I met the multi-talented TIM PROGOSH (pictured below) way back in the 80’s during my tenure as Business Manager of Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret and agent for the associated Funny Business comedy agency. Back then, Tim was one of the hardest working stand-up and sketch comedians and then as a TV actor (everyone remember The Adventures of Sinbad?) and director. He has since gone on to work in an advisory capacity with various government and film/tv industry organizations and is currently the President of The Canadian Comedy Foundation for Excellence and the Canadian Comedy Experience. And for the past 15 years, Tim has been the driving force behind the annual Canadian Comedy Awards. I caught up with Tim recently at Lettieri’s Coffee Shop in Yorkville, just around the corner from where it all began for us at Yuk Yuks over 30yrs ago.
Looking back over the past 15 years, how do you see the CCAs have impacted the comedy industry as a whole?
The impact has been in two major ways: the first is a sense of community. Before these awards, I toured and did stand-up, sketch and improv. There was a real rift between stand-up comedians and those performing the other forms of comedy – they did not like each other. They did not appreciate how funny they all were. The CCAs was the first chance to bring everyone together for one party. And our Variety Galas were like Vaudeville – we put different genres in the same show. The voting process gave everyone an equal say and because we were the first major awards show with online voting, everyone got a chance to see everyone.
The impact was more cross-over acts, more camaraderie, more sharing and of course the best party of the year – every year!
The second impact was bringing together film,TV people and live performers. Writers, directors and producers were mingling and getting to know stand-ups, improvisers and sketch performers. Soon people like Ron James, Brent Butt and Shaun Majumder were seen by agents, TV and film people in new ways. If you look at our winners and who our stars were – you will see a pattern.
What first inspired you to launch these awards?
Our mandate has never changed: “To recognize, celebrate and promote Canadian achievements in comedy at home and abroad”
Funny story…..I was at the Laugh Resort to see Gilbert Gottfried. Mike Wilmot (pictured below) opened. At the end of the show as people left I asked a few people what they thought of the show. They all said Gilbert was funny but that “first guy” was hysterical. I toured for over 20 years in sketch , improv and stand-up, seeing some very funny people and I knew they were better than what the “stars’ of the day were. Now combine that knowledge with a love for comedy inspired by my family who were comedy junkies – there was no way my Dad would ever let us miss Wayne and Shuster on TV. Finally, I had just completed 10 years as a full time working actor/comic/writer and producer, 2 years starring on a TV series filmed in Capetown, and came back to Canada where there was a new TV network: The Comedy Network. I felt it should be breeze selling the network and sponsors on the idea of a “Canadian Comedy Awards” and a “Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame”.
Who were your first award winners/categories?
The first year a group of advisors got together (Mark Breslin, Andrew Alexander, myself, Sydd Capp and representatives from ACTRA/Equity/DGC and WGC) and we wanted to include Film and TV because lets face it, no one in comedy wins the Oscars or, at that time, Canadian film and TV awards: Genies or Geminis. So we decided to have Live, Film and TV as our main categories and give out awards in each category and here were the winners:
LIVE / STAND-UP
LIVE / BEST STAND-UP NEWCOMER
LIVE / BEST SKETCH TROUPE OR COMPANY
LIVE / BEST MALE IMPROVISOR
LIVE / BEST FEMALE IMPROVISOR
LIVE / BEST COMEDIC PLAY, REVUE OR SERIES
The Drowsy Chaperone
LIVE / DIRECTION OF A COMEDIC PLAY
Steve Morel (The Drowsy Chaperone)
LIVE / LIVE PERFORMANCE MALE
Mump and Smoot, Inferno
LIVE / LIVE PERFORMANCE FEMALE
Lisa Lambert, The Drowsy Chaperone
LIVE / DIRECTION, NEW PLAY
Steve Morel, The Drowsy Chaperone
LIVE / DIRECTION, REVUE
Paul O’Sullivan, Piñata Full of Bees
TELEVISION / DIRECTION, SPECIAL OR EPISODE
Henry Sarwer-Foner (This Hour Has 22 Minutes, “New Year’s Eve Special”)
TELEVISION / DIRECTION, SERIES
Michael Kennedy (Made in Canada)
TELEVISION / WRITING, SPECIAL OR EPISODE
Tim Steeves, Rick Mercer, Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh, Edward Kay, and Greg Thomey (This Hour Has 22 Minutes)
TELEVISION / BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MALE – TELEVISION
Rick Mercer (Made in Canada)
TELEVISION / WRITING, SERIES
Tim Steeves, Rick Mercer, Cathy Jones, Edward Kay, Mary Walsh and Greg Thomey (This Hour Has 22 Minutes)
TELEVISION / BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE – TELEVISION
Mary Walsh (This Hour Has 22 Minutes)
FILM / BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Mike Myers, Austin Powers:International Man of Mystery
FILM / BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MALE – FILM
Mike Myers (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me)
FILM / BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE – FILM
Sarah Polley (Go)
FILM / BEST WRITING – FILM
Mike Myers (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me)
FILM / BEST DIRECTION – FILM
Don McKellar (Last Night)
JURIED CATEGORIES / PAL AWARD
Pictured below: Bruce Hunter & Rosie Shuster, Deb DiGiovanni and Jeremy Hotz
Over the years, can you share any wild’n’crazy stories about award nights?
• Having a Board meeting in London and realizing that there was a couple under the table from the night before. Still not sure exactly what they were up to, but…..
• Seeing 50 people cram into a hotel room, including members of the legendary Air Farce tv show and The Sketchersons and TV directors, at 4 am all still partying because The Sketchersons had got their hotel room sponsored! It was a veritable comedy who’s who from Jayne Eastwood and Don Ferguson to Deb McGrath to Derek Edwards to Pat Thornton and Deb Digiovanni!
• Nick Bayley of the Bayley Group convinced the DJ at a club in Regina to come back to the hotel room hospitality suite at the Ramada so we could keep the party going and dance until 7am!
• Last year in Ottawa at the Arts Court Theatre, Tom Green ended up rapping at a late night soiree.
• My favourite was walking into the Guvernment nightclub after the Awards Ceremony in year 2 and having The Sadies play as the crowd filed in.
Pictured below: Roger, Mary & Don from Air Farce/This Hour, Will Sasso hosting awards, and Shaun Majumda with Tim
The 80’s were considered the “golden age” of Canadian comedy, especially with the emergence of stand-ups like Mike McDonald, Howie Mandel, Jim Carrey and break-out sketch comics Martin Short, Mike Meyers and Tim Sims – thirty years later, what is your take on the state of the art in Canadian comedy?
I think every decade has had its own string of artists. Frank Van Keeken was story editor for Mad About You during its run while Brian Hart and Gary Campbell piloted Mad TV with Will Sasso and Ron Pederson during its hay day. Then The Kids In The Hall dominated for a decade or more as Dave Foley went on to the News Radio show with Phil Hartman, then Scott Thompson on the Larry Sanders Show. Then there was Seth Rogen who came out of Vancouver’s Urban Well stand-up scene and Will Arnett and Michael Cera from Arrested Development. But here’s the kicker – once the Comedy Awards started we had Made in Canada, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Rick Mercer, Corner Gas, Mr. Dee ….all of which got to STAY IN CANADA.
And Ron James, Deb DiGiovanni, Nikki Payne and even Derek Edwards do a great job touring in stand-up…Sugar Sammy sold over 200,000 tickets last year! Mike Wilmot got roles in The Foundation and It’s All Gone Pete Tong – and the movie Bad Cop Bon Cop is hilarious.
We continue to turn out great comedy that needs to be recognized!
Pictured below: Nikki Payne, Tom Green and sketch troupe Picnic Face
This year, who are the ones to watch and why?
For Sketch, Peter n’ Chris, last year’s winners, a two person sketch troop
Sugar Sammy (pictured below) – he performs in three languages and sells tickets.
Jared Keeso & Jordan Beirnes, Hockey Players, Letterkenny Problems – these guys are burning up the internet
Hannah Spear & Versus Valerie – very talented
Hold Mommy’s Cigarette – one person show by Shelly Marshall (also pictured below)
And of course all the gang at 22 minutes and Mr.Dee
How crucial is audience/fan support and how has this grown over the years?
We get a lot of fan and audience support and it’s growing every year. Best was last year in Ottawa and the years outside of Toronto because we did not have the money to compete with bigger events in TO. Now my kids talk to people who use the term CCA winner to describe a person they see on a video or on YouTube and not a day goes by without a Google alert mentioning a CCA winner. So media and the public are both supportive and it is growing, in fact, we have 15,000 registered voters.
How have corporate sponsor dollars enabled the CCAs to grow and expand? (so many people don’t understand that these are the $s that allow you to run the shows)
Well it’s all about the public funding so far. The Governments of Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and now Ontario have helped us stabilize our organization and local sponsorships have been fantastic. We used to have The Comedy Network but they decided to pursue other directions once it became part of BellMedia. We currently have great corporate sponsors and a growing product. I believe the next 3 years leading to Canada’s 150th celebrations will be our best.
Has the media supported and promoted the CCAs and how difficult is it to get bums in seats at the actual awards show?
We‘ve sold out 12 of the 15 actual awards shows, so it’s not a problem even when we’re outside of a major city the size of Toronto. Yes, the media covers our nominees and launch events as well as the winners every year; over the last three years CBC has done a full report on the next morning’s news show. And all media writers when describing an act or a show refer to their Canadian Comedy Award or nomination.
Who are your judges and how are these people selected for jury duty?
Well, after the submissions are vetted for accuracy – a painful and time consuming process – they go to jury. We’ve had close to 180 jurors over the past 5 years who meet independently to cast their votes in the categories they judge. Their rankings determine 35% of final vote. They can not be submitters in the category and are chosen with the following criteria:
• Professional status – they have previously won or been nominated
• Years in the business – ACTRA, Equity , DGC, CMPA or WGC
• Regions – each committee must represent Canada, not just Toronto
• Discipline – live TV and Film
• Gender – our juries are not just a bunch of guys, lots of funny ladies are included
• Minimum of 5 members to a jury.
Any successful project always has its naysayers – have you experienced any backlash within the comedy community as to the nominating and judging process?
Every year there are those who criticize. Some do it directly by voicing concerns at our annual live stream town hall meeting or by writing in with a concern. We have answered these criticisms by trying to improve the systems when/where we can. We also have committees every year who try to keep our criteria relevant to the industry. The Newcomer category has evolved into the Breakout category because it is tough to police “first time on stage” as a newcomer. That was a result of constructive criticisms. The jury and voting systems have also evolved from this constructive criticism.
The negative side is a small group of individuals who don’t respect the systems we have worked so hard to create, so they attack the people who may chair a committee or sit on a jury. Sadly, they do so out of ignorance and rarely want to establish fact. So they use social media to make a statement based on lack of knowledge (ignorance) or because they “heard” something or simply repeat what somebody else has posted. That piece of unverifiable fact becomes circulated on social media.
I offer to take time to meet these individuals to show them the amount of work and time and the care that is taken – but only twice in 15 years has any of these people wanted to meet face to face. It must be tough for an actor, writer or comic who has no other experience to comprehend what has to happen to make this event happen every year, let alone for 15 years. There are few areas of the business where I have not had such great teachers, mentors and experience. I’ve made mistakes but as long as I’m here we will always listen to those who care.
That is why I respect those who serve as jurors and on committees and will stand by their side. We have answered every question or brought the questions into discussions at Committee and even Board level which is brought to us directly. I have learned that it is almost impossible to discuss anything with those who merely want to sit in a room and gossip or tweet out knee-jerk factless rants. Either they are too narrow minded to embrace complex issues, or they prefer to be bitter and angry. The ones who care and are trying to make a rational point, and who also listen make great Committee members and make a constructive impact to better the awards.
We are not perfect but after chairing, jurying or being a part of The Banff Rockies, the Genies, the Geminis, the CCMA’s and the Junos, I feel the CCA’s have a terrific system as good if not better than any other national Awards.
Any advice to new comics starting out in their careers?
Nothing beats stage time – nothing.
And in closing, any other comments?
All awards and contests where juries are in play are not perfect. We’ve tried to create an event to fulfill the mandate and have a lot of fun. As a result, more people have a chance to earn a living in comedy in Canada and more people get their “green cards” to work abroad.
THIS YEAR’S CANADIAN COMEDY AWARDS LOCATION, DATE, TIME, ETC.
The 15th Canadian Comedy Awards And Festival take place Sept 10 to 14th in Ottawa, Ontario
Venues: Ottawa Little Theatre, Yuk Yuks and Absolute Comedy
Awards: Sunday September 14th at Ottawa Little Theatre 7:30 pm
Galas: Friday Sept. 12 & Saturday Sept. 13 at Ottawa Little Theatre