…or Todd Van Articles

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Rest In Peace, Norm

Tuesday, I got a message from my friend Garnet Fraser, a writer with the Toronto Star. The message began “I don’t know how the Norm news is hitting you…”. I knew none of this “Norm” business he mentioned, but just the one name was enough for me to google “Norm Macdonald”. And then the articles came pouring into my laptop.

It was announced that Norm Macdonald had passed away at the age of 61 after a “battle with cancer” (Norm’s words from a bit about his uncle, but yet fittingly about him). A wave hit me with every post, and this feeling that the world at this moment was now less funny. And the world knew it. Better Than Ezra posted condolences remarking that Norm’s joke about them on SNL’s “Weekend Update” was one of the best jokes he’d ever written for the segment. They were right.

Garnet warned me that I might get a call from one of the Star writers looking for comics to talk about Norm’s influence and sure enough, I got one. I talked with Donovan Vincent about my run-ins with Norm, his legendary status in the community, and what made him great, and got choked up in the process. I had a couple of sentences make their way into the article that you can read HERE.

When I started out in comedy in the year 198-none-of-your-goddamned-business I was raw, dumb, and eager. I’d watch every comic that I had the chance to. I would make sure that I saw every comic that came to town at least once so I could watch and learn. When Norm came to town, you ran to the club and cancelled your plans for every night that weekend.

The Joy of Context

The other day I was poking through Twitter, a wise thing to do always, and I came across a reply that comedian Nathan Macintosh sent to another comic. The original tweet was sent by comedian Collie Tyrrell:

“All I ever wanted to do was tell jokes about my soft dick. I never wanted to know about microphones and computers or any of this dumb shit. I’m quitting comedy and moving back to Ireland. Fuck you all.”

Nathan replied to this with:

“Made me laugh”.

It was all I could do to not reply to this with:


I didn’t. Why not? Collie’s post was both funny and heartfelt. It told a truth which anchors the joke. Nathan’s reply reads as a statement to a friend stating that he got the subtext of the joke. It’s also a lovely set-up for a punchline of “Finally.” which makes it seem like Collie’s got bigger issues with his comedy than his technophobic leanings. Sure, it’d be funny.

The problem is, I don’t know Collie. I don’t know his comedy. I know Nathan, and a reply to him would be funny to us, but it’s at the expense of Collie who I don’t know. To Collie, I’m just some prick on the internet sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong. Which I am at this point.

Is the “Finally.” joke funny? Sure, if I knew both Nathan and Collie. But I’m an outsider and this joke is out of context, and context is the thing that every joke needs. There’s a lot of jokes being made out there without the necessary context being provided. You need the context as a foundation to lay your joke on. If you don’t have the context, you don’t have a joke. And what makes life even more hellish for comics, is there’s several contexts that you need to consider before pushing a joke out of your mouth.

Here’s a few to consider.


There’s Always a Minefield

Heeeeeeeeere we go.

In a recent New York Post article, Billy Crystal was promoting his latest film co-starring Tiffany Haddish called “Here Today” about a man suffering from dementia. In the article he talks about the film, how he himself was touched by caring with someone with dementia and how heartbreaking it is. He talked about his career and the characters that he played and how he attempted to imbue them all with a sense of redeeming humanity. It’s an albeit short article about a man whose comedy career spans six decades. I would have loved there to be more, but this is the New York Post, where memes are too wordy. But the focus has been about this one quote:

“It’s becoming a minefield and I get it,” the comedian told The Post. “I don’t like it, I understand it … I just keep doing what I’m doing and that’s all you can do right now.

“It’s a totally different world [now] and it doesn’t mean you have to like it,” he added, with a laugh.

Cue the maelstrom. Another woke-online-social-justice-warrior-cancel-culture attempt to take an old white man down. Billy Crystal’s stand-up (And yes, he was a stand-up. Kid’s ask your parents…to ask your parents) was one of the defining works that steered me towards comedy. His comedy was like his acting: energetic, topical, and funny. The man is undeniably talented.

But now he provides another inflammatory talking point that will circulate for weeks before fizzling out like a sparkler on grandpa’s birthday cake. PC culture is killing comedy. A quick google of the words “comedian”, “PC” and “Culture” brings back a haystack of articles, some dating back as far as 1997 (Thank you Bill Maher). “Why can’t we take a joke?” “We’re too sensitive!” “How come I can’t say the n-word?” Sure, we’ve been dealing with PC Culture for a while. Not quite as long as the marginalized communities that were made fun of loooooong before that, mind, but yeah, PC Culture has been here for a bit. So, Crystal’s film junket blurb interview is now overtaken by a quote stating he doesn’t like what he sees in comedy today. He says this while co-starring with a woman who is making great comedy today. So, good. “[Comedy] is becoming a minefield”. He’s not right, but he’s also not wrong. Here’s why.

Five Literal LOL TV Moments

The previous two entries I’ve posted dissected a really crappy right-wing comedy show where the other talked about how comedians in Canada are consistently expected to not get paid for their work. So, let’s talk about something fun for once.

I have a thing where I will remember jokes, entire sketches, or just a two-second funny moment from anytime in my conscious history. My mind just keeps them in a box somewhere and will throw one of them at me at the most inopportune moments to make me laugh.

“What are you giggling at?”

“I just remembered Kyle Kinane’s joke about gentrification.”

“Well, stop it.”


May we continue having intercourse?”

“Shut up.”

This happens to me all the time, and I hope artists in other art forms have this as well. I picture one of my musician friends at a funeral suddenly getting hit by his aunt’s purse for humming the guitar solo from ‘Paranoid Android’.

The COVID pandemic has forced us to be left with our own thoughts. A lot. Like “Locked in a car with a guy while driving through Saskatchewan” trapped. Because of this, I’ve had a lot of these comedy moments bubble to the surface. I’ll be walking my dog in a socially distanced park and then BOOM! I’m hit with a Monty Python sketch and blurt laugh while tying up a full dog poop bag. I will laugh through my mask in a grocery store queue about a line from “Night Court” (Kids, ask a Gen-Xer) which then forces people to socially distance from me further.

For whatever reason, I’ve been tracking funny television moments for the past while, so I decided to come up with a list of five of them. They’re not in any order, and they may not even be five that I would consider the best over the course of my life. They’re just the five moments in television that recently have consistently brought me joy and make me laugh when I think of them. Let’s go.

LOL All the Way to the Bankruptcy

This is what I love about comedians. A comic will tell another comic about the gig they just did that was the worst show. 4The crowd had 18 people in the audience. They were spread out across a 200-seat venue. (Note: This was in the Before Times when you would hate to do shows like this, instead of wanting them to be like this now.) The microphone muted if you took it out of the stand. It screeched if you left it in the stand. The management wouldn’t turn off the Jays game even though they were losing 72-4 in the 6th, because “my customers will get mad and leave if I do”. Someone tried to shoot a rat as it ran across the stage area. So much respect for performers. The comic will go through every detail of this nightmare. Then there’s a pause, and the second comic will ask “Who books that?”

In the same manner that fish enjoy a little bit of water once or twice, comics like stage time. It’s necessary for their craft to advance, to test jokes, to figure out where new jokes suck so you can fix them, so they don’t suck. Comics will do anything for stage time. And the sad part is, people in power know this. Here is an example of this happening:

Amazon are producing a Canadian stand-up comedy show!