Twenty Questions with Mark Critch

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Daniel MacEachern
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St. John's comedian Mark Critch recently finished filming the movie "The Grand Seduction," and shot a TV special with The Muppets. — Submitted photo

St. John's comedian Mark Critch is keeping busy. The night before the Telegram's 20 Questions interview, he finished recording the premiere of the 20th season of CBC's television news parody "This Hour Has 22 Minutes."

The show finishes taping Monday nights for overnight editing and delivery to CBC on Tuesdays for airing that night.

By the time an episode airs Tuesday nights Critch and the rest of the "22 Minutes" writers and cast are already working on the following week's show.

He recently wrapped shooting on "The Grand Seduction," co-starring fellow Newfoundlander Gordon Pinsent and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson.

Critch is used to seeing his work broadcast almost right after he's finished doing it, so the year or so he'll have to wait to see "The Grand Seduction" (he expects it to be released around "nowish" this time next year) has him a little impatient.

"I don't really like watching myself anyway, but this is one I'm looking forward to seeing, because Brendan Gleeson is just so damn good, and we became really good buddies while we were filming it, so I just want to see it just to see Brendan's performance, really," he says.

Earlier this year, Critch also recorded a TV special with the Muppets, which will be aired later this year to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Montreal's Just For Laughs festival.

Critch, who loved the Muppets as a boy, said he identifies with Kermit, as the harried entertainer trying to cobble together variety shows.

He spoke to The Telegram on the phone from Halifax, where "22 Minutes" is filmed.

What is your full name?

Mark Patrick Critch.

Where and when were you born?

St. John's, May 1974. St. Clare's.

Where is home for you today?

St. John's, Newfoundland. ... I'm home most weekends, and September to April is when we tape the show. Then I'm home, technically, but this year I was in Montreal, writing a special for the Muppets and doing the movie, so God only knows where you're going to be. That's the nature of the business. If you're actually going to be where you live, I might as well not be in St. John's, that's what I say. If that makes sense.

What are you reading at the moment?

"Why Men Lie," by Linden MacIntyre. I just started that. I just finished "Midnight in Peking," which is about a murder in Beijing in the 1920s. Read a ton of good books lately. (MacIntyre's) "The Bishop's Man" is one of my favourites. I loved that. And so this is in that same series. Being a good CBC boy, I'm reading a Linden MacIntyre book.

What is your favourite movie?

Hmmm. Oh, boy. Do I have a favourite movie? I really loved, I guess - jeez, that's tricky. I'll sound like such a hack if I say "Casablanca." I really like "Casablanca." That's a classic. I'll say that. ... "The Grand Seduction," there you go! My favourite movie will now be "The Grand Seduction." I saw some rushes, and it looks damn good.

Assuming it wouldn't be you, who would play you in a movie of your life?

Gordon Pinsent. Because even though he's 82, I'm 38, but I think I look closer to 82 and he looks closer to 38. ... Being out in the Trinity area, if you're out in Red Cliff, small town, out there with Gordon Pinsent, it's kind of like being in Bethlehem with Jesus. I feel like John the Baptist. He wanted a sandwich, so we went to this little corner store, and this woman sitting behind the counter when Gordon Pinsent walked in? Head clear popped off. (Imitates woman) "Oh, not that sandwich, have this one, Mr. Pinsent! Oh, my. Would you like a pop? I'll get you a pop, Mr. Pinsent!" He just holds her hand at the wrist (imitates Pinsent): "My dear, thank you. Your kindness is only matched by your beauty." And he walks out. I said, "Why do you gotta talk like that all the time?" He narrates himself around through life.

He probably hasn't paid for a meal in Newfoundland ...

Oh, you can't - people just throwing food and their children and cars at him everywhere you go.

What is your favourite aspect of your profession?

My favourite is being able to make something up, just to write something, and then see it all come together right in front of your eyes. Like you'd say, "Man walks into a deli, and then something happens." And then you show up, and they made you a deli. And you realize, "Oh, I feel terrible, because this isn't that funny." So, seeing your ideas come to life.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?

I guess the biggest challenge is being inspired with a deadline. Sometimes the best comedy ideas come - like you can't get them down on the page fast enough, because comedy is all about reacting to something and surprise. Sometimes you surprise yourself thinking of something. There are always formulas, but for anything to be truly funny, I think it has to come to you without you even thinking about it. It has be a reflex, and not every topic will make you feel that way. So trying not to get stuck in doing formulas and doing the same things over and over.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

That's tough, because just by the nature of this business, you've got to be somebody who doesn't embarrass that often. Anything embarrassing for me is always very small, because I'm naturally kind of a shy person, and whenever anything happens where you're in a room full of people and you're expected to be somebody interesting, like some kind of benefit, or somebody pays to have dinner or something, I'm just really embarrassed going to those things, because I think surely to God nobody would give a damn. Like you're walking into a room and you're supposed to be like, "Oh, these poor people, they'd rather have...," like these celebrity golf things, or Blind Date With a Star, where it could be you or an NHL player, and they get you, and then when you sit down at the table you see this look of absolute disappointment on people's faces, like there is no Santa Claus. You're just like, "Oh, God, let me give you some money, I'm so sorry."

What is your personal motto?

My personal motto is "what odds" or "shag it" or something like that. Just, it'll be OK, just do it again. Fix it, I guess. I don't know, I don't really have a personal motto per se, except don't let it worry you too much. Move forward, that's about it. What odds.

What was one act of rebellion you committed as a youth?

Geez, there are many. I went to St. Theresa's School on Mundy Pond Road, we're kind of a skeevy crowd. Oh, one thing as a youth - in Holy Heart, actually, I'd go down to Gladys, who was the school receptionist, and I'd say Mr. Lewis - Kevin Lewis, who was an actor in town, my drama teacher - Mr. Lewis would like me to add a rehearsal to the announcements. And they'd pass me the sheet with all the announcements on it, and I would write at the very bottom of the sheet, "And would Mark Critch please come to the office." And at Holy Heart, the announcements always go, "The hockey practice is at 3:30, we'd like to remind you no running in the halls, and would Mark Critch please come to the office." And then I'd put on my best, "Oh, Dad hits me" face, and take my book bag and all the teachers were like, "Oh, something's going on with Mark at school," and I'd leave the building and go down to the LSPU hall, which we rented when I was a teenager. We had this Cat Fud troupe and we'd go down there and rehearse Cat Fud shows. So missing half of Grade 11 would be my act of rebellion.

What bugs you, or gets under your skin?

Just people saying it's too hard. "It's too hard, we can't do that. It's too much work, that'd be too difficult to do." Well, is there a reason to do it? If we can do it, then we should do it. It doesn't matter how hard it is or how long it's going to take us. Let's just do it.

What is one thing that everyone should stop complaining about?

People should stop complaining about everything, pretty much, as long as you have your health. Everything is changeable or fixable in some way. I mean, there's lots of people in horrible circumstances. I certainly don't mean, you know, starving children or anything like that. ... (in a whiny voice) "This job, the lighting in this workplace is terrible." Well, you should get up and talk to somebody about it, or change your job, or poke your eyes out, whatever. There are many solutions to every problem.

Who is one person, living or deceased, you'd love to have lunch with?

Brendan Gleeson, actually, because we just did this movie together, and we became pretty good buddies, and I probably won't see him a while now, because he's gone to Ireland. He makes me laugh a great deal. That, or Jesus. (Laughs) No, Brendan Gleeson, I would say.

What do you consider your career highlight?

Geez, that's tough. I would say personally, I worked this special for the Muppets this year, and standing onstage with Fozzie Bear and I'd written his standup act for a TV special, as one bit. And Statler and Waldorf I had up in the balcony. And I was like, "I'm going over jokes with Fozzie and I'm talking directly to the puppet." And I'm like, "What do you think of this one, Fozzie?" He's like, "Yeah, that's a good one, Mark." I'm thinking, this has to be - if seven-year-old me could see 38-year-old me now, it'd be like, "You kidding? How are you complaining ... this is the Muppets ... Fozzie Bear, Kermit's over there!" So that would have to be, just in a weird surreal moment, that would have to be right up there.

If you weren't a performer, what do you think you'd be doing?

I'd probably be - I always wanted to go and be a journalist of some kind, really. Or radio guy or something like that, because I come from a radio family. Dad's Mike Critch from the VOCM news service, and my brother is Mike Campbell of Steele Communications and K-Rock. So I grew up next door to VOCM, and that kind of thing's in my blood, so I don't know. Hosting Nightline or something, probably. ... I'd be hosting the Irish Newfoundland Show on the radio.

What music are you listening to right now?

Right now I'm listening to a bunch of Irishy jigs and reely stuff, because Brendan gave me this gift-wrapped gift. He filled up an iPod with all the music he owns, which is all that kind of stuff. He's a fiddler, so he'd gone to a few sessions in town. His big dream was to meet Frank Maher, the famous Newfoundland accordion player, so I hooked that up. So I'm listening to more diddly-dee stuff than I have in a while. Hard-core Irish tunes, as they say.

What is your greatest regret?

I don't know. I don't have many regrets; everything you do kind of leads you to where you are now. I would probably say not going harder at it when I was younger, because I kind of had a thing of - I don't know if it was a fear or whatever of going outside of that St. John's, Newfoundland scene until I was about 28, really. If anything, I probably would have just gone for it a little bit sooner, maybe, but other than that, no, no regrets. Life's pretty good. ... Any regret that you have is something that you wouldn't want printed in the paper, is probably the thing. "Ah, I can't tell him about killing that hobo."

Who do you admire most?

It's tricky. There's a million different ways to answer that one, too, isn't there? You can say your parents, you can say co-workers, you can say Gandhi, or you can say all those things. Who do I admire most? ... I would say (Codco and Wonderful Grand Band's) Greg Malone and Tommy Sexton, because when I was a kid in the first grade, watching Wonderful Grand Band, I thought, "That's what I want to do." It wasn't be on "Three's Company" or "Happy Days" or any other show. It was that, and because they're from Newfoundland, they made it possible to think you could do it from Newfoundland and you didn't have to change or try and be someone different. So right from an early age, I thought, "Oh, you can be a Newfoundland comedian and have a TV show." It didn't seem odd at all. I remember being in first grade thinking, "That's what I wanna do when I grow up." But they had to make it so that wasn't a ridiculous thing. So for that, I tip my hat.

If you were premier of the province, what is one thing that you'd try to do?

I'd try and get Danny to run again, because it would work out for me professionally as a comedian. If I was premier of the province, I'd try and get Tom Osborne to shut up. That's what I'd do, say, "Tom, shush."

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: CBC, NHL, Steele Communications

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland, Montreal Beijing Halifax Trinity Red Cliff Bethlehem Theresa Mundy Pond Road Ireland

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