Alumnus’ new book gives lessons on what makes Canadians funny

Photo: Courtesy of Dick Bourgeois-Doyle

Canada has a long history of unique northern-flavoured humour, and one author has set out to explain what Canadians find funny—and why.

Dick Bourgeois-Doyle is a University of Ottawa alumnus who graduated in 1987 with a certificate in business administration, and is now secretary general of the National Research Council. But his latest work deals in the lighter side of life.

Three years ago, he wanted to develop his skill as a writer of histories, biographies, magazines, and books. He started to study the techniques and styles of Canadian humour authors, and in the process, met many authors and others associated with humour books.

From what he learned comes What’s So Funny? Lessons from Canada’s Leacock Medal for Humour Writing, a collection of essays about the 67 books and authors that have received the Leacock Memorial Medal, awarded annually since 1947 for the best Canadian humour writing.

The book features lighthearted moments and personal reflections on the Leacock writers he’s curated in his collection, such as Pierre Berton rolling a joint with Rick Mercer, his own failed attempt in a contest run by The Vinyl Cafe’s Stuart McLean, and his grievances against his mentor Dan Needles for not writing more books.

It also includes newspaper columns, essays, and satire from other Leacock winners. The author shares anecdotes and analysis of their unique styles of humour.

Bourgeois-Doyle says Canadians are mostly known for their gentler and drier humour.

“Some people wonder if you can even label Canadian sense of humour because it’s so personal … and we’re such a diverse culture,” he says.

Our reputation for being overtly polite and considerate comes into play with our taste in humour, he says. After all, we are known to say sorry far too much.

“Canadian jokes and humour sort of revolve around that perception,” he says. From there, our stereotypes and conflictions of kindness play a huge role in our punchlines.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t offer up biting satire. He says Canadians tend to have an extra sensitivity for jokes and often deliver them in a dead-pan style, like in This Hour Has 22 Minutes, for example.

Comedy can also be trickier to write than it is to convey in person. But Bourgeois-Doyle says the medium of the joke doesn’t matter.

“Only you and I can say what is funny for us personally, but it appears that most people laugh at what is labelled the incongruities of life: things that are not expected or not the way we presume they should be … and at the same time do us no harm,” he says.

Bourgeois-Doyle held a book launch event at the Comedy Night for Parkinson’s on Jan. 24—a time when laughter really was the best medicine.