uh, flood has produced a ... welllll, I believe, I ... I-I-I believe this flood has produced ... for one thing ... a hell of a lot of water."
And she came up and kissed me afterwards.
Of course, I'm obliged to show our acting Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, reacting to this same disaster.
"Uh . . . quite frankly, it seems to me the universe is unfolding as it should. After holding our caucus this morning, Otto and I decided that . . . if and when the Great Lakes reach . . . Ottawa . . . we would like to take the Cabinet on a cruise."
But, I have yet to have His Grace in my audience.
I have parodied the RCMP right in their own headquarters. And that was an extraordinary experience. Little did I know, when I accepted the engagement, that it was going to turn out to coincide with the biggest scandal in the history of the force. I entered the building with some trepidation, but I found myself surrounded by a scarlet-coated roomful of ardent Air Farce fans. (For the Canadians in the audience, that's a radio show I do here on CBC.)
I was standing there at one point in the act, performing my Corporal Renfrew, in the scarlet tunic.
"The story you are about to hear was taken from the files of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ... or as they say in Hull, Quebec . . . doz buggers . . . The story was taken from Mountie files, and until now, has not been missed.
"I was sitting in my lonely log cabin, on the fourteenth floor of Mountie headquarters, with my incredible dog Cuddles, and so on and so on. . ."
When I had finished, I turned away to change out of my scarlet jacket into my tuxedo coat, and Commissioner Simmins of the RCMP took over the microphone. I
thought ... oh, Dave, this time you've really done it. I was quite concerned, because I had never been interrupted in the middle of my act before.
He said, "Men, we don't have to take this crap from a corporal. From now on, it's Sergeant Renfrew."
He took the three stripes and put them on my arm. Every Mountie in the room jumped to his feet, screaming approval. It was quite a moment.
Then when I had finished my performance, I was presented with a glass case containing all the RCMP insignia. The presenting officer insisted that I open the parcel right then and there. I had to fumble my way through all this wrapping paper, not doing very well, so I covered myself by saying, "I'm really not like you fellows. I'm not used to opening parcels!"
Again they roared their approval. When the Officer in charge of the evening got up to make his final speech, he said, "You know, gentlemen, looking at the scandals the force has been involved with, looking at our recent past, I'd like to use the words of Pogo--'We have seen the enemy and they is us.' "
I didn't hear one defensive remark from a Mountie all evening. That impressed me. They were all making fun of themselves. They know they have to clean up their act. Gathering intelligence is part of a Mountie's job, but they admit now that perhaps gathering intelligence from Members of Parliament was a mistake.
The interesting question for me is why would they enjoy a character like Corporal Renfrew so much? He's not exactly the most qualified or brilliant police officer. He relies for his intellectual guidance on his dog. Cuddles is the type of dog that would run into a burning building and emerge two minutes later with the fire insurance policy wrapped in a wet towel. But I realize that Corporal Renfrew, now Sergeant Renfrew, humanizes the image of the Mountie. The material is written with no malice and performed the same way.
Whenever malice is introduced, comedy becomes self-defeating and at times very divisive.
How useful is comedy? I was asked to do a performance before Her Majesty the Queen in Charlottetown in 1964, at a time when the country was rife with rumours about a possible attempt on her life. It was an extraordinary experience. By coincidence, the day before this command performance, a union leader gangster by the name of Hal Banks who had escaped justice in Canada was seen by a Toronto reporter on a dock in Brooklyn. When I walked on stage I met an audience that was more tense than anything I had seen in my life. In the backs of their minds they had this picture of a possible assassination attempt. There were Mounties in the audience, Mounties in the corridors, Mounties on the roof, in the street.
I thought, "We have to break through this." So I just stood there for a little while, and I looked off into the wings at the Mounties there, and I looked at the Mounties up above me in the flies, standing on the gratings, and then I turned and in bewildered indignation to the audience, I said, "Why are all these Mounties here? Hal Banks has been found ... he's in Brooklyn."
There was about fifteen seconds of the most incredible silence, and then the roof fell in. The people collapsed and you couldn't stop the laughter. The tension went right out of the audience and it was a wonderful feeling to experience that.
From then on I became totally brash and talked about every problem we had in Canada. It was a tremendous evening. There is always a need to let go.
For instance, here's a letter regarding an appearance I did at the Chateau Laurier two weeks ago.
Dear Dave. To be asked to entertain an invited group of coast-to-coast Canadians must be a formidable challenge, but you had chemists, vets, crusty government officials and wily businessmen enjoying every minute of your intense hilarious humour. You are to be congratulated for taking us out of our cautious daily ways into such a high-spirited breakdown of the things we used to fear.
I like to dwell on the therapeutic use of comedy. Whether it's a group or a nation or an individual, in any crisis the first casualty, even before truth, is our sense of humour. And once that's gone, we have lost our perspective on the crisis. To me, there is nothing more magnificent than a human being, who in a time of great crisis, can still maintain a sense of humour.
There is an outstanding British cricketer by the name of Freddie Truman. Whenever he's hit with any force on the upper arm, the arm drops out of its socket and then he has to be rushed by ambulance to a hospital. One time it happened and he was taken to hospital in London where a doctor went to work on him and forced the arm back into the socket. He was screaming in agony, and a nurse came over and said, "Mr. Truman, I've been a fan of yours all my life, but now I am shattered at your conduct. I've worked maternity and seen women deliver babies with less fuss than you're making over this arm."
He said, "Did you ever try to force one of them back in?" To me, that's beautiful. To come up with the right line at the wrong time. Through thousands of years of evolution, we human beings have learned to laugh at ourselves.
Just last week, I was asked to appear on a talk show and to read out the winning jokes in a national joke contest. Fortunately I got there an hour and a half before show time, so I read through the jokes they were asking me to do, and almost without exception they were put-downs of minorities--either Ukrainians, Pakistanis, French Canadians or Newfoundlanders. Talk about divisive. Whether I was right or wrong, I thought I had no alternative but to refuse to participate. The only group that I dare to put down are Anglo-Saxons, because I am one. I feel I have a right to do that. For instance, there is new evidence that Adam, the first man who ever lived, was an Anglo-Saxon. Who else would stand in a perfect tropical garden, beside a perfect naked woman, and eat an apple?
I can rationalize that. I can say I'm making fun of myself. But in a country where divisiveness is rampant I don't feel that it's a comedian's job to contribute to the problem. I want to contribute to the solution. And the best way I can do that is to do my job well. My job is to make people laugh and I do that best by giving voice to the various controversial issues that come along in our country, in the person of my alter ego, the leader of the New Apathetic Party, and member for Kicking Horse Pass.
You'll have to imagine my Stetson hat.
"Do you know what the present federal government is doing about the critically dwindling supplies of energy in this country today? Exactly. Take gas. The OPEC countries say they've got to up their prices, and I would say to Alberta--up yours. (Don't get me wrong, I love Alberta.) The tragedy is that the people in the east do not understand Alberta. They don't understand Jack Horner. You know, Jack Horner was sitting so far back in the opposition back benches, that every time they filled the locks in the Rideau Canal, his ass got wet.
Little Jack Horner Sat in the corner, Wishing he had some pie. So he said to Pierre
I'll sit over there
If you give me a seat that's dry.
And it took the Prime Minister a whole week to make up his mind. Then he said, 'Well, I'm losing Margaret, a functionary no-no, but I'm gaining Horner, a reactionary yo-yo. A seasonally adjusted Liberal.'
"But in Alberta they accept yo-yos. They accept yahoos. You go out to Alberta, you stand in the foothills, surrounded by the greatest livestock the world has ever seen and you ask, 'What is Alberta giving Canada?' And the answer is blowing in the wind. Natural gas is a non-renewable resource. But wind isn't. We'll always have wind. I have that direct from the horse's mouth. What we must do is harness the wind we've got.
"You know, Barney Danson and Don Jamieson love to talk about Soviet nuclear capability, American nuclear capability, Chinese nuclear capability. They never talk about Holland. Why? Because, they know the Dutch have the windmill. They've been working on it for hundreds of years. But they don't want us to know about it. Today Amsterdam--tomorrow the world! With windmills in front of us, dikes behind us, we'll be up to here in tulips.
"We have to develop alternate sources of energy. We have to. I'm not talking about CANDU. I'll tell you what CANDU can done. And where were the RCMP microphones when that swindle was going on? Eh? We had to learn from a leak. Why should we have to have a leak to learn something as vital as that? You know what we learned? We loaned money to Argentina so that Argentina could buy a CANDU reactor from us at a loss to us. And we had to pay bribe money on top of that! It's a brand new concept in economics. Never been tried before. Another Canadian first.
"What's wrong with solar energy? I believe we could have solar energy in this country, and I'm. convinced we could get some of it from the sun. The sun shines all day. After sundown, every man for himself. We'll have to get through the night without using any energy at all. Some of us are doing that now. We're not impotent, we're just slightly ahead of our time.
"We are in a conserving age now. I have a letter from a man in Prince Rupert. He cut his heating bill in half last winter. He sealed off all the rooms in his house he didn't need and built himself a bunk bed in his liquor cabinet.
"If we don't find the answers to these questions, we can forget about national unity. At all these conferences all over the country, people are sitting around in rooms talking about national unity and asking, 'What is Canada after one hundred and ten years?' I'll tell you. Canada is ten big provinces and two vast wastelands--three if you count Ottawa.
"They say, 'What is a Canadian?' I'll tell you that too. A Canadian is a D.P. with seniority. A Canadian owns a bit of Indian carving, a bit of Eskimo carving and a little bit of chiselling he's done all by himself. Some say, 'Cast your bread upon the water, and it will return to you one hundred fold.' A Canadian says, 'What am I going to do with a hundred loaves of wet bread?'
"Yet if you tell a Canadian he's apathetic, he'll answer, 'Who cares?'
"The world needs Canada. If Canada were not here, the Chinese could sail right across and invade Denmark. And you've got to pay attention to the Chinese. Any people with eight hundred million population, who tell you their favourite sport is ping pong will lie about other things too.
"We have people in this country who sit in envy of every other country. They've never visited South Molucca. They are indifferent negativists, and they are the same people who now say we must use force to keep Quebec in Confederation. Can you picture that? Bringing our army home from Cyprus? If we can borrow a plane ... when Otto Lang has a week off. Then we fly them all the way across the Atlantic, and the air traffic controllers are on strike and refuse to let them land. So they have to fly all the way back to Cyprus with the same sandwiches. Talk about no frills. Freddy Laker would be embarrassed.
"And we're supposed to think that Quebec won't do something in the meantime--like fit out some tanks with fuzz busters? There's nothing in this country could stop them. They'd roll right down 417, right into downtown Ottawa--not between 4.30 and 6.00 p.m., of course. They'd get there and go straight to the headquarters of the CBC and close it down. Then what would we do? Exactly.
"They'd take the president of the CBC into a small dark room and torture him, force him to watch reruns of The Nation's Business, while a helpless government on Parliament Hill tries to negotiate his release ... by mail.
"I say thank God for Newfoundland. The Newfoundlanders care about where they live. They saw what was happening. The Soviet Union with their fleet were overquota fishing on cod, herring and capelan. That's not a firm of lawyers. It's a group of fish. And they sent a delegation to the Minister of Fisheries in Ottawa, Romeo Leblanc. I didn't make that up ... that's his name. In English it means 'lover of white'. Not a big name in Africa. But a very big name in Shediac.
"They said, 'Monsieur Leblanc, you've got to do something. Put yourself in the position of that capelan. If that was your name, would you want to be taken off to the Soviet Union? Or Newfoundland? That's the choice facing the fish. Go like hell, or come by chance.'
"He said, 'I don't want to get in a fight with the Soviet Union. It's the only union I'm not in a fight with.'
"So they gave up, but at least they tried. Too many Canadians spend their time envying the rest of the world, and especially the Americans, a people who have problems we can't even conceive of. Americans have dandruff. We have Resdan in this country. They talk about their Jack Daniels bourbon. We have Red Rose tea. Only in Canada! Sure, it's a pity. Americans are plagued with organized crime. We have provincial liquor boards. American politicians can be bought. You can't buy a Canadian politician. You rent them. They talk about their Evel Knievel. We have Jean Marchand. We have two languages. You say bilingual to an American and he thinks you're talking about a man who likes to wear women's clothing. Americans lost billions in Vietnam, while we had the Olympics right in Montreal. They put a Viking on Mars. We had trouble finding a satellite on earth.
"But most important of all, Americans never know whether their leaders are telling them the truth. Now, we don't have that problem!"
If you got something out of what I have said today, I am delighted. If you got nothing, I'm Darcy McKeough.
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Mr. Norman B. Hathaway, a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.