Why are Canadians so funny? How is it that we have a knack to make people laugh? Seriously, everyday Canadians, not headlining at Yuk Yuks or Just for Laughs stages, can put a comment out there that will have you in tears, bent over laughing and saying ‘no, please no more, I can’t take it, it hurts too much’.
I found an internet quote spoken by an un-named Canadian comic actor, which said, “American humour is the art of overstatement, English humour is the art of understatement, and Canadian humour is the art of observation.” I feel the quote is spot on with all works by Terry Pratchett. He was a British author (recently passed) who wrote subtle comedy into all his novels. I remember having to stop reading his books on the subway because it was difficult to control my laughter and I often had tears running down my face. All because of an eyebrow raised at the right moment or a long stare, something slight, understated. In my opinion, the quote is also accurate with Terry Fallis. He is one of these funny Canadians who uses his observation of the world to bring us to tears. His humour is reflected in what he observes and experiences. The comedic moments often are a dig at the protagonist in his novels, being self-deprecating. Here’s an of his humour:
My foot made a soft landing on the sidewalk and shot forward all on its own, leaving a brown, vicious streak in its wake. Congenitally clumsy, I was well into the splits before I managed to drag my trailing leg forward and slip the surly bonds of earth. Airborne, I surveyed the terrain below and, with all the athletic prowess of a quadriplegic walrus, returned safely to earth, touching down on the aforementioned crap cushion [pile of excrement the size of a small ottoman]. Just after I landed, I counted roughly 20 witnesses, who stared slack-jawed before many of them split their sides… (all part of a long passage that had me in stitches)
I’ve read The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis twice and found it sooo funny, and proceeded to read the sequel, The High Road, and several of his other works. He writes with entertainment in mind. He wants the reader to be interested in his plot, to like/love his characters, enjoy the emotional roller-coaster you are on and have a great laugh. That was my experience in all his books. I also appreciate his spin on words, twisting the meaning to suit the situation. Here is a great example of this. At this point in the story, the protagonist observes his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend having relations with the opposition.
Rachel (…) was on her knees in front of the Opposition House Leader. Let’s just say she was rather enthusiastically lobbying his caucus (…) Rachel jumped into her advance work with both hands before moving to what seemed to be his favourite part of the proceedings – Oral Questions. Eventually, he pulled her up off the floor and onto the desk where he begged leave to introduce his private Member’s bill. Clearly there was unanimous consent as the cut and thrust of debate started immediately (…) By the look on her face, second reading was proceeding satisfactorily with just a few indecipherable heckles thrown in for good measure. The House Leader occasionally shouted “hear, hear” and slapped her backbench in support (…) she amended her position on his bill, and the debate continued. They were hurtling towards royal assent when I regained my faculties…
I’ve heard many people say that the English language is difficult to learn because words have so, so, so many meanings. They are most likely correct. But that is the precise reason I enjoy the language. I love reading a book that introduces words in a new light. Pregnant pause and marrying ideas are two examples. And so is superb piece of furniture in describing a person’s physique (from the English classic, Fanny Hill by John Cleland).
The Best Laid Plans is a Canadian political satire and takes place in Ottawa, Canada, home of the Federal government and Parliamentary buildings, and in the Cumberland-Prescott area. Daniel Addison is the main character, narrating approximately two months of his life. He is a ‘burnt out political aide’ working in Parliament supporting Prime Ministers, Members of Parliament and the like, within the Liberal Party. He attempts to ex-communicating himself from his girlfriend and his position in Parliament and return to university life as an English professor but is made to perform one last task. To move on to greener, saner pastures, he has to locate a Liberal candidate to run in the Cumberland-Prescott riding against the long-standing Conservative candidate, Eric Cameron. Easy peasy.
Daniel finds it difficult to locate a candidate as everyone knows winning is an impossibility for the Liberals in this riding…until he meets Angus McLintock, a Scottish engineering professor. The two make a deal, write the details on a napkin, and sign it for good measure. Angus, who does not want to win the election and is assured he won’t, will run against Cameron as long as Daniel will teach his English to first-year Engineer students. Angus adds one stipulation to the candidacy – he wants no posters, placards or signs anywhere and will not conduct any interviews or debates in support of the campaign. Both believe this to be a win-win deal. Although the scales lean more towards Angus as Daniel is the one to do all the legwork for the campaign.
With the campaign limitations, Daniel must be creative. This is where we meet some interesting characters and come up with some grand ideas. Daniel recruits Muriel, a strong liberal supporter who has several times thrown her hat into the ring against Cameron only to lose – she has agreed to field campaign calls with the one borrowed cell phone, and punk engineering students Pete 1 and Pete 2 agree to canvas door-to-door and approach the voters face on. My heart goes out to these two. They willingly volunteered to work on the campaign, performing their duties admirably but continually experience problems when canvassing because of their punk form of dress. Yes, you guess correctly. They show up at people’s doors with spiked coloured hair, facial piercings, leather jackets, doc martin boots, etc. At one point, Pete 2 replaces his lip piercing with the Vote Liberal button. It was hilarious to read about these interactions, how people feared them, yelled at them, and sent dogs out after them. Halfway through the book, Pete 2 surprises us all and transforms himself into a Greg Brady-type of look. When Daniel asks him why, Pete 2 says, “I really need the job. Plus, I’m scared of Muriel”. “So am I,” replies Daniel. Taken out of context, this may not seem funny, but you’ll have to read it to agree that it’s a typical example of the author’s humour. We also meet Lindsay, Muriel’s granddaughter, who helps Daniel’s heart heal, and Andre Fontaine, a journalist for a local paper. Campaign headquarter is run out of Daniel’s ready-for-the-scrap-heap Ford Taurus station wagon, nick-named Headquarter-on-wheels. Daniel drives his staff around to where they are needed, communicates with the press on Angus’ behalf, and continually spins the truth to explain why Angus is absent and why there is no signage of the campaign anywhere – of course, it’s to reduce the carbon footprint and help the environment. Duh. Daniel is stressed. He has a lot to do, little time to do it, with few resources, and for a cause that he is sure to lose which he is OK with; it’s a juggling act he finds hard to stay on top of.
The first half of the book is spent on the campaign and on the nearing election. When against all expectations, Angus wins the seat for his riding, the book changes gears. From this point on the book focuses on the political agenda. As politics are not an interest of mine, I worried it would get too political at this point; however, I was thrilled to be proven wrong. Daniel introduces Angus to Parliament and Parliament to Angus. Pre-election Angus was generally absent, in post-election we find Angus running wild, being called a maverick. Daniel finds it difficult to reign Angus in and then wonders if he should bother. It turns out that Angus knows what he’s doing. In the end, Angus seems to be the breath of fresh air the House of Commons has been in need of for a long time.
The Best Laid Plans is a book I recommend to everyone. It has everything any person would want in a book and not too much on the stuff you don’t want. It contains some drama, some politics, some romance, some suspense. But it also has a lot of humour, a lot of nonsense, and many likeable characters. Daniel is smart, caring, and strong, but you also get the impression that he can break at any moment. Somehow with all the difficult, intense interactions he has with Angus, all the pressure Angus and members of parliament place on him, he manages to stay strong and survive it. I would have been in a love-me jacket by this point. Angus is another amazing character. His relationship with his deceased wife and the longing he has for her is endearing. He’s a big bear — makes lots of noise, slightly scary, but is all heart. Terry Fallis has created characters with heart, humour and colour.
If I have a complaint, it’s about the humour. Wait for it! Let me explain. Was the book funny? Absolutely! Did every character make me laugh? Yes. And this is where I was at odds. I found that the humour was the same no matter who spoke. I realize that Canadians are funny and that we are similar, eh? But we’re not all funny and we’re not all funny in the same way. I expect it to be very rare for a group of people, who do not know each other, to meet, bond immediately, and all share the same type of humour. Maybe I’m making too much of it. Nevertheless, it’s something I felt when reading this book and its sequel, The High Road. Despite this observance, it does NOT take away from the value of the book. It’s still up there as a must-read book.
Okay, maybe one more – I would have liked more dialogue from the two Petes. I really enjoyed their appearances, their awkwardness, and their attempts to hold onto their individuality while trying to belong.
Before I go, I must recommend (if not all) at least one other book, Poles Apart by Terry Fallis. It’s a great book where the main character writes feminist articles (via blogs) under a pseudonym, managing to get himself into hot water with the owner/manager of a string of strip clubs.