Tania asked for my thoughts on this little controversy. My immediate response was a joke. You can find it in the comments section of her post. I thought it was a funny and fitting way to answer her, but I’ve decided to elaborate. As the co-host of one of Canada’s funniest book club podcasts, how could I not?
My first reaction, like many who have weighed in on this, was to point out all of the evidence that Canadians are funny. I don’t think that this can be disputed, and Mr. Wiebe was making no such assertion to the contrary. I do think that there is a philosophical stance behind his comments, though, and that is what I wish to dispute (as others have done before me).
The idea that laughter is an “elusion” is ridiculous. It is the boldest way to face the “wilderness of this world”. Did he (whoever he is) “frown in the face of death”? Did he glower? Nope. He “laughed in the face of death”. If I ever encounter a bear in the wilderness, I hope that I will have the balls to laugh at it. I laughed at my grandfather’s memorial service. The whole thing just struck me as so unsuitable to him. He disliked crowds. He disliked organized religion. He disliked artifice. He would have laughed at it all too. My laughter was a riding companion of my great sorrow, because I missed him and his sense of humour, and so we shared a laugh in spite of it all.
Others have pointed out the great authors who have used humour to confront dark topics: Dickens, Melville, Eliot, etc. I would like to point out the Canadian authors who have done so: Patrick Dewitt’s The Sisters Brothers is a very dark novel but it also made me laugh out loud several times. Any of the novels by Lynn Coady and Miriam Toews. Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water. Richler’s Barney’s Version. And, most recently, Sean Dixon’s The Girls Who Saw Everything. None of these books were marketed as “humorous” novels, but they made me laugh more than any of the Leacock Award winners that I’ve read.
When we first started this little podcast thingy, I was anticipating criticism that we weren’t serious enough, and that we laughed too much, or were too “jokey”. To my knowledge we have received no such criticisms. I firmly believe that humour and intelligence are inextricable. Most of the funniest people I’ve known have been the smartest people I’ve known. Just take a look at my fantasy guest host list and you’ll see a trend toward the funny. I get all of my news from Jon Stewart, Rick Mercer, and The Onion. People tsk tsk at this, but I tell them that when I watch, or read, the “actual” news, I just end up laughing anyway. I think it’s the sanest, and bravest, reaction to everything that’s happening out there in “the wilderness of this world”.