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BRIAN JONES: Ed Martin and other comedians

Ed Martin, former chief executive officer and president of Nalcor Energy, at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry Monday.
Ed Martin, former chief executive officer and president of Nalcor Energy, at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry Monday. - Joe Gibbons

Newfoundlanders’ sense of humour is being tested. There is a reputation to uphold, established long before Codco, Rick Mercer, Shaun Majumder, Mark Critch et al. proved to other Canadians that Newfoundlanders are funnier than any knock-knock joke ever invented.

Give credit to the straight men. Christopher Mitchelmore, who carries the cumbersome moniker of minister of tourism, culture, industry and innovation, can expertly stand in front of media microphones and blithely tell the people of the province that the Liberal government handing a plush job at The Rooms to the lieutenant-governor’s daughter is not patronage.

You can hear the laughter rolling in from the most distant outport.

The House of Assembly might have more bullies than a schoolyard, but it is not without humour.

Eddie Joyce, the ousted minister of municipal affairs and the environment, offered a hilarious defence against the accusation that he tried to pressure Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh into helping a friend of his get a government job.

Apparently caught in the act of old-style political machinations, Joyce explained his actions with a terrific one-liner. It was no big deal, Joyce said, because his friend didn’t even get an interview.

Andy Jones can only dream of being that funny.

All this macho humour might not appeal to some women, so it is fortuitous that former premier Kathy Dunderdale will soon make an appearance.

There is something about the provincial cabinet that turns its members, and former members, into laugh-a-minute minstrels.

Jerome Kennedy’s act on the Muskrat Falls Inquiry stage was an instant classic, worthy of being ranked with Greg Malone’s famous Barbara Frum shtick.

Kennedy, who was natural resources minister when the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project was being planned and propagandized, told the crowd that nobody ever informed him of the risk the project’s costs could balloon by billions.

Stunned spectators sat in silence a minute to let that joke sink in.

The ultimate guy in charge did not know. No wonder they’re rolling in the aisles.

But there is a danger among comedians and inquiry witnesses alike of over-using one-liners. If people hear a punch line, or its variation, too often, it loses its desired effect.

Cabinet ministers, top civil servants, Nalcor Energy executives — they’re killing it at the Inquiry, but they’re collectively veering on overplaying some of their best lines, such as:

“I don’t recall.”

“I wasn’t aware.”

“Nobody told me.”

“I never saw that report.”

“Those numbers are new to me.”

“I didn’t attend that meeting.”

Comedy fans can only hope these guys book a week at the LSPU Hall.

Judging by the performances so far, Ed Martin will be the headliner.

The former president and CEO of Nalcor Energy testified he didn’t recall ever asking the provincial government how many billions it could afford to go over budget on the Muskrat Falls project.

That was just the lead-up, and it was brilliant. Martin finished it by quipping that there “had to have been” someone who asked such a question.

If your sides ache, you’ve not alone. That one had the entire province in proverbial stitches.

Picture an airliner coming in for a landing.

Pilot: “Did you put the landing gear down?”

Co-pilot: “No. Did you?”

Pilot: “No. But somebody must have. Let’s get this sucker on the ground.”

Martin’s show continues all this week. If you’ve missed it, be sure to tune in.

All this macho humour might not appeal to some women, so it is fortuitous that former premier Kathy Dunderdale will soon make an appearance.

Dunderdale will undoubtedly bring a female perspective to the proceedings, with the usual “chick chatter” popular among comediennes. Titles for her set could be, “Relationships and Doomed Mega-projects,” or “Guys and Dams.”

Granted, some people — even some Newfoundlanders — might say there is nothing funny about any of this, and no one will laugh when the electricity bills arrive in 2021.

Maybe. But in the meantime, these characters should be given all the mockery and derision they deserve.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at brian.jones@thetelegram.com.

Related stories:

Can’t speak to limits, Ed Martin tells Muskrat Falls Inquiry

Nalcor Energy didn’t report in full, Jerome Kennedy tells Muskrat Falls Inquiry

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