Just For Laughs is back to showcase the best talent from across the country for the 19th edition of the Homegrown Comics, this year hosted by the anchor of ’22 Minutes’ and the host of CBC Halifax Comedy Festival, Mark Critch.
This will be the second time the Mob gets to chat with Mark.. and I couldn’t be more pleased!
I’ve been a fan of ‘This Hour Has 22 Minutes‘ my whole life. Mark Critch has brought me to tears with his impersonations of Rex Murphy, Peter Mansbridge and Donald Trump. Not to mention, the show has made me open to politics but making light of it and not making it the boring entity it is.
We chatted about how he made it to ’22 Minutes’, his love of comedy and what kind of cocktail his comedy would be.
Jo: Before you were on “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” what did Mark Critch do? What brought you to ’22 Minutes’?
Mark Critch: There’s a great history of sketch and political comedy in Newfoundland, Labrador so I grew up watching Wonderful Grand Band and Cogco which was the precursor to ’22 Minutes’. When I was 15 years old, I rented a theatre with 3 of my friends and I use to tip off from school and do sketch comedy every day. Then, I was an actor for many years, did lots of bad Canadian movies and plays but always kept a hand in comedy. I started writing columns and commentary for CBC and also do sketch and stand-up comedy.
I was hired as a writer at the age 28 on ‘This Hour Has 22 Minutes’ when Rick had left. Because I knew all those guys, I auditioned myself with Shaun Majumder at the same time but they went with Colin Mochrie cuz everyone knew who he was. They kept me on as a writer. Eventually, I would go off and do some road pieces every now and then.
One day Colin was stuck in Vegas so he couldn’t make it to the taping. The producers of the show came in and asked me “Hey Mark, what size suit you wear?” I said “I have no idea” and they sat me on the desk and I’ve been there ever since. So I’d like to thank Air Canada for grounding the plane and making dreams coming true.
Jo: You’ve been on 22 Minutes now for 14 years. Personally, before ’22 Minutes’, I hated politics, it’s boring, I didn’t watch the news. But because of ’22 Minutes’ it has warmed me up to politics where now, I’m a total political head and can’t get enough of CNN. Do you feel that shows like ’22 Minutes’ has changed politics or the way people view politicians?
MC: What I always like is when I hear people say, “I had no idea about this thing but I saw it on your show.” Canadian politics can be pretty dry and often times when you’re doing a political piece for the show, you have to set it up and explain what was going on to the people first like: “This guy is a finance minister, an interesting thing and here something about equalization payments….” and then you go on for 2 minutes and say “That guy’s an asshole!” You’d need a pie chart to properly explain what was going on.
Nowadays, especially with bigger figures like Rob Ford, Trump or Trudeau, the audience knows the story, so you don’t need a set-up. And now there are so many shows that are talking about politics like ‘John Oliver’ or the ‘Daily Show’, that it has kinda become its own style of comedy onto itself and people because of that are better informed. There’s less and less explaining going now because people follow things more closely because the world is ending so you have to know what’s going on.
I do think we help a little bit. What happens with our show is people who don’t watch the news, they watch our show. And if something intrigues them or angers them, they will go deeper and find out more.
Jo: Did you ever think about becoming a politician yourself?
MC: Not really. Here in Newfoundland/Labrador, I’m pretty community oriented, I do a lot of charity work, a lot of fundraising, I’m on boards for historical foundations and sometimes it could feel like I am. I love politics but you can’t get too involved because the second you show your colours, then you don’t have much to say anymore as a satirist.
The great thing about what I do is I’ve been able to meet lots of different party leaders so I’m gotten to see the good side and the bad side of different things and in Canada, we’re not that far apart when it comes to political parties. There’s a little bit of extreme, one way or the other.
Most of the Canadian politicians that I’ve met, they care about the place, they want to make a change. And then you have those who aren’t but the majority I have met are trying to do good for the country. You might not agree with their position but you have to respect why they are fighting for it.
Jo: In light of Canada 150, Montreal 375 and JFL 35, what does a show like Homegrown symbolizes/represents?
MC: It’s all the numbers that aren’t those moving forward. It’s the future. These are the people who are going to take my job and replace me one day. Someday, hopefully, they’ll say, ‘Mr. Critch you have to go with the man and put all your things in a box” and they’ll walk me out the building and when they pass me on the way in, they won’t be able to look at me in the eyes cuz they’ve taken my job.
The great thing about it is that you see so many great comedians coming up, the voices change, the types of people on stage are more diverse. It’s great to see. I’m a big fan of helping people on the way up. Comedy can be a dog-eat-dog kinda business. But I’m all about trying to get younger acts out there and working because it makes us all better and it makes us all stronger. Canada never stops making fantastic additions to the comedian pool worldwide. So I’m always excited to see who else is out there but it’s also terrifying.
Jo: You’re an award-winning writer. You just signed a 2-year book deal with Penguin Canada? What are you writing about? And where do you get your inspiration or your creative mojo?
MC: Writing for ’22 Minutes’, I write most of what I do on the show. I’m really interested in love writing my own material and doing it than anything else. What I love is on Monday night, we tape the show in front of a live audience and you get the buzz from doing the show, the adrenaline is pumping… And then you realize “I have nothing for tomorrow!” So you gotta get u the next morning, read the headlines and find something to write.
So we have an ideas meeting and that night I start writing and the next day you pass around the material.
You may often think “God I have nothing” but, if you have nothing on a Tuesday night, when you wake up on a Wednesday it’s all fresh news, something has gone crazy and you write about that.
I’m one of those people who really enjoy writing and I enjoy the process. I look forward to having a blank page. The best part is you’ll write a script and it’s like “Mark walks into a library and talks to a guy” and the next day and get on scene and there’s library there. I always feel so guilty when they make the sets cause I could have said “I should have made this a street corner, I’m so sorry” So it’s weird to see something you made up and the next day it’s there.
Jo: What’s on your comedy bucket list? Do you want to open for someone specific? Is there something you’d like to do in the comedy industry you haven’t done yet?
MC: A one-person show, something with a mix between theatre and comedy because I use to do a lot of that. I’d like to dedicate a summer to touring across the country. We have such a ridiculously huge country and it’s really important to keep in mind how different we are culturally in so many places but that’s what truly makes us who we are as Canadians.
That’s why I love the Just for Laughs Festival because it’s not just a celebration of comedy but of Montreal too. It’s everything that Montreal does well. This giant harp of the worldwide comedy industry is completely a Montreal creation and invention it would never of have happened anywhere else. I totally love this about the festival and I can’t wait to get back.
Jo: If you could describe your comedy as a cocktail, what would it be?
MC: I would be a rum and coke, simple, not too flashy but gets the job done.
Mark, you are as charming on the phone as you are on TV and we totally care. It was a pleasure to chat with you and hope to meet you in Montreal. You have a place in the Mob’s heart forever.
Don’t miss Mark and the talented line-up of Canadian comics. Buy your tickets online for Homegrown Comics, July 28th at 7pm at the Ludger-Duvernay Theatre at Monument National.