How sensitive will Canadian comedy audiences (or bookers) get?

Just when you thought it was safe to tell jokes in Canada…

Wait. You thought it was safe to tell jokes in Canada? Don’t let the extravagance of Just For Laughs fool you. For all of the “ethnic” and “nasty” shows at JFL Montreal each July, there are comedy bookers and audiences so sensitive they’re willing to sue you over a joke, or not even book you at all.

Quebec’s Human Rights Tribunal ordered comedian Mike Ward last summer to pay $42,000 in “moral and punitive damages” to singer Jérémy Gabriel and Gabriel’s mother, following a complaint made back in 2012 about jokes Ward had made regarding Gabriel.

Ward has appealed the decision. He told me today that his lawyer argued in court on Ward’s behalf last month, and expects the comedian to prevail in his appeal. “I don’t know,” Ward told me via email. “People are way more sensitive than they were a couple of years ago.”

New case in point: This letter that an independent Canadian producer recently sent to comedian Aaron Berg, a Canadian native living and performing in New York City, which has rocketed through the comedy community through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. As Berg wrote on Twitter, this is just one comedy producer in Canada. Nevertheless: “It is what comedy can become if we aren’t vehement.”

OK. So this one producer has decided to stop accepting “any project that has a sexual content that may offend anyone.”

Just about all other venues in America, at least, know how to take preventative steps with audiences when booking a potentially offensive or “dirty” comedian. They warn customers over the phone from the box office. They put signs at the entrances. They may call the show R-rated. They don’t stop booking comedians who joke about sex.

And if your idea of comedy is just plainly offensive and not funny, you shouldn’t be getting work anyhow. You should be getting funnier first.


Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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