THE ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FARCE

Canadian Satirical Review

On 9 December 1973 the first radio show by The Royal Canadian Air Farce comedy troupe was broadcast coast-to-coast on CBC Radio and CBC Stereo. Now in its 24th year of political commentary, social satire and general nonsense, the Air Farce, a Canadian institution, moved into television in the fall of 1993 with a weekly series on CBC Television. Like the radio show, Air Farce is topical, on the edge of controversy, and performed in front of a live audience. The group consists of Roger Abbot, Don Ferguson, Luba Goy and John Morgan. Dave Broadfoot, who was a member for fifteen years before going out on his own, makes frequent guest appearances. Two non-performing writers, Rick Olsen and Gord Holtam, have been with the troupe for 20 years.

In 1992, the group became the first Canadian inductees into the International Humour Hall of Fame. The editors of Maclean's (Canada's national news magazine) chose the Air Farce for the 1991 Honour Roll of Canadians who make a difference. The group has won fifteen ACTRA Awards (Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists) for radio and television writing and performing and a Juno Award (Canadian recording awards) for Best Comedy Album. In 1993, the four current members of the Farce were each awarded Honorary Doctor of Law degrees by Brock University in St. Catharines.

The Air Farce keeps in touch with Canadians and ensures that their humour remains relevant by performing and recording in all ten provinces and two territories. "We're reluctant to give up radio," Ferguson told Toronto Star journalist Phil Johnson. "Radio allows us to showcase new acts and characters." They generally play in halls which hold 2,000 or 2,500, even when taping for radio. This creates the need for more visual interest. "I did [former Prime Minister] Brian Mulroney for 20 years--the worst years of my life I might add," Ferguson has told Globe and Mail columnist Liam Lacey. "On-stage, I'd have a long walk over to the microphone, so I'd start from the side of the stage with just the chin first, and then the stuckout bum would follow. The audiences would be roaring before I reached the microphone. Then we'd edit all that out, and cut to the voice."

 

When the Farce first tried a television show in 1981, it was shot in advance and produced with canned laughter. The lack of live performance and topicality destroyed the spontaneity that is at the heart of the Farce and the show failed. Then in 1993, a New Year's Eve special was made, raking in two million viewers, almost 10% of the entire Canadian population. Network honcho Ivan Fecan approved a series. It became one of the top 20 Canadian shows, and one of the CBC's top five.

Skewered politicians and media figures regularly show up in person to do sketches on the show. John Morgan, a Welsh journalist, pub-owner and teacher who came to Canada in 1957, has a theory about Canadian political comedy: "You know what they say: we use satire against our leaders; Americans shoot theirs," he says. Rather than leaning towards a particular point of view, the Farce points fingers at all parties. Individuals don't even know how the other members of the group vote and wouldn't dream of discussing it. As Liam Lacey wrote in noting indirect governmental support of the Farce in the form of the CBC: "One would be hard-pressed to imagine another country in the world where purveyors of official disrespect would be regarded with such widespread affection." Dave Broadfoot used to say, "Do you know what they'd call us in the Soviet Union? Inmates."

-Janice Kaye

REGULAR PERFORMERS

Roger Abbot
Don Ferguson
Luba Goy
John Morgan
Dave Broadfoot

FURTHER READING

Turbide, Diane. "The Air Farce is Flying High." Macleans (Toronto), 26 February 1996.

 

See also Canadian Programming in English