For comics, Rob Ford is the gift that keeps on giving


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Chevy Chases’s President Ford gag was political satire at its finest

I was shocked, genuinely shocked, last month when I heard that Saturday Night Live was going to open the show with a sketch lampooning Rob Ford. This wasn’t a talk-show host’s quickie quip about our beleaguered mayor, this was four minutes of screen time on America’s number one source of satiric sketch comedy.

It was only then that I realized how the Ford scandal had gone viral and global. And it didn’t stop with SNL. Every chat show and variety hour has had its Ford segments, designed to wring laughs out of what had always seemed to me to be of local interest.

The issue here isn’t the mayor; the issue is the humour. Is any of it any good?

The SNL sketch, if you haven’t seen it, had regular Bobby Moynihan as the mayor in a mock CBC interview. Moynihan’s impression was OK, but the best parts were the fake press conference footage where he loses it and appears to do drugs.

The piece is hardly brilliant, but it gave Torontonians a perverse pride that our little scandal made it onto SNL. It’s kind of a shame the sketch didn’t live up to expectations.

Around the same time, the great Jon Stewart delivered a seven-minute rant on Toronto’s top banana. It was done with The Daily Show’s signature method of showing video interspersed with commentary. There was a brilliant moment when Ford was shown thinking about how to answer a probing question, and Stewart’s producers set it up as if it were a multiple choice question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Now that was more like it. But the biggest studio laughs came simply from unspooling press conference footage.

With Rob Ford, most of the jokes come off as obvious. The bits revolve around his drug use, but  there’s less about darker issues of gangs, blackmail and the company he keeps. Drunken, drug-addled behaviour is always an easy laugh.

Jay Leno’s take was an “interview” with the mayor, a poorly executed look-alike with jokes that felt squeezed from the vaudeville era. Arsenio Hall’s bit was an excruciatingly bad rap video.

On the other hand, Letterman’s take was typically classy and subtle: a Ken Burns parody featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Vince Vaughn and others reciting Ford’s statement about using crack cocaine while stentorial music plays in the background. Jimmy Kimmel, meanwhile, inserted Ford’s confession into the character of the Burgermeister in the classic holiday cartoon Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.

In town, Kenny Robinson put on a night of Ford-oriented humour at the El Mocambo called The Ford Follies. He managed to attract some of this city’s best local acts to skewer the mayor, including Alan Park and Craig Lauzon from the Air Farce and Ed the Sock. The evening was a success and Robinson promises more.

So, while citizens are urging Rob Ford to quit, for comedians, he’s the gift that keeps on giving.

I remember when Chevy Chase would mimic Gerald Ford’s stumbling and falling on SNL in 1976. After that, the image of a bumbling Ford was forever etched on the voters’ retinas. Some pundits at the time thought it actually cost Ford the election and put Jimmy Carter in the White House.

Now that’s the power of satire.

Post City Magazines’ humour columnist, Mark Breslin, is the founder of Yuk Yuk’s comedy clubs and the author of several books, including Control Freaked.

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