Making Canadians laugh is still the main goal, but there are plenty of new considerations for the cast and crew of “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” as they move into their 28th season during a global pandemic, Mark Critch says.
“It’s the same approach, but we’ve had to adapt as everyone else has had to adapt,” Critch said. “And that’s good. After 28 years, it’s good to have a reset.”
Critch, who began as a writer on the show 18 years ago before becoming a cast member, said the team is split up because of protocols put in place due to COVID-19.
While some of the writers will be in Toronto, a portion of the cast and crew are in Halifax working out of a brand-new studio in the Light House Arts Centre.
This year will also see a dedicated team in the United States covering the presidential race.
And while everybody is safe, he says it’s sometimes odd, since they’re like a family.
“It’s a bit weird reminding yourself all the time, you know, this person I work with for 15 years, I have to be 12 feet away from them,” he said. “But we’re very lucky to be able to do it … and it’s going well.”
This year will also see a dedicated team in the United States covering the presidential race. That team consists of Nik Sexton, Tom Stanley and Jon Sturge, who previously worked on "The Rick Mercer Report." Their field reports add a different tone to the show, Critch said.
“They’re doing these neat documentary style road-pieces that are very stand-alone," Critch said. “They’re narrated by Graham Greene, our great Canadian actor.”
And there are other fresh voices and faces this season as well.
“We did this Atlantic bubble song on the show and … and it was pretty much the first thing (new cast member Aba Amuquandoh) had to shoot,” Critch said. “It’s was kind of like, all right, welcome to Halifax. Don't worry, it’s the East Coast but it’s not all lobsters and fishing nets first of all, you should know. Anyway, here’s a lobster and a fishing net, if you could sing this Alan Doyle song with me, that’d be great.”
Amuquandoh is a 25-year-old stand-up comedian, improv and sketch comedy performer who grew up in Toronto. While moving to Halifax for work has been an adjustment, doing a sketch with Critch dressed as Alan Doyle wasn’t so much of a stretch.
“(My dad) is a Ghanian immigrant who came to Canada and just immediately fell in love with East Coast bands,” Amuquandoh said. “Growing up, I listened to a lot of that stuff.”
Being asked to join the show happened quickly, Amuquandoh said. And she was so happy, it felt surreal.
“I think every actor and comedian does this thing where our minds wander, and (think), what would it be like if I got this national TV show or if I ever got this big gig, how would I celebrate (or) how would I react?” Amuquandoh said.
While she always imagined she’d be jumping for joy, she felt like she had little time for that.
“It immediately felt like, go-go-go,” she said. “I have to start thinking about premises, I have to start brushing up on my writing skills because I’ve been in quarantine for months and have not written a single word. I don’t even know if I can pick up a pencil, you know?”
In previous seasons, much of the show would be performed in front of a live studio audience of about 200 people. This season, Critch said he was worried about losing that element.
“You can really convince yourself you’re funny, or that something really works, until you get out in front of a crowd,” Critch said. “(The audience is) the editor for the show. They pick what goes in.”
While the audience for the taping of the first episode was only about 45 people, all in their own bubble with masks on, they gave the cast and crew their all, Critch said.
“If you see (the first) episode, that’s not sweetened at all, that’s them,” Critch said. “I was very worried about not having the audience. I’m very lucky they were there.”
New episodes of "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" air on CBC on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Newfoundland time.