Still Worth Defending

This is Wayne and Shuster night on the CBC National News, specifically a celebration of the 50th anniversary of their groundbreaking appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was the moment when Canadian comedy really arrived as Canadian comedy; we had a national inferiority complex about our entertainment products, and to see our home-grown act succeed on America’s most popular variety show — and not just succeed, but be introduced as a specifically Canadian act — meant a lot. Nothing much has changed since then, actually, since we still have an inferiority complex. Well, two things have changed. One, we’re a little more used to seeing Canadian comedians succeed in the U.S. And two, when a comedy act hit it big in the U.S., we probably wouldn’t be able to keep them here. Wayne and Shuster famously declined to do a show in the U.S., but it’s not like it was some purely altruistic thing; they were quite successful in Canada at the CBC, and they’d seen enough Canadian comedians go to the States permanently and not do much of anything. Canadian TV doesn’t need to match the amount of money U.S. TV pays to its biggest stars, but it’s got to offer something to its promising young comedians. As it is they’ve got a choice between risking being out of work in U.S. TV and a guarantee of being out of work in Canadian TV.

As for W&S themselves, most of what I wrote last year in “In Defence of Wayne and Shuster” still goes. The earlier the better: their radio stuff and their black-and-white TV material is best. And “Shakespearian Baseball Game,” their own favourite, still holds up extremely well.


Since this is about the Sullivan appearance, I should quote this semi-famous Sullivan introduction of them (a lot of his introductions were mildly self-parodic):

SULLIVAN: And now, we have a really big show..

WAYNE AND SHUSTER: Pardon us, Ed, don’t you mean “really big shew?”

SULLIVAN: Well, that’s not English, is it, guys? Nobody talks like that. It’s not “shew,” it’s “show.” And now, ladies and gentlemen, Wayne and Show-ster…

By the way, both my posts today are about things Bill Brioux posted about today. This is 50% unintentional.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.