Colbert day in Oshawa, Ontario .. stuff like this just never happens around hereMar 23rd, 2007 | By Dominic Berry | Category: Entertainment
What can a person who resides elsewhere in the Greater Toronto Area really say about Stephen Colbert Day in Oshawa, Ontario – Tuesday, March 20, 2007? Even (or especially) if you know Oshawa a little, and support the business concept that such places, in all regions of North America, should try to do a bit more with themselves? On the intelligent teenager level at which Mr. Colbert’s own remarkable TV show is pitched, there is little doubt that the verdict must be harsh. From that side of the tracks, Colbert Day in Oshawa can only be judged pathetic. But when you ponder the more mature depths into which the real Stephen Colbert is presumably finally urging our teenage minds to look, there was some local political satire. And at least hockey icon Don Cherry showed up. As one resident put it: “stuff like this just never happens around here.” Now it has, and it must be good for something.
Stephen Colbert on Canada before Colbert Day …
The city’s official announcement of the event beforehand summarized the essential facts: “After losing a hockey bet with Stephen Colbert, the satirical host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, Oshawa Mayor John Gray is living up to his end of the bargain by declaring his own birthday, March 20, to be ‘Stephen Colbert Day’ in the City of Oshawa. The March 20 festival Grin and Bear It’ will take place at the new state-of-the-art General Motors Centre located in downtown Oshawa.”
Just to start with, Canadians (and especially those who currently reside in Ontario) have to be grateful to Colbert’s TV show, for at least acknowledging every now and then that Canada actually exists. To be sure, it is impossible to say anything nice in public about Canada in the United States, as well as vice-versa of course. (Even though Canada has only slightly better than 10% of the US population, in a somewhat larger total geography, with two official languages, only 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, oil, diamonds, twisted hopes for global warming, etc, etc.)
And then Stephen Colbert has cleverly placed himself in an tricky position. As Don Cherry has guessed, he is really a “leftie pinko.” But (as Mr. Cherry was too modest to elaborate himself) on his TV show Colbert is a leftie pinko who pretends to be a right-wing “racially insensitive and nonsensical … xenophobic clown,” just like Don Cherry. And this means he can get away with many insults by implying that is not what he really means. (Though on his best nights what he really does mean seems unclear even to him – which is part of what is good about the act.)
Especially with all this in mind, it is especially wonderful that Mr. Colbert has been paying some attention to such a Canadian thing as the Ontario Hockey League – “one of the three Major Junior A Tier I ice hockey leagues which constitute the Canadian Hockey League … for players aged 15-20.” The OHL, as some may know, now has 20 teams – “17 are based in Ontario, 2 teams in Michigan and 1 team in Pennsylvania.” And of course Stephen Colbert is backing one of the Michigan teams called the Saginaw Spirit. It was the victory of this team over the fabled Oshawa Generals, in a single arbitrary game this past January, that figured in the bet with Mayor Gray, which finally led to Colbert Day in Oshawa on March 20, as above.
As a prelude to Colbert Day, the Chronicle Herald in far-away Nova Scotia (home of what may be the best Canadian domestic TV comedy show of the present generation, Trailer Park Boys), published a short collection of previous Stephen Colbert quotations on Canada, helpfully compiled by someone with not enough to do one afternoon at the Canadian Press:
Quotes about Canada:
“I am Stephen Colbert. I have balls. If you’re lucky, they might just rub off on you.” – Colbert as he welcomed Canadian viewers to the show in November 2005.
“I found out you’re not so bad. After all, you’ve generously allowed half of your gun-related crimes to be committed with American guns. Bravo!” – Colbert on the same show.
“Well, it looks like my balls rubbed all over Canada . . . I fixed Canada in 77 days!” – Colbert on news that the Conservatives had beat the Liberals in last year’s federal election.
Personally I have interpreted all this about Stephen Colbert’s alleged balls in Canada as a positive message for Canadians. A kind of update of a similar message from Bud Grant, former coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League (where at least some players apparently even today make as little as $30,000$50,000 a season) – many moons ago now. As Mr. Grant put it: “Canadians should be more like Texans.” (And I heard all this from Eddie Shack on Canadian TV, all too long ago now too. Except for the part about CFL salaries, which comes from Steve Paikin’s TV Ontario show tonight, or maybe last night.)
Anyway, I approve of this message myself. It’s the kind of advice sympathetic Americans often enough give to Canadians. And in this case I think they’re probably right. Even though if we ever did really acquire Stephen Colbert’s kind of balls, and become more like Texans, at least some Americans, from Texas and other States of the Union, might also think it was too much like the rise of the eccentric Shia in the new democratic Iraq? And make no mistake: Canadians do constitute a solid majority inside Canada itself, as well as on some streets in California, or Florida in season. (Take the City of Ontario, California, e.g., as a clear case in point.)
Meanwhile, back at the new state-of-the-art General Motors Centre in beautiful downtown Oshawa …
Setting aside all earlier adventures in Canada, how did things actually go on Colbert Day in Oshawa, Ontario, at the “March 20 festival – Grin and Bear It’” in the “new state-of-the-art General Motors Centre”? Well, to start with about 3,000 people showed up – which isn’t bad, considering that the 2006 population of the Oshawa Census Metropolitan area was only 330,594. The festivities seem to have got underway sometime after dinner or supper or thereabouts, and there was apparently “lots of free cake and Dr. Pepper, Colbert’s favourite soft drink.”
The big question beforehand had been whether Stephen Colbert himself would show up. It had even been reported that: “The comedian has given various answers to the question of his attendance. At a book signing two weeks ago, a university student asked him point-blank if he was going to be in Oshawa and was told yes.’” But this intelligence proved wrong. Colbert “didn’t attend the festivities,” but sent “a taped message from New York played on the arena’s big screen.” The message began with: “This is a city I have admired ever since I learned of its existence recently.” Then it “ordered the throng to turn Stephen Colbert Day into a wild party.”
Perhaps guessing that Colbert wouldn’t show, the Oshawa organizers of the event had asked Don Cherry to come along too. Many in the traditionally somewhat rugged “working-class” headquarters town of General Motors Canada would in any case no doubt rather see Don Cherry – a former coach of the Boston Bruins (and the Mississauga Ice Dogs of the OHL), who became a famous hard-boiled cracker hockey commentator on TV, and even finished seventh in the voting for the “CBC program The Greatest Canadian” in 2004.
Cherry of course did show up. As explained by Lee-Anne Goodman of the Canadian Press: “In the absence of Colbert, hockey icon Don Cherry provided the night’s biggest star power … Dressed in a brilliant red crushed-velvet jacket, he was treated with reverence … one teenaged girl shouted out in excitement as the larger-than-life Hockey Night in Canada’ commentator made his way towards the stage … Of Colbert, Cherry had this to say: He’s the guy who started all this and then didn’t even have the guts to show up.’ He later referred to Colbert as a leftie pinko,’ adding that if the comedian was a hockey player, he’d wear a visor.”
(To get this last reference, it helps to remember that “Cherry has a strong dislike of the European style’ of hockey, and has often insulted French Canadian hockey players on his show … On the subject of visors, Cherry is particularly outspoken. In January, 2004, he said on-air: Most of the guys that wear them are Europeans and French guys.’ This statement triggered an investigation by the federal Official Languages Commissioner.” But Don Cherry “was somewhat vindicated when a study was published that showed the majority of visor users in the NHL were indeed French Canadians and Europeans.”)
In some ways, some would say, Don Cherry is just a rough northern backwoods version of the right-wing lunatic Stephen Colbert pretends to be on his TV show. E.g.: “After appearing in the Canadian House of Commons on November 7, 2006,” Cherry “formally stated his support for the Prime Minister, whom he called a grinder and a mucker,’ by saying I give a thumbs up to Stephen Harper for sure. He supports the troops and I support the troops.’” Cherry has also “jokingly endorsed Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc Qubcois party, both for the leader’s suit, and for the party’s ultimate goals” (i.e. get predominantly French-speaking Quebec out of Canada, etc.)
Who knows? Maybe once Stephen Colbert started to grasp just who Don Cherry was, through his well-informed local contacts, he decided that two right-wing lunatics on one stage in Canada would be too much, especially when one of them was actually real (and wearing a “brilliant red crushed-velvet jacket”). In any case, along with Don Cherry: “Five finalists in the Stephen Colbert lookalike contest were on hand … all of them certain they had the swagger … to win the prize of a trip to New York City for a taping of The Colbert Report.”
The finalists “ranged in age from Jacob Kanter, 16, of Toronto to John Tate, 58, of Manitoba … Maurice Collard of Saskatoon, Sask, won the contest.” And: “The night’s festivities also included a showdown between the mascots from the Michigan and Oshawa OHL teams.” Then: “Shortly after the festivities ended, Colbert’s show aired with the host taking several more digs at Oshawa … Bold, innovative, vibrant. None of these words have been applied to the city of Oshawa,’ Colbert said.” (He also noted the official Oshawa website motto these days: “Prepare to Be Amazed”; and suggested it might more accurately read: “You’ve missed the turnoff to Burlington.” Top marks here again, for good local research. If you’re driving to Oshawa and the new state-of-the-art General Motors Centre from New York, you’ll most likely pass by the rather more upscale City of Burlington first.)
What should the very last word on all this finally be? The best answer is probably who cares anyway? Meanwhile, on his show tonight (or last night maybe), Colbert was running on about how the Saginaw Spirit have now made it into the OHL playoffs this year. It’s a great honour he noted: only 16 of the 20 teams in the league have qualified. (Which is the kind of elitist wisecrack that my wife, who prefers basketball, always makes about the NHL too.)
In any case probably most Ontario residents who watch The Colbert Report are hoping that the Saginaw Spirit get totally crushed in the playoffs, which will be going on among the 16 remaining teams for a while yet. As it happens, the Spirit have done not too badly in the regular season this year. But four other teams have done better – the London Knights, the Plymouth Whalers, the Kitchener Rangers, and the Barrie Colts. No matter how many boxes of steroids Stephen Colbert tries to send to the Saginaw Spirit, they aren’t going to be having an easy time. It’s tough up here in Canada, because as Colbert has already noted, we do have a lot of American guns. And Don Cherry has a fierce lapdog, who has already been on local TV himself.