Prior to the 1980s, standup comedy was rare in Quebec. Its growth was fuelled by the Festival Juste Pour Rire in 1983 and the English-language Just For Laughs in 1986. For a long time, they operated like two solitudes.

In recent years, many stand-up comics have crossed the language line. The best known is Montreal’s Sugar Sammy, who not only has French/English bilingual shows, but has also given English/Hindi/Punjabi trilingual shows in India. There’s also Mike Ward, a local Quebec High School graduate, who performs in both French and English.

But Ward has also crossed other lines. Known for dark humour, including a routine called “Pedophile Jokes and Death Threats,” Ward was sued for making jokes about Jeremy Gabriel, a boy affected with a genetic disorder who had received media attention by singing for the pope. His parents sought $80,000 in damages. The judge argued that Ward had violated the boy’s right to dignity, honour and reputation, and ordered him to pay $42,000. The decision is under appeal, and many comics feel they have a right to be offensive and distasteful in a free society. What is the line that can’t be crossed?

Sugar Sammy
Mike Ward
Photo by Michel Grenier

Further Reading

Nulman, Andy. I Almost Killed George Burns! and Other Gut-splitting Tales from the World’s Greatest Comedy Event Just for Laughs. Toronto: ECW Press, 2001.