Mary Walsh talks to Sarah Smellie about Rob Ford, the state of Canadian political satire, and her new show “Dancing with Rage” at the LSPU Hall.
“It’s very hard to be a political satirist in Canada lately,” says Mary Walsh. “Everything is just so upside-down, everybody is just lying all the time. I hate to quote Joseph Goebbels, but I believe he said that if you’re going to lie, you have to lie big. And the bigger the lie, the easier it will be to believe.”
Mary Walsh is, of course, a founding cast member of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which premiered during the 1993 federal election. In its early days, 22 Minutes was wildly popular, and celebrated for being ballsy and sharp. Walsh led the pack, ambushing, and sometimes humiliating, politicians as Marg Delahunty: Princess Warrior.
This past October Delahunty returned to ambush Toronto’s right-wing mayor, Rob Ford. He panicked, phoned 911, and swore at the dispatcher.
“He frightened me, actually,” says Walsh. “For the first time in my entire life of ambushing people, I was so frightened by his reactions that I just forgot all my lines. In hindsight, I don’t think that 22 Minutes would have ever aired it because I didn’t get any clever lines out. It was only because he made such a hoo-rah-rah about it that it even saw the light of day.”
When the 911 call prompted a media storm, Ford claimed that Walsh had stormed his home in the dark, and frightened his daughter. He also said that he had been receiving death threats and was thus already on edge.
“There was no daughter, and it wasn’t dark, it was 8:30 in the morning,” says Walsh, “And [in 2008, when he was a city councillor] he had actually been charged with [uttering] death threats against his wife. He’s the person who is actually uttering death threats. He got Mr. Goebbel’s message, but he didn’t lie big enough—he should have said that I stabbed him.”
Those charges against Ford were eventually dropped by his wife. And he had been the recipient of death threats just before Walsh’s ambush.
The stunt was met with both criticism and praise, and the video made the usual viral rounds on Facebook. It was the most talked-about bit to come out of 22 Minutes in a while, a show that is now regularly out-viewed by the Rick Mercer Report.
Short of a few quick bits by George Stroumboulopoulos on his talk show, 22 Minutes and the Rick Mercer Report are the only political satire programs on Canadian television. With budget cuts looming at the CBC, we probably shouldn’t expect much more. In 2006, when the Air Farce, 22 Minutes and the Rick Mercer Report were dominating Can-con ratings, the CBC announced that they would not be producing any more political satire.
“The country has changed,” says Walsh. “We have a very conservative government now. Everything’s gone, really. We are now a small-c, right-wing country. There’s no access, they’re building prisons, and it’s really hard to get anyone’s attention to say anything about it. People lie so relentlessly on the right, and if anyone does say anything, they’re trounced.”
In that spirit, Marg Delahunty will rise again, in Dancing With Rage, a theatre production written and performed by Walsh. It’s the story of Marg who, like Walsh, is suffering from macular degeneration. She’s decided that before she loses her sight, she wants to track down the child she gave up for adoption after she got knocked up at Expo. So she packs up her rage and her belongings, and sets off, meeting other classic Walsh characters like Dakey Dunn and Connie Bloor along the way.
“Rage is the very basis of comedy, isn’t it?” says Walsh. “Even the simple scenario of buddy falling on the banana peel, it’s really so funny because he goes down with such a smack. There aren’t very many comedians that want to protect the status quo. That seems to be a comedian’s job: to rail against the inequities and indignities of life.”
Mary Walsh’s Dancing with Rage LSPU Hall-3 Victoria St 753-4531 (Thu Feb 9 to Sun Feb 12 / Tue Feb 14 to Sun Feb 19 / Tue Feb 21 to Sat Feb 25, showtimes at 8pm; PWYC matinees Sat Feb 11 / Sat Feb 18 / Sat Feb 25 at 2pm; matinee Sun Feb 26 at 2pm)