Conan O'Brien Also Offended Anglo-Canadians with Silly Stereotypes
Above: Conan O'Brien brought his explosive brand of comedy to Canada, with predictable results
TORONTO (SP) — Midway through Conan O'Brien's recent week in Toronto, it appeared that the trip would be considered an unqualified success. Despite some initial opposition to the fact that O'Brien's show had been given a total of $1 million in federal and provincial tax breaks as an incentive to venture north of the border, the show had managed to attract an impressive group of A-List celebrities, an abundance of favourable media coverage, and an audience filled with deliriously enthusiastic fans.
However, the honeymoon abruptly ended when Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a foul-mouthed, cigar-chomping sock puppet who is a frequent correspondent on the show, made an ill-advised visit to Quebec City's Winter Carnival. Accosting the locals with insults on subjects ranging from the French language, the separatist movement and superstar chanteuse Celine Dion, the skit was denounced as vile, bigoted hate-mongering by a large segment of the Canadian media, as well as numerous Members of Parliament.
Above: French Canadians were highly offended by the "Bark de Triomphe"
O'Brien attempted to put the matter to rest by issuing a highly self-deprecating apology, courtesy of a French translator, during his first show after returning to New York. However, it has now become apparent that Quebec is not the only "distinct society" in Canada that was offended by O'Brien's show. Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fans and residents of the Prairie Provinces are among those who also felt that they had been unfairly subjected to ridicule.
Leaf fans were both the first and most frequently exploited group. Early on during O'Brien's first show in Toronto, he ran a taped segment of a recent visit he had paid to several members of the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. O'Brien proceeded to mock numerous aspects of the game, including the equipment (by wearing a ridiculously large helmet and skates with three blades), fighting in hockey (ineptly sparring with Leafs tough guy Tie Domi), and the fact that the Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967.
"I believe that most Canadians have a very healthy sense of humour and have no problem laughing at themselves, but there are some subjects that are simply not appropriate to laugh about; it's just not in good taste," said Stormin' Norman Rumack, a Toronto sports radio personality and self-described 'lightning rod of controversy'. "Die hard Leaf fans are extremely sensitive about the fact that the team hasn't won the Cup in almost forty years, so having Conan O'Brien make light of those decades of disappointment on national television for the sake of a few cheap laughs was really unconscionable. The fact is, hockey is like a religion in Canada, and the disrespect he showed to our national pastime in general, and the Leafs - which I like to refer to as "God's team" - in particular, is nothing short of blasphemous."
Above: Leaf fans consider the success of their team a matter of national pride
Leaf fans were certainly not the only Canadians outside of Quebec who felt slighted by Mr. O'Brien. Millions of Ontario residents were offended by a sequence featuring Ontario's own Jim Carrey, who serenaded the audience with an irreverent, ludicrously over-the-top rendition of the Province's official anthem, 'Ontari-ari-ari-o'.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said that he hadn't seen the performance, but wouldn't have been laughing if he had. "Ontari-ari-ari-o is a wonderfully upbeat, patriotic song that deserves to be treated with great respect and reverence," said McGuinty. "What I find most disturbing about this incident is that rather than discouraging Mr. Carrey from ridiculing his own provincial anthem in front of viewers from across North America, Mr. O'Brien actually joined in, and proceeded to incite members of his studio audience to do the same. I fear that the young people of this province may never again take the song seriously as a result of this unfortunate incident."
Above: Some were offended by Jim Carrey's sarcastic rendition of Ontari-ari-ari-o
Added Mr. Rumack, "About the only thing I can imagine that would have been worse is if Conan O'Brien had invited Rosanne Barr to perform her rendition of O Canada."
Nor did O'Brien manage to avoid attracting the ire of Western Canadians. Their outrage stemmed from remarks made by O'Brien's only American guest of the week, comedian Adam Sandler. At the outset of the interview, Sandler, a native of New Hampshire, claimed to have been born in "Winnie-the-Pooh-Peg" and have grown up in "Sasquatchewan", while stating that his grandparents were from "Fat Alberta". Prairie resident were deeply offended by Sandler's wanton wordplay.
"The Liberal government provides a completely indefensible tax break to the producers of this show, only to see them spread these kinds of half-truths about Prairie geography, and then they wonder why there's such a strong sense of Western alienation in this country," said Stephen Harper, former leader of the Canadian Alliance and leadership candidate for the new Conservative Party. "What I find most distressing about this incident is that Americans know so little about Canada, millions of them are now going to actually believe that Winnie-the-Pooh-Peg is the capital of Manitoba. How can we ever hope to be taken seriously by Americans after being branded with such silly sounding names?"
Above: Adam Sandler would have us believe that this man shares the name of a certain Canadian province
Harper noted that it would be very easy for Canadian politicians to ridicule the names of American cities like Walla, Walla, Wa. or Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., "but we refrain from doing so in the interest of maintaining good diplomatic relations with them."
Some parts of Canada were not particularly offended by the show, notably the province of Newfoundland. [Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Labrador due to the fact that Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is part Labrador.] The people of Newfoundland were not even offended by a Canadian-oriented episode of South Park which happened to make its Canadian debut the same week, despite the fact that the episode featured a group of Newfoundlanders who claimed that the province was up in arms over a new federal law banning sodomy.
Satiric Press asked Newfoundland comedian Rick Mercer why the reaction in Canada to South Park and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was so different. "There's really no comparison between the two," said Mercer. "South Park is just a crudely animated cartoon featuring nine-year-olds who look like cardboard cutouts. On the other hand, Triumph is incredibly life-like, and behaves precisely the way you'd expect a dog to behave if dogs could talk and smoke cigars. Hence, viewers are invariably going to take the words of a sock puppet like Triumph much more seriously than those of a mere cartoon character."
Above: Cartoon characters like South Park's Eric Cartman can get away with espousing racist views because they aren't real…or at least as real as sock puppets.