A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sancho Panza complains to his master that he has not been paid for his services as a squire for some time. Don Quixote inquires as to the time period.

“Si yo mal no recuerdo,” respondió Sancho, “debe de haber más de veinte años tres días más o menos.” Diose don Quijote una gran palmada en la frente, y comenzó a reír muy de gana. (II, 28; p. 778)

“If I well remember,” answered Sancho, “it must be 20 years and three, days, give or take. Quixote slapped his forehead [the knee slap is a North American invention] and began to laugh in earnest.

In 1975 my wife Rosemary, our two daughters and I drove up in our VW beetle from Mexico City to live in Vancouver. My youngest daughter’s urbane and multilingual (8 languages) godfather, Raúl Guerrero Montemayor told me, “Alex I am sure you will do well in Vancouver but I do remember that the fact that the people there are white does not mean they are civilized.” In those times I would have never thought that the comment was racist nor would I have taken offence. I simply laughed.

As soon as we arrived we did make some early friends who I remember invited us to “after dinner drinks.” I asked Rosemary if this was some quaint Canadian custom seeing that she had been born in New Dublin, Ontario. The concept of the after dinner drink was alien to her, too. For some time when my friends and family from abroad would ask me about Vancouver I invariably told them that the people here were as cold as the tap water.

Many of these opinions of mine have softened with time but I do miss the joviality of Mexicans and the constant embracing and kissing of Argentines. I have fond memories of my father kissing me. Do Canadian fathers kiss their sons? I am not sure.

As an alien from South America and in spite of now being a Canadian citizen I have not been able to discard the feeling that I am a penguin in the arctic living out of place and out of time.

My urbane compadre, Raúl, in spite of his extensive Swiss education finds the idea of mixing sweet with salty as a culinary aberration. He makes fun of Americans who serve cole slaw with raisins. The idea makes Raúl shake with disgust. I have learned to conquer my Latin bias and I will happily (but not with glee) consume said coleslaw or indulge in Chinese sweet and sour dishes.

In culture both Raúl and I like our singers to sing and our actors to act. We might tolerate opera buffa but like the sweet and the sour and the salty in separate areas of our dinner plate we like our stuff in distinct separation. We like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly but that is about as far as we will go to tolerate that Anglo Saxon invention, the musical.

Which brings me to how I hate comedy and in particular the idea of going to some dark café, pay to get in and then listen to someone making jokes about East Indians in Surrey. I cannot stand stand-up comedy. I was turned off to comedy in the mid to late 50s listening to a Shelley Berman describe the look of a glass after emptying its contents, buttermilk, in one’s mouth.

I was sometime around 1982 or 1983 when the CBC hired me to shoot stills of a show that was called The David Steinberg Show which was being taped in the cavernous Studio 40 on Hamilton Street. Steinberg was a short cerebral kind of guy (20 odd days older that I am) who was not in the least funny. He oozed intelligence. He just wasn’t funny to this man who really does not understand comedy. As a child I hated the Danny Kaye films my mother took to see. I had not yet graduated from the films of the Gordo y el Flaco (Laurel and Hardy).

It was about that time that I was asked to take a group shot of comedians who had appeared that week at the show. My friend CBC cameraman Michael Varga, upon seeing the picture recognized Jackson Davies, Ryan Styles and David Steinberg (centre right with his hands on the shoulders of two companions). Varga says that the rest look a lot like Canadian Air Farce people.

There is no record on the web that Steinberg ever had a TV variety show in Vancouver yet there is this picture that must prove that it happened.

I am looking at the picture under a new light. I am looking at it under the new light of beginning to appreciate comedy thanks to what I consider the most serious show on CBC Radio One after Ideas.

What is that show? The show is The Debaters which is hosted by Steve Patterson and airs on Saturdays at 1:00pm (1:30 NT), and Wednesdays at 11:30am (12:00 NT) on CBC Radio One.

This radio show features two 15 minute segments in a 30 minute long show in which comedians (one per side) speak, in a live audience studio, for or against such topics as multiculturalism, the NFL versus the CFL or for or against the charms of classical music. Bill Richardson was superb last week defending the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and Bachman Turner Overdrive. He spoke of what classical music could do to arrest drooping titties and that immediately made me realize that The Debaters can get away with saying such things, debating seriously important topics that affect Canadians that are not the grist of conventional media. Particularly funny and paradoxically more serious is the second round calle the Bare Knuckles Round and when all stops are removed and the for or against participants go at each other's throats. While the show is really funny (I admit it!) it makes me think. If I were a CBC honcho I would turn The Debaters into a TV show and or ax Rex Murfy and have Steve Patterson host Cross Country Checkup. Because The Debaters travels across Canada they are a more relevant, and a more important variation of what Cross Country Checkup should be but is not.

Because of copyright reasons, since The Debaters is a contract show and not a CBC show there are no podcasts available (just a few tantalizing clips) but you can buy complete shows from iTunes. I think that I just might buy and listen to some of them while indulging in coleslaw with raisins.

CBC Ideas: with Paul Kennedy

Thursday, December 4, 2009

Dr. Robert Buckman, author of Cancer is a Word, Not a Sentence, takes his science very seriously. But in an evening recorded at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, he says that finding – and tickling – our funny bone is definitely good for our health.


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