MONTREAL – Lewis Black isn’t surprised Prime Minister Stephen Harper proclaimed Calgary as the best city in Canada during the recent Stampede.
“He likes a big breakfast and who can blame him,” the explosive Black quipped in a telephone interview. “Get out in the street and do some flapjacks. He’ll be with you.”
Black, who is best known to Canadians for his rants on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” will headline a political humour show at Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival on Friday, taking particular aim at the U.S. presidential election campaign.
“After a while, you just get sick of it,” he said of political shenanigans, his voice tinged with incredulity and frustration. “It’s unbelievable. How can it be stupider than last time? â€” But it is.”
U.S. politicians seem like “fictional characters come to life,” he says.
It was a challenge to make fun of Barack Obama in his first presidential election in 2008 because he talked in paragraphs instead of sentences, Black said. This year’s Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, however, is an easier target.
“We elected a black president,” Black explained. “Now the Republicans respond by electing the whitest man ever. He makes George Bush look Jamaican.”
He dismissed arguments that U.S. politics is polarized, saying 17 per cent of Americans agree with what’s happening in Congress.
“That means 83 per cent of us agree” that they don’t like it.
Canadian John Wing Jr., who will be among those appearing with Black, tends to agree with him but also suggests comedians have to pick their spots for their jokes. For instance, when he performs on cruise ships, many in the audience are diehard Republicans.
“If you’re going to make a joke, it has to be about a Democrat because if you make a joke about a Republican you’ll get complaints,” he observed.
As far as Obama goes, he speculated a lot of left-of-centre comedians got caught up in the lovefest around the presidential hopeful in 2008 and treated him with kid gloves. That probably won’t happen this time around but Wing says he is influenced by other factors.
“The hatred of Obama from the right â€” the general right, not the comedic right â€” is so vituperative, the vilification is so incredible, it makes you wonder where this passion was in other years,” Wing said. “It makes me reticent to do a joke even if I see something that is clearly an opportunity.”
Black gives a lot of the credit for the renewed interest in political humour to Stewart and the “Daily Show,” which skewers current events. He also pointed to the explosion of cable TV news channels.
The New York-based comedian, who will be performing in Toronto in September before heading to Broadway in October, hasn’t had much chance to look at Canada’s political system.
“Look what I’ve got down there. It’s like a flood. You (Canadians) are always involved in big committee meetings, a lot of discussion and helping people out.”
Wing will help with the Canadian perspective.
“I’m going to be talking about the Canadian American Dream,” the native of Sarnia, Ont., said in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles base. “Canadians dream of going to America and becoming rich and famous like Jim Carrey, Wayne Gretzky and Conrad Black â€” OK, bad example.
“I will be comparing the fact that Americans have two parties, more or less, and Canadians have 51.”
Canadian and American politicians have become more alike in recent years, Wing says.
“I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference anymore with the exception that Canadian political leaders don’t seem to be afraid to raise taxes,” he said.
Although he grew up in a Progressive Conservative household, Wing says he’s “probably more of an NDP guy now. I’m not a great admirer of Mr. Harper.”
However, he admits he doesn’t know much about new NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
“I read some stuff about him on Facebook so it must be true. Apparently he’s a socialist.”