Just for Laughs

Is Justin Trudeau a unicorn? An interview with Mark Critch

This Hour Has 22 Minutes star on the parallels between Rob Ford and Donald Trump, and why Justin Trudeau may be a mythical creature
Photo: Zach Bonnell

Mark Critch is a writer and star on the long-running CBC comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Known for his zany interviews with politicians, and frequent spats with conservatives like Michelle Rempel and Ezra Levant, Critch is coming to Montreal this month for the Just For Laughs festival. Ricochet caught up with him to ask about Trump, Trudeau and the brave new world of political comedy.

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You do a lot of interviews with politicians, notably trying to light a joint in Justin Trudeau’s office, so I’m wondering who has been your favourite politician to interview?

Jean Chrétien was always a lot of fun, because I was fairly new, fairly green in those days, so the idea that someone like me could interview the prime minister of Canada seemed slightly preposterous. But Chrétien was always up for a joke, and he wasn't intimidated. Harper would always have security shut things down, or try to keep you out of the building. He had us removed from the hill actually, as prime minister.

In contrast to that, when you started talking to Chrétien, he sort of lived for it, and you couldn't say anything that would upset the guy. I would go up there to do an interview with somebody in the scrum, and I would be up in a scrum trying to get them to answer, and then I'd think "well I'll try and see the big guy." So I'd go upstairs and ask "hey is the big guy in? Could he talk to us?"

The secretary would be there and she'd say "oh just one moment" and she'd say "Mr. Chrétien?" and he'd respond "yeah, what is it?" and she'd tell him and he'd be like "okay good, hang on a second."

And he'd come out and he'd be like "what do you want me to do? Do you want me to say something crazy?" "No, no, no, just want to talk to you." "Do you want me to dress up like somebody?"

We'd actually have to calm him down a bit to get him to do the interview. So that was always easy and kind of fun.

Danny Williams, when he became premier of Newfoundland and Labrador he became a big national character, ripping down the Canadian flags and fighting Stephen Harper and stuff, he was a great sport because I played him on the show sort of like a Chavez- or Castro-type character and he would kind of play that up when I interviewed him too. He always seemed a little crazy when he was doing the interviews.

Those kind of people who got it, they were always fun and I enjoyed that a lot. But you know it was also fun talking to people like Stephen Harper who didn't want to do the show at all, because that was always challenging, and very exciting, chasing these people down or sneaking into rooms and that kind of cloak and dagger sneaking past security thing was always a lot of fun.

Do you find that comedy has changed in the Trump era? Is it a boon to be provided with all this material, or does it make it harder to be funny when the U.S. president is so unintentionally comical?

We kind of had a trial run for this in Canada with the whole Rob Ford thing. I started playing Rob Ford on the show and we started doing bits about him, and then you'd think it would play itself out because at some point with comedy you want to exaggerate things, but it gets to a point where it seems too ridiculous, or like you're trying too hard. But with Rob Ford, I'd be saying to the people at work "I have this idea for a Rob Ford thing, but I think it might be too much, it seems too far out there." Meanwhile, behind me on the news he'd be saying something that was far more ridiculous than I could ever come up with. So that was kind of like trying to catch up to a runaway train while that was happening. So we had a bit of a experience with that when the whole Trump thing happened, it was like Rob Ford times ten.

People always come up to you and say "oh how exciting, you must be having such a laugh at Donald Trump," but it can be exhausting sometimes. I remember I was on with Peter Mansbridge on election night in the U.S., and you just see all these states going red and you think, oh my god, this is actually going to happen.

Sometimes the more ridiculous something is, the harder it is to satirize it. But the great thing is that with political commentary sometimes you have to educate the person about the issue you're talking about, so you almost do a news recap, tell the people about what's going on, then do a joke, and sometimes that takes away from the spontaneity of the comedy. Having to say "well this is the finance minister of Canada, the provinces have equalization payments, an equalization payment is.." before you get to your payoff.

With the Trump stuff you just start talking and everybody knows what's going on, everyone is up to date, they have their own views and they're excited about it. So it's neat to see an audience that hungry for it.

And you'd think it would have worn itself out by now, but nah, it hasn't.

There’s a Beaverton joke about there being two versions of Justin Trudeau: The New York Times version and the one that is actually our PM, who hasn’t followed through on a lot of the promises he made in the last campaign. Two years into the Trudeau administration, are you seeing that disconnect as well, between his image and the substance of his government?

Oh absolutely. On the world stage Justin is a bit of a unicorn. A mythical creature that's going from place to place curing diseases with his scent. But when it comes down to things, a lot of promises have been broken and it's sort of a "wait and see, I'm getting to it" kind of approach. But that's the thing about reality versus election promises. We see that a lot with pretty much every politician, but I think with Justin people want to believe, you know? "He's the chosen one, he's going to be different." But people who get to the position where they can become prime minister, they're usually a pretty savvy politician who isn't exactly as pictured on the label of the package. I don't think he's that different than other people, but it's kind of like when you find out Santa Claus isn't real. Even though you know it's your dad, you're lying in bed and you're still thinking "maybe, maybe!" But no, as Justin himself said in his speech at his father's funeral, "there is no Santa Claus."

Tell me about what you’re doing at JFL this year? I hear you’ll be participating in an intervention for Montreal. Is it the booze? Are we drinking too much?

It's the 375th anniversary for Montreal of course, and so the closing gala at Just For Laughs is going to be an intervention gala. The first question I would have is "how did Montreal get to be 375?" Hamilton would never have been able to take what you guys have been through. So what we're going to be doing is having an intervention with some great comedians like Jimmy Carr, and Caroline Rhea, and some well-known Canadians like Jay Baruchel and even Corey Hart and we're going to get everyone in a room and see if we can't sort out some of the mob stuff, a little bit of the stripping issue and the whole poutine thing, amongst others, and see how we can get together in the future.

On behalf of the Atlantic provinces I will be talking about equalization and transfer payments among other things. I'll also be hosting the homegrown comedy show on the 28th, and that's the next generation of Canadian comedians. That comes with a great prize, and one of these new, very funny young comics who will eventually take my job will win some money and get some great exposure at that event too.

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