Toronto-born Mike Myers is best remembered as a member of the famed Second City troupe, as a cast member of Saturday Night Live, and the creative comic mind who gave us such memorable characters as Wayne Campbell, “Coffee Talk” klatscher Laura Richmond, Austin Powers, and his hapless nemesis Dr. Evil.
But Myers, like his fellow SNL alumni Lorne Michaels, Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short and Phil Hartman, is Canadian by birth. And although he spent the first 20 years of his life in his native Toronto before he moved to England to broaden his comedy career, Myers’ heart has stayed true to his home and native land. And his love for the true north strong and free is well expressed in his just-released tome Canada.
This book continues the trend of what many Canadian authors, journalists and documentary filmmakers have tried to do since Confederation: explain what Canada is all about to those who live below the 49th Parallel and beyond its Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and what makes this country so unique; only this time, Myers gives his own fond – and comedic – spin on living in Canada and what it’s like to be a Canadian.
However, this book is more than just a love letter to Canada. What makes it so enjoyable is that Myers leans more towards the autobiographical to tell his Canadian story. We find out about the son of British-born parents (whose father was an Encyclopedia Britannica salesman who was a big fan of comedy), who experienced an all-Canadian upbringing, from enjoying the rickety rides at the annual Canadian National Exhibition (aka the “Ex”), to watching the cult kids’ TV show “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein”, to consuming copious quantities of Hostess potato chips (ketchup flavour) and Cherry Blossoms, to trying to scam motorists from surrendering their NHL Power Players hockey stamps to him and his brothers at the local Esso station circa 1970-71 (which I can readily identify with; I am Myers’ age, and I vividly remember trying in vain to get my dad to fill his car at Esso to get those coveted Power Players, because he preferred Shell or Texaco).
As well, Myers gives the reader a rather easy-to-understand perspective of Canada’s unique role as a world player, especially during the period from 1967-1976, which he calls Canada’s “Next Great Nation” phase, which was bookended between Expo 67 and the 1976 Montreal Olympics. His uncomplicated narrative style not only reaches out to American readers who want a reader-friendly explanation of everything Canada, but also serves as quite the refresher course for the Canadian reader (Pierre Berton would have been proud).
Fans of Myers won’t be disappointed with this book, too, as they discover how he developed his comedy career. This ranges from watching “The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour” on CBC during the early 70s, to appearing in local commercials (which at times relied on the skills he obtained from dance classes he took), to watching the first episode of Saturday Night live in 1975, in which he fell in love with a young Gilda Radner, and vowed to his skeptical, teasing brothers that one day he will end up as a cast member on that show. We also get the story of how he developed one of his most popular characters – Wayne Campbell – which was actually based on people he knew while growing up in Scarborough; how he discovered Canada from coast-to-coast while a member of the Second City touring company (including encounters with admiring devil worshippers in Nova Scotia and a near fatal encounter with a pack of wolves in BC); and how he built a huge following in England as one-half of the comedy team Mullarkey and Myers (and even started an improv comedy workshop that is still run in England to this day).
As well, Myers give his own insights into the fiercely competitive, dog-eat-dog world of being a member of the Saturday Night Live cast, which is exemplified by his uphill battle to get his “Wayne’s World” sketch on the show, which involved an exhaustive process with the show’s writers, producers and creator/executive producer Lorne Michaels. The first Wayne and Garth sketch actually made it to the show in question (albeit the last sketch on that show’s line-up), but almost lost that spot when he wasn’t present when Michaels summoned him to meet at his office when he gave it his official OK.
Canada is part love letter to a celebrity’s home country and showbiz memoir, and somehow succeeds on both counts. Although people will continue to explain what Canada is about to the rest of the world, Mike Myers proves that it’s a country that has its own unique way of life and way of thinking, and that Canada helped shape his career in comedy. So now you can add the label “patriot” (and maybe “part-time historian”) to Mike Myers’ resume. And to prove that, consider this passage that explains one of the many reasons why he loves his home and native land:
“When I see Canadians on the street anywhere in the world, I get very happy. I love that the entire interaction often involves people simply saying hello and then telling me the town in Canada that they’re from. I’ll be on the street and a fellow Canadian will say, ‘Mike … Kamloops!’ And that’s it. Nothing else has to be said. I love that!”
(Doubleday Canada, $39.95)
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca