Even after 18 seasons on the air, there are politicians who just don’t get the humour of “22 Minutes.”
Jean Chrétien gets it.
Jack Layton got it.
Danny Williams gets it in a big way.
Peter McKay gets it — sort of.
Stephen Harper? Not so much.
“He’s got the majority, but he’s not a guy you’re going to invite over to your barbecue,” said show star Mark Critch.
“I don’t think he knows who he is; he doesn’t have a public persona and there’s nothing spontaneous about this guy. Everything he does is controlled and the only time (Harper’s officials) want to do something is if you have it scripted and have it sent in and they approve it.”
Harper was a much cooler guy before he became prime minister and everything was clamped down, apparently. He was also eager to poke fun at himself, to the point where Critch says he found himself doing “pity interviews.” with him.
“I’d do them because he’d ask if I wanted them,” he said. “When he was opposition, he used to stand off to the side when I was interviewing someone else and he used to wave me over like, ‘Hey Mark, do you want to do an interview with me?’ I’d be like, ‘Uh, OK.’”
The Gemini-winning “22 Minutes” first aired in 1993 (originally called “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” referring to the actual length of a half-hour TV program, minus commercials) as a weekly satirical, parody and sketch comedy show with a focus on Canadian politics.
The original all-Newfoundlander cast consisted of Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer and Greg Thomey, although Jones is the only original member who remains. Mercer left in 2001 and eventually created a similar show, “Rick Mercer Report;” Walsh left to concentrate on her film career in 2004; and Thomey left in 2005 and has generally been unheard of since, until now: he and Walsh have filmed guest spots for episodes to air this season.
Today’s cast also features Critch and Geri Hall as regular anchors. Gavin Crawford, a regular cast member since 2003, left the show after last season; Shaun Majumder — a former anchor who left last year to star on the now cancelled “Detroit 187” — is back on the news desk instead, dividing his time between “22 Minutes” and NBC’s “The Firm,” which will shoot in Toronto.
“I’m going to be juggling some schedules, but my goal is to give both shows as much time as I can, and I’m hoping that I can do both with no hiccups,” Majumder said.
The characters developed by the show over the years have become legendary, from Walsh’s Marg Delahunty and Jones’ Babe Bennett to Crawford’s acne-riddled teen Mark Jackson and Majumder’s sweaty, nerdy sports reporter Raj Binder. But it’s the cast members’ impersonations that garner perhaps the most laughs.
Crawford’s spot-on portrayal of political journalist Chantal Hébert has received Hébert’s own approval, and Critch’s impression of Williams sparked viral YouTube clips, recurring cameos on the show by the former premier, as well as a real-life friendship between the two.
Critch said he’s actually developed good relationships with a few politicians over the years, allowing him cheeky access where other people might be turned away.
“I like to do my own thing and not have as much stuff written. I make it more conversational or try to find comedy in the moment. It’s not about character assassination,” Critch explained, adding politicians’ participation on the show often endears them to audience members.
“The Conservatives are still really tough — they’ll try and block your access — but McKay’s good for it. One time, when he and Belinda Stronach were dating or splitting up or something, there was all this press and he was trying to avoid it. I called one of the parliamentary pages over and I wrote on a note, ‘McKay, it’s Critch, b’y. Don’t be such a friggin’ sook.’ The page brought it to him and he came out, saying, ‘OK, OK.’”
“22 Minutes” had been leaning more towards the sketch comedy side in recent years, Critch said, something they’re planning to steer away from a bit this season, and will head back towards the current events side of things. The show is also going overseas: over the summer, Critch travelled to the U.K., filming bits in London, on the set of “Coronation Street” in Manchester, and in Dublin, where he toured the Guinness brewery and met with Lord Mayor Andrew Montague for a St. Patrick’s Day episode.
Last week, the White House amazingly let “22 Minutes” crew in for a second time.
“We were down there covering the oil protests and we found out there was an open press thing just to take video of Obama leaving to go to Camp David in the chopper. We put in our CBC press credentials. They don’t know what ‘22 Minutes” is, so the next thing you know, we’re in there. They put us all into the press briefing room and then they said, ‘OK, outside,’ and we’re outside on the lawn by the rose garden. Out he comes, and gets into the chopper.”
Though the president wasn’t formally taking questions, Critch did manage to get one hilariously bold one in.
This weekend, Critch is in Toronto to film with recently retired veteran CBC news anchor Lloyd Robertson, taking him to a job bank for seniors and helping try out new jobs like Wal-Mart greeter and Tim Horton’s drive-through server.
Critch and Majumder both feel it’s “22 Minutes’” brave, poking-fun style and ability to go where mainstream media won’t that has allowed it to stick around so long.
“There’s so much going on with the show, so many flavours within a half hour or TV that’s so entertaining, you can’t get bored,” Majumder said.
“It’s what Canada does best, making fun of ourselves, and I think Canadians feel connected to it because it’s about Canada for Canadians and it’s funny.”
Majumder would like to see the show get even edgier in seasons to come, and has ideas on where to start.
“I’d like to see our show have a bit more edge to it and go after people more and not be afraid to take more risks. We can write it, but whether the CBC would approve it or not, I don’t know,” he said, laughing.
“How’s that Kathy ‘Blunderdale’ doing, by the way? There’s no spice to her. We need to give her some hot sauce or something.”
“22 Minutes” premieres on
CBC TV Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.