Canadian comedians have been recognized internationally since the 1910s[a] and were embraced as the country sought a national identity distinct from that of Great Britain and the United States. Canadians closely identify with their sense of humour, and working-class Canadians popularly consider comedians, along with singers and musical acts, as the country's cultural best. Canadians are known to value modesty, politeness and social responsibility, and comedians who develop their craft before such audiences become acutely aware of the fine lines of comedy.
Many Canadian comedians have been influenced by American and British culture and humour. They blend the comic traditions of these cultures with Canadian humour while maintaining an outsider perspective, the latter providing a separation or ironic distance which has allowed for keen observational humour, impressions and parody.:201–204 Comedy critics have described this as absorbing and adapting a dominant culture.
Dark and fatalistic humour is also used extensively by Canadian comedians. This is generally attributed to the common reference point of the Canadian climate, the dangers of which are well known to comedians who tour the vast and often sparsely populated country.:252–254 It may be impossible to change one's fate in the face of overwhelming forces, but the comedian allows the audience to use laughter as a coping mechanism.:252–254
Domestic audiences traditionally value the collective good over individual freedom of expression, and as a consequence also value politeness and modesty. To overcome the taboo against social criticism, some Canadian comedians will link comedic discontent to group survival. Others will use a character or persona as a comedic mask, a tool which has allowed satire to gain mainstream popularity.:25 Comedic characters with broad appeal are typically low-status, non-threatening, and likeable despite their misbehaviour.
While social pressures cause Canadians to repress their fears and anxieties, comedians expose such through comedic art. Individual audience members externalize their reaction as laughter, publicly displaying their value system. When an audience laughs together it creates consensus at sharing a common worldview. Canadian comedians thus learn to be surrogates, using individual expression to reaffirm the collective while voicing and soothing the audience's troubles.:258
Due to limited opportunities in Canada's entertainment industry, most comedians struggle to earn a living. Those who persevere have tended to place importance on artistic freedom, and are more likely to maintain creative control of their work.:223 Some Canadian comedians move to the larger and more lucrative market of the United States, where they are perceived as "seasoned newcomers", having spent years developing their craft outside the notice of Hollywood.
Since 2000, Canadian comedians have been recognized by the Canadian Comedy Awards (CCA), which has bestowed over 350 awards for comedy in live performances, film, television, radio, and Internet media. Television comedy has also been recognized by the Canadian Screen Awards.
Film and broadcast performers are represented by the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), theatre performers by the Canadian Actors' Equity Association (CAEA), comedy writers by the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC), and stand-up comedians by the Canadian Association of Stand-up Comedians (CASC).
...working-class individuals [...] idea of Canada's cultural best is more likely to include the Canadian comedians who have frequented American television shows such as Saturday Night Live (Dan Akroyd, Mike Myers) or rock groups such as Rush [...] or more recently internationally famous performers such as Shania Twain or Celine Dion.
As with print before it, the advent of radio and television brought closer contact between Canada's disparate regions. With this contact – through a sort of broadcast-based nation building – came the 'need' to find unifying cultural icons. As we explored the ties that bound us, we found the one image we could all identify with: The Hoser.
Those Canadian habits of modesty, with its assumed mockery of pretension, are one of the reasons for the primacy of Canadian comedians in American humour.
Canada has turned out some of the funniest people on the planet.