for Cod Company, is a pun on this theatre troupe's origins. Founded
as a theatrical revue in the early 1970s in the maritime island-province
of Newfoundland, CODCO draws on the province's cultural history
of self-deprecating "Newfie" humour, frequently focusing on the
cod fishing industry. From these roots, CODCO subsequently
developed a half-hour, television comedy program of the same name,
for national broadcast, produced in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's
regional studio in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and on location in St.
six seasons of production history on the CBC CODCO underwent
two marked changes without losing its satirical edge or drive to
endure in another form. Original CODCO member Andy Jones
left the cast in 1991 to pursue solo theatrical projects. Then,
in 1993, just months before Tommy Sexton's death from AIDS-related
causes, and Greg Malone's departure, CODCO went off the air.
The death of the boyish, talented Sexton was a subject of national
news and reflection on the role of humour in the television and
cultural life of Canada. The remaining core members of CODCO,
Mary Walsh and Cathy Jones, teamed up with two new members, maritime
writers-actors Rick Mercer and Greg Thomey, and returned in the
1993-94 season in a half-hour newsmagazine satire, This Hour
Has 22 Minutes. This foursome also deftly integrated their wacky
22 Minutes characters to host the Juno Awards (1995), a television
special celebrating Canadian popular music.
pointed satire takes aim at regional differences, national assumptions,
politics, sexism, gender roles, gay codes and television genres.
The general format of CODCO's satire is sketch comedy, with
sets, costumes and make-up that replicate the sources under attack.
The CODCO members' theatrical roots trained them to shape
detailed caricatures, with nuances that dismantle not only the conventions
of the source personas and genres but also the ideologies of a medium
colonized by commercialism. Spun from the collective writing and
acting skills of the members, and ably directed by the experienced
John Blanchard and David Acomba, the CODCO members' sketches
show the tightness of well rehearsed scene studies, rather than
the loose burlesque of Saturday Night Live.
four members cross-dress, and their ability to traverse sex roles
plays to CODCO's evident interest in social transgression
and critique. Cathy Jones and Mary Walsh portray a variety of males,
from macho through wimpy, along with their femme fatales,
"loud feminists" and pesky middle-aged, bingo-bent matrons. The
sketches featuring the homely, dateless "Friday Night Girls" satirize
the isolation of women in Newfoundland's island life. Walsh's Dakey
Dunn, "Male Correspondent," replete with gold chain, hairy chest,
cigarette and beer, might explain the dilemma of the "Friday Night
Girls;" in one monologue, Dakey admits to not completing high school
and, in crude English, lays out a machismo view of economic and
cultural matters as if himself in command of Newfiedom. Greg Malone's
Queen Elizabeth and his and Tommy Sexton's gay queens share an excessive
style and gay-rights politics that only satire can contain on broadcast
television. In 1992, Sexton an Malone collaborated with musical
theater satirist, John Gray, on a CBC special called The National
Doubt, which features two mediaeval characters (played by Sexton
and Malone) crossing Canada to take the nationalist pulse amid the
regional climate that had developed since the Expo' 67 celebrations
25 years earlier in Montreal.
Fecan, once the CBC's "wunderkind" and former Director of Television
Programming, nurtured CODCO into a place on the network,
first in a late-night slot and later in prime time. Placed back
to back with The Kids in the Hall to comprise an hour of
"adult" programming (after 9:00 P.M.), CODCO's satiric authority
was enhanced by this yoking with the Kids' misbehavior and,
in context, with the juxtaposition to the CBC's flagship national
newscast, The National (later renamed Primetime News).
transformation into This Hour Has 22 Minutes in the CBC's
1993-94 season brought Mary Walsh into her own as head writer, and
actor, working in collaboration with Cathy Jones, Greg Thomey, Rick
Mercer and other writers. The newsmagazine format suits the topical
satire of 22 Minutes, whose title recalls This Hour Has
7 Days, a landmark CBC public affairs television program of
the 1960s. Dinah Christie sang satirical songs on political and
social issues of the day, providing an ironic and entertaining context
for the interviews by 7 Days' hosts-journalists (including
the young Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque). By its very title,
This Hour Has 22 Minutes alludes to the shrinkage of content
and the prestige of the network since the era of 7 Days.
22 Minutes' parody of up-to-the minute news of Canadian,
American and international scope obeys the conventions of the contemporary
newscast or newsmagazine, but its inventive satire comes from the
members' understanding of the unspoken concerns underlying the news,
the CBC, the television medium and the Canadian culture.
well as playing ever-smiling anchor-journalists, the cast of four
portrays a range of continuing and new characters, including obsessive
columnists, editorialists of the right and the left, and bizarre
interview subjects. Mary Walsh's Marg Delahunty, a self-styled "Commentator"
with a tacky sense of dress, rails against the codes and inequities
of patriarchal culture. Cathy Jones' Babe Bennet, "Sexual Affairs
Correspondent," looks and speaks like a hybrid of the late gossip
columnist Hedda Hopper and a classic Hollywood screen star of the
1940s. Wearing a persistent smile, suit, hat and white gloves, the
"femme" Babe glides through her mansion and verbally skewers men
in power (institutional figures such as judges familiar from news
items) for bizarre behavior against women. Rick Mercer and Greg
Thomey's "The Right Answer" features a fast-talking pair of right-wing
"media pundits," Stewart Steed and Steve Steel, who bang a desk
bell to punctuate their spitting exchange of prejudices on social
and political issues. The pair mimics the rhetoric of shock-talk
radio and television figures, with Mercer's character's trade-mark
suspenders specifically suggesting the dress code of the verbose
Larry King. As television commentators with licence to pontificate
on any subject, Steed and Steel embody media style run amuck.
and its cultivation of media personas are under chronic scrutiny
in the manic monologues of 22 Minutes, often delivered distortingly
close to the camera lens. The pace and bite of the satire are reminiscent
of the wild flights of British television's Monty Python's Flying
Circus and, later, Spitting Images. The frequently employed "in
your face" camera technique literalizes the aggression of tabloid
TV, and so confronts the unquestioning television viewer, in the
very act of critiquing the broadcast uses of the television medium.
CODCO, This Hour Has 22 Minutes is risk-taking television
comedy in that it tests its own satiric boundaries and is not guided
by social decorum or by television's laugh meter. Nor does it play
up or down to its television or studio audiences--or to other, live
audiences. (22 Minutes is taped before a studio audience.)
Hluchy, Patricia. "Cold War Of The Sexes." Maclean's (Toronto,
Canada), 2 March 1987.
Helen. "From Salt Cod To Cod Filets." Canadian Theatre Review
(Guelph, Ontario, Canada), Fall 1990.
_____________. The Plays Of CODCO. New York: Peter Lang,
also Canadian Programming