Comedy·SPECIAL FEATURE

The highs and lows of being 'Canadian famous,' according to Gavin Crawford

Gavin Crawford is “Canadian famous,” and a performer who has written his own chapter in the history of Canadian sketch comedy with unmistakable characters and impressions.

Gavin Crawford is "Canadian famous," and a performer who has written his own chapter in the history of Canadian sketch comedy with unmistakable characters and impressions.

Since the early 2000s, when he first arrived in Canadian homes with The Gavin Crawford Show on The Comedy Network, Crawford has taken a career path that both followed the traditional trajectory of a talented Canadian comedian (including a stint on This Hour Has 22 Minutes), while simultaneously doing his own thing.

These days he has a new gig on CBC television with Because News, a political panel satire show that he also hosts for CBC Radio. 

On stage, his live performances have made him a counter-cultural icon in queer spaces like Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times theatre. And his fame is the sort that injects adrenaline into the air at Toronto's Comedy Bar, regardless if he is on stage, or even just in the audience; He's a celebrity that doesn't require bodyguards or seclusion in a dressing room post-show, but rather simply encapsulates someone with the ability to hold court with star quality. 

This is Canada, where a talent beyond talent itself is working with what you got—a skill Crawford is quick to point out that has been key to his career longevity. 

"What do I want to do? And where does the work come? I am always kinda doing a few things at once." 

Built on the format of the CBC radio series, Because News is styled in the vein of the panel shows that are mainstays of comedy in the United Kingdom, where comedians weigh in on the topics of the day. 

Featuring writers and guests drawn primarily from Toronto's sketch comedy world, the series, which premiered in 2015, has developed the kind of internal organic chemistry that can only come from a community atmosphere behind-the-scenes.

The special nature of the radio program didn't go unnoticed, and it became obvious to CBC decision makers that Because News should be seen, not just heard.

"The most important thing to me is more exposure for the panelists. I love the panelists and writers we have, so to give them another avenue to shine in is great."

Crawford is quick to acknowledge there is so much talent behind the scenes.

"I like Jon Blair. He writes great stuff and I am always really happy to have him on board. Jan Caruana writes for us a lot and is going to be on the panel... she's such a great improviser and she is so funny." 

Beyond that, Crawford is excited to expose some of their regulars from the radio program.

"I am excited for TV audiences to get to know Tom Howell. He's a radio producer, not a comedian, but he's just so dry and funny." 

And of course, there are the Canadian comedians that audiences around the country love in their own right.

"Martha Chavez is a star, and I am delighted whenever she gets exposure."

When asked about what he attributes to the success of Because News, Crawford's answer is one rooted in the fundamentals of political satire itself. 

"I think it's important for clowns to poke holes in power—for somebody to notice, 'This is odd,' and then everyone else is like, 'Yeah that is odd.'" 

It's that same precise analysis of characters that makes Crawford so much more than his day job. To see him perform is to witness a seamless adoption of whomever he is taking aim at. 

Like so many things that are inexplicably good, Crawford's talent took time and misadventures to hone. After all, Because News is not Crawford's first attempt at a television project with CBC.

In 2015, a series of digital shorts entitled Wild West was released. 

Wild West was Crawford's love letter to his upbringing in Taber, Alberta and was an ambitious show shot in the picturesque province with Crawford playing all roles.

Wild West won a Canadian Screen award for Comedy writing but was a project that ultimately proved to be ahead of its time. When Wild West is brought up, Crawford serves his mixed emotions with a side of humour. 

"I would love to make another show like that. Wild West will always kind of be devastating to me. I was so proud of it. I liked it. It was very funny." 

"More than once it almost got made, which felt like having someone digging up your dead pet," adds Crawford, intonating  in the placating voice of the show's oil wife character, "Nope, still dead sorry."  

Crawford admits there is no chance of these characters being reimagined for Because News but was thrilled when another famous funny Albertan appeared this season. 

"Scott Thompson (from Kids in the Hall) is going to be on... I am always excited when Scott gets back on TV—we are both gay, we are both from Alberta  and we have similar things to complain and joke about."

However, given the current circumstances, Crawford has very little to complain about. 

"Everybody has to reinvent themselves at least for a time and get out there, whatever ways that you can. We don't do this necessarily because it is the most lucrative thing in the world, we just do it because there is something in us that compels us to do it." 

"I am how I am, whether I was on a show or not. That's just how I live my life. I talk to the oven, I make up voices for my cat. I make up parody songs for everything. It's not the audience that makes me do these things, I do them anyway just to entertain myself." 

Canadian fame may not be as grandiose or vast as its American counterpart, and it is a hard won echelon. Yet, it's like comparing the Hollywood sign to a wild Albertan hillside. The landscape of Canadian fame is more organic in its beauty.

Because certainly in the case of Gavin Crawford, it consists of something far less fleeting: the time, the work, the talent.  

Because News with Gavin Crawford airs Sundays at 7 p.m. (7:30 NT) on CBC TV and Saturdays at 11 a.m. (11:30 NT) on CBC Radio One.

About the Author

Marty Younge is a Toronto based arts and culture writer / digital creator covering all things in the world of comedy from Canada and beyond. She has covered Just for Laughs, SXSW and JFL42 and can be found on Instagram at @youngemodernlaughs.

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