Mark Breslin is the founder and CEO of the Yuk Yuk’s chain of comedy clubs. He has written the forward to Funny Business , his partner Jeff Silverman’s new book.
Does Canada have a bright future, or should we be looking more to the past?
I think Canada is one of the greatest B countries in the world. I think we should never look to the past. I’m not a traditionalist.
Stephen Harper is. What’s wrong with returning to past traditions?
The Prime Minister is absolutely right in reconnecting with our great traditions and great roots. But rather than the ’50s, I would try something late ’60s, early ’70s: the era of key parties, psychedelics and the greatest rock ’n’ roll band of all time, the Black Panthers.
Why return to the traditions of any decade? Why not just move on to making good ones ahead?
I look at that Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris, and he makes some interesting points about people, no matter what decade they’re in, romanticizing the past. But as he points out, they didn’t have novocaine then. I grew up in the ’50s. It was a very conservative time. I suppose, as a conservative, [Stephen Harper] would want to go back to those conservative times. Personally, I would not.
To conservatives and traditionalists, the ’50s would seem their Golden Age, and your dope-smoking hippy, free-love era would be hell in a handbasket.
And I miss it completely.
Is Stephen Harper right in stressing a return to the traditional role of the monarchy in Canada?
Well, the monarchy means very little to a lot of Canadians, and maybe this is something he doesn’t understand.
Maybe that’s something he wants to rectify. The Queen is our head of state, after all.
Would I put a picture of the Queen up in my clubs? Certainly, but only if it were accompanied with a lot of darts. Nothing is sacred and nothing ever has been at Yuk Yuk’s, and that is in our cultural DNA, which is the art of creative disrespect.
The Prime Minister wouldn’t see that as an art and certainly wouldn’t fund it.
Well, we wouldn’t ask him to! The one thing he’d like about Yuk Yuk’s is it’s one of the few arts organizations that doesn’t take a penny from the government.
Do you see the return of monarchist tradition as a throwback to colonial times?
Definitely! I live in a city that is so multicultural that the Queen means absolutely nothing. There’s a lot of queens at the corner of Church and Wellesley [the epicentre of Toronto’s gay village] that I have a lot of respect for. I’d put their picture up any day, but not the picture of the reigning monarch in another country and ocean away.
What was so great about the ’50s?
Everybody knew their place and everybody had a script and was able to work to that. The Talmud says, “Happy is the man who is satisfied with his portion.” I think, in the ’50s, everybody was satisfied with his portion.
How has that changed?
Not everyone is satisfied with their portion. We have learned that everyone doesn’t have the same portion and not everybody’s portion is quite enough.
You know what really is attractive about the ’50s? There was a sense of civility. Even though I’m a guy who doesn’t believe in any institutions, the one I do like is civility. It has become a rude, rude culture. In every other way, I think the world has gotten better.
Would you like to see a return to the Red Ensign as Canada’s flag?
No. I think there is a place for a crest, but it’s on someone’s jacket at a country club. I like our Leaf.
What about a return to traditional comedy – non-ethnic, non-blue material? A return to Borscht Belt stuff?
The audience for that is gone. All those guys are dead or in nursing homes. And they weren’t so clean.
It’s said that the Prime Minister is planning to make a big deal commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. Who won?
The Canadians won that. We were Canadians then, United Empire Loyalists who left the States because they didn’t like the American system of government. We wanted something different than the United States – and we still do.
A return to the ’50s: What would be so wrong for you and I and most men wearing the pants, coming home from a hard day’s work and having the little woman put a nice, hot dinner on the table?
You don’t get that now? Nothing would be wrong as long as the woman would like it. I know some people who are in conventional marriages like that and seem to be quite happy. Everybody gets to make choices now, for better or for worse.