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BOB WAKEHAM: Did you hear the one about the…

Columnist Bob Wakeham suspects comedians could find plenty of fodder in the political goings-on in this province over the years. —
Columnist Bob Wakeham suspects comedians could find plenty of fodder in the political goings-on in this province. — 123RF Stock Photo

It may not have gotten the kind of publicity generated by the higher-profiled comedy festivals in the country, but a recent gathering of competitive storytellers in a place called Hilarious Haven, Ont. had them rolling in the aisles with an assortment of jokes about this so-called smiling land of ours.

 


My source for this news, as usual, was my long standing informant, Harbour Deep Throat, and he did make a point of admitting upfront that the festival was called “NEWFIE JOKES: PAST AND PRESENT,” but he added a quick qualifier — worried, as he was, that I might lock him a shed with Alan Doyle for a 10-minute shit-knocking for daring to even mention the “n” word — “Don’t go takin’ it out on me, Bob, b’y,” he said, “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

In any case, here’s what transpired, according to Harbour Deep Throat:

There was a lot of “did you hear the one?” naturally, as in, “did you hear the one about the Newfoundland government investing a fortune in cucumbers back in the 1980s?”

The headline at the time, according to the funny man, was: “Screwed by Sprung.”

The audience roared, Harbour Deep Throat told me.

But the teller of that hilarious yarn was in the minor leagues of comedy compared to the Rich Little-type who did a bang-on impression of Joey Smallwood, big glasses, oversized bow tie, with a fake mist hovering over the stage: “This is our land, this is our river, and we will forever make sure that it will operate primarily, chiefly, mainly, for the people of Newfoundland.”
Well, the mainlanders, especially a crowd that had travelled to the festival from Quebec, just ate it up.

“So I said to these dumb Frenchies,” the Joey imitator blared at his won-over audience, “let’s sign a deal for, say, 65 years, and, even by 2018 you’ll have $27 billion in the bank, and we’ll have $2 billion.”

“Boy,” the Joey character observed, “did I ever put one over on them.”

There were even a few jokes using dumb four-legged participants as punch-lines, including one from a stand-up artist who showed slides of the before-mentioned Joey leading a cattle drive on the Burin Peninsula.
 

And there was the Stephenville Linerboard Mill story to get a few laughs, and an assortment of yarns about chocolate bar and hockey stick factories.


His routine and slide show presentation sparked a few laughs, but he really had the place shouting for more when he told the story of how the Newfoundland government once brought buffalo in from Western Canada and transported them by boat to Brunet Island in Fortune Bay, ignoring the fact that the poor old animals thought they were still roaming the endless plains of Saskatchewan and could run forever.

“They proceeded to plunge over the cliffs to the surf below,” he chuckled, as his fans reacted with uproarious and mocking approval.

Other tellers of Newfie jokes referred to the Come By Chance Oil Refinery bankruptcy of the 1970s, the biggest bankruptcy in Canadian history at the time, the Newfoundland government sucked in by a big talking Yank, John Shaheen, a friend of Richard (Dirty Dick) Nixon, and a contemporary of another American who tried to suck Newfoundland dry, John C. Doyle.

And there was the Stephenville Linerboard Mill story to get a few laughs, and an assortment of yarns about chocolate bar and hockey stick factories.

But the pièce de résistance, according to Harbour Deep Throat, was a joke that brought the house down, and was the award winner of the night for the “Biggest Newfie Joke” of all time.

It was called The Muskrat Falls Boondoggle.

There were people buckled over in pain from laughing so hard, some of them practically begging the performer — an “Uncle” somebody or other — to “please stop, we can’t take it anymore.”

But he wouldn’t let up, and the side-splitting humour only escalated as he had enormous fun with a story about a small province, seemingly forever on the brink of insolvency, that watched as its rulers and their associates allowed the cost of an electrical project to soar from $6 billion to $8 billion and, finally, to $12 billion-plus.

Damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead, he comically described the vacuous policy.

It was as if that movie crowd, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” was in charge, he quipped.

But, taking on a fake solemn tone, the joke-teller observed quietly: “But there was a vision: Danny’s vision. Ed’s vision.”

And according to the winning Newfie joke of the night, Danny sang a song to Ed, parroting Jefferson Starship:

“Let ’em say we’re crazy, I don’t care about that.
And we can build this thing together,
and stand this stormy weather….
Nothing’s gonna stop us now.”

The laughter, Harbour Deep Throat told me, was deafening.

Everyone was in hysterics except a handful of Newfoundlanders who had slipped into the back of the hall in Hilarious Haven, Ont.

They just cried.

Recent columns by this author

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BOB WAKEHAM: Time to yank off this company’s invisibility cloak

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com

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