Canadians have always been pretty good at dishing out jokes — but can we take ’em?
There was that time Conan O’Brien took his NBC Late Late Show across the border in 2004 for four Canada-themed shows from downtown Toronto. It was all fun and games until Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog started using Quebec as a fire hydrant, changing street names in Montreal to “Rue des Pussies.” Zut alors!
Still, Canadians are often flattered simply when America notices us. There has been plenty of pointed shots in the past from animated comedies such as King of the Hill, Family Guy and South Park. The Simpsons have made plenty of “America Junior” references in the past. If anything, late night talk shows such as The Daily Show with Trevor Noah seem to have a little Canada envy.
The latest cross border kerfuffle came Sunday night with the 660th episode of The Simpsons, “D’oh Canada.” The episode was co-written by long-time Simpsons writer/consulting producer and former Exeter, Ont., resident Tim Long.
“D’oh Canada” takes no prisoners. On a family trip — where border town Buffalo, N.Y. comes in for its share of razzing — Lisa goes over Niagara Falls and survives after a hospital stay on the Canadian side. Told his daughter should remain in hospital for five days, dad Homer quickly agrees. “Of course, of course — we’ll take out a third mortgage.” Says the doctor, “Sir, you’re in Canada now, where your health care is FREEEEE!”
There are Mountie jokes, Beachcomber references, even a nod to “Estranged Brew.” When Lisa attends a Canadian elementary school, she is astounded at being taught about climate change. She’s even encouraged to Skype Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (“No Waiting”).
Lisa shows she’ll already pretty Canada-savvy. When a mountie tells her she’ll be assigned her own Canadian hockey team to root for if she stays north, Lisa mutters, “Please not Ottawa.”
The brainy Simpson soon learns, of course, that Canadians aren’t perfect. In fact, we can also be as bigoted and prejudiced as people who come from away. When she asks her new school mates if everyone in Canada is treated equally, they tell her no, especially not the Quebecois and “The Newfies.”
Then comes the most damning insult you can every receive from The Simpsons — being compared to brainless idiot Ralph Wiggums! The target is a kid from Newfoundland, shown cutting the head off a baby seal and using it as a soccer ball.
What the hell? A hockey puck, sure, but a SOCCER BALL??
Some on the Internet today aren’t laughing, taking particular exception to the term Newfie. It is a loaded term, especially in these politically correct times, but one native son at least is taking it in stride. This Hour Has 22 Minutes comedian Mark Critch, a native of St. John’s, tweeted that he was “not upset about the ‘newfie’ joke Tim Long wrote for tonight’s Simpsons episode so much as surprised that in all my 45 years, the lamest, least-interesting ‘Newfie’ joke I’ve heard was on The Simpsons.”
The animated series has been irreverently poking fun at anything and everything for 30 years. It even bites the hand that feeds, goofing on former owners Fox Television and Rupert Murdoch and fearlessly shredding new corporate overlords Disney.
Over the past three decades, the world has changed. Even for The Simpsons, “The Trouble with Apu” would not go away. While changing standards of acceptance and tolerance should always be examined and respected, any outspoken comedy that suddenly began to blunt all satirical edges would quickly cease to be relevant.
Canadians who may have been offended by anything in Sundays episode might consider that no series in the United States has been more critical of America over the past 30 years than The Simpsons. It’s probably not their current president’s favourite TV show, either.
As Nelson would say, “HA Ha!”