Ottawa comedians remember Mike MacDonald

Comedians with roots in Ottawa are remembering fellow funny guy Mike MacDonald, a trailblazer who they say never got too big to help out the younger comics who followed him into the business.

Ottawa comic, 62, died at Ottawa Heart Institute Saturday

J.P. MacDonald remembers how his brother encouraged audiences to sign organ donation cards 0:48

Comedians with roots in Ottawa are remembering fellow funny guy Mike MacDonald, a trailblazer who they say never got too big to help out the younger comics who followed him into the business.

 MacDonald died Saturday at the Ottawa Heart Institute. He was 62.

"Everybody who knew anything about comedy in Canada knew Mike MacDonald was the best," said Jeremy Hotz, who also began his career in Ottawa performing at Yuk Yuk's Comedy Club. "He would come in maybe four or five times a year and just tear the room apart."

Standup comedy and our business was air to him. It was life.- Howard Wagman, Yuk Yuk's Ottawa

Hotz said MacDonald took him under his wing and — he now believes — purposely toned down his own routine so Hotz, who was headlining, wouldn't disappoint the audience.

MacDonald had a manic style and was a brilliant physical comedian who used mime to augment his standup, Hotz said.

"He took you out of your own reality, and no matter how crazy the thing that he was talking about [was], because he was so engrossing to watch, you just became part of it and you just laughed."

Rebecca Kohler met MacDonald at Just For Laughs in Montreal when she was still relatively new to comedy. The Ottawa comedian said she'll never forget how he made her feel welcome.

"There are seasoned comics who make a choice to be nice to young comics, and there are others who make a choice to not be nice to young comics, and Mike was so nice and comforting."

Comedy was 'air to him'

Howard Wagman, owner of Yuk Yuk's Ottawa, regards MacDonald as the first superstar of Canadian comedy.

"He just touched so many lives and he was one of the true great innovators in our business, and he's going to be sorely missed."

Wagman pointed to MacDonald's signature closing bit from the 70s and 80s called the Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy — an air guitar gag that showed his true comedic genius.

"It was just an incredible, physical, well-written bit with such passion," Wagman recalled.

MacDonald's love for the craft of comedy was legendary, Wagman said.

"He came down to the club when he wasn't on more than when he was, just to be there, just to be around it. It was air to him. Standup comedy and our business was air to him. It was life."

Liver transplant part of routine

MacDonald struggled with his own personal demons including bipolar disorder and drug addiction, and suffered from hepatitis C. His death came five years to the day after he received a liver transplant. 

"One of [MacDonald's] favourite jokes was the fact — the great comedic irony — [that] he got his liver transplant on St. Patrick's Day," said John Helmkay, president of Alterna Savings Crackup comedy festival.

MacDonald was supposed to headline the festival event on Wednesday. Instead, this year's festival will be dedicated to his memory.

MacDonald's brother, J.P. MacDonald, said the family is planning a public tribute to the late comedian, with details yet to be announced.