For Quebec comedy writers, the brouhaha in the NDP this week offered a clear indication that humour is finally on the comeback in Ottawa.
The province’s comedy industry has a large number of stand-up artists, impressionists and writers who regularly tackle the lighter side of politics on radio, television and stage. But these humorists saw their world fall apart in the May 2 general election when the Bloc Québécois essentially disappeared from the federal arena and the Liberals were replaced by a cast of unknowns from the NDP as the Official Opposition in Ottawa.
Suddenly, favourite targets such as Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe left the scene, with no one jumping in to replace them in the public eye. The long-standing Conservative/Bloc/Liberal confrontations – a steady producer of comic fare in recent decades – were a thing of the past, replaced by a blank slate.
“In politics, jokes can grow stale very quickly. Suddenly, all our long-standing references disappeared,” said Martin Petit, an acclaimed stand-up comic who tries to infuse a steady dose of politics into his routines.
Serge Chapleau at the Montreal daily La Presse, the province’s top cartoonist, is also the brains behind a Sunday night show on Radio-Canada that features a full cast of computer-animated politicians and a fictional anchorman called Gérard D. Laflaque.
Mr. Chapleau said he is looking to add new characters, such as NDP House Leader Thomas Mulcair and interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, to adapt to the new reality. He might dispatch newly retired politicians like Mr. Duceppe to what he has dubbed the “USS Entercrisis,” a spaceship on which the likes of ex-prime minister Paul Martin and ex-Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau roam the universe looking for somewhere else to run for office.
Mr. Chapleau said it will take time for his viewers to adapt to today’s reality and for the show to develop the comic traits of its new characters, such as anger-management issues beneath Mr. Mulcair’s silky public persona.
The award-winning cartoonist said that until recently, most NDP jokes revolved around the fact that its Quebec caucus was populated by unknowns “asking for a recount, to make sure that they had really won.”
With NDP Leader Jack Layton once again fighting cancer and therefore off-limits, the fall was expected to bring little new material for comics.
“In cartooning, we have to wait for something to happen. People have to start screwing up,” Mr. Chapleau said.
Humorists said this week’s revelations about interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel’s recent affiliation with the separatist Bloc and Québec Solidaire, as well as her own federalist party, offered much-needed comic relief.
“The fact that Nycole Turmel seemed to have been collecting membership cards, that was pretty hilarious,” said Stéphane Laporte, a prolific writer involved in a variety of projects, including working with renowned impressionist André-Philippe Gagnon.
In his Friday cartoon, Mr. Chapleau portrayed Ms. Turmel behind the podium of the Leader of the Official Opposition with, at the bottom, logos for the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, Québec Solidaire, Costco, the Canadian Automobile Association and Air Miles.
“I also have my senior’s card,” the 68-year-old interim NDP Leader says in the cartoon.
Mr. Laporte,who writes a daily one-liner for the front page of La Presse,
said he has had fun joking about the Bloc’s demise, but added that he
has confidence in the NDP’s comic potential.
“This new partnership between the NDP and the people of Quebec, this new cohabitation, should provide material for a long time to come,” he said.
Mr. Petit said it’s still easier to joke about a tunnel collapse in Montreal than the “orange wave” that swept Quebec last spring. Still, he said, Quebeckers will eventually come up with a clear sense of what happened in the province in the last election, and humour will creep back into the world of federal politics.
“To do political humour, there needs to be a common understanding of events out there,” Mr. Petit said.
The most popular radio show on the French-language equivalent of CBC Radio One, airing on Saturday mornings, is an hour-long series of skits and impressions called À la semaine prochaine. Philippe Laguë, the show’s creator and host, said he is saddened by the loss of a character like Mr. Duceppe, but upbeat at the challenge.
“For new characters to come to life, others have to die,” he said.
Mr. Laguë said he started analyzing Ms. Turmel as soon as she was appointed as Mr. Layton’s interim replacement, and that after this week’s events, he can’t wait for his season to start next month.
“We’re looking at Ms. Turmel to see how we’ll approach her. The trick now is to find a running gag,” Mr. Laguë said. “We’re especially looking forward to when the House of Commons will come back [on Sept. 19]. It’s going to be crunchy.”
Recent one liners from Stéphane Laporte, published in a vignette on the front page of Montreal daily La Presse
“Who would have thought that one day, there would be more members of the New Kids on the Block than Bloc Québécois MPs?”
“What’s the similarity between the heat wave and the orange wave? They both make Gilles sweat.”
“Temporary leader of the Liberal Party – now that’s a redundancy.”
Standup comic Daniel Lemire at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal
“The new NDP MPs really didn’t expect to be elected. In fact, it’s the first time that the winners of an election asked for a recount.”