New Manitoba documentary explores humour in Mennonite culture

A new film that explores humour in Mennonite culture is making its world premiere in Steinbach, Man. on Saturday afternoon.

Comedian Matt Falk stars in That Mennonite Joke, which follows him as he learns about his culture

In the documentary That Mennonite Joke, comedian Matt Falk learns about his heritage by exploring humour in Mennonite culture.

A new film that explores humour in Mennonite culture is making its world premiere in Steinbach, Man. on Saturday afternoon.

Comedian Matt Falk stars in the documentary That Mennonite Joke, which follows Falk as he learns about his Mennonite heritage. The film is directed by Winnipeg's Orlando Braun.

Falk spoke to CBC about the film, Manitoba's Mennonites and the humour that he says runs through the culture.

What did you think when you were first approached to do this project?

I've been doing comedy for 10 years now so people come up to me with ideas all the time but when Orlando approached me about doing a documentary about Mennonites I was like, 'Okay, good luck with that,' [laughs]. 

I didn't necessarily have a ton of faith in it … It's something I wanted to explore more in my comedy but I wasn't positive that there'd be an audience for this.

Why didn't you think there would be an audience?

I was noticing as I was moving further and further away from Manitoba telling Mennonite jokes I was getting fewer and fewer laughs.

So what do you say when people ask you, 'Are Mennonites funny?'

Oh, they most certainly are. They most certainly are. There's this perception of Mennonites that they're these … dour kind of people, they're questing people, they're very serious people. But as soon as you scratch a little deeper than that, you find this culture of humour. It's everywhere.

You're Mennonite.

Yes I am.

Tell me about your family. Who's funny?

Everyone's funny, just they don't try to be. It just happens naturally. We've had people marry into the family and we try to warn them: The family gatherings are very, very loud. And they go, 'Oh, no it's fine. My family's Italian,' or whatever. And then they get to our family gathering and they're like, 'Whoa. That was insane.' Everyone's very boisterous, everyone's very animated. Mennonite people are a lot different than what people perceive.

In what way?

It's that juxtaposition of those two contrasting elements that really surprises people. For instance, I was talking to a professor at the University of Winnipeg, Roy Loewen. He's in the documentary as well. And, he tells this story in the film but he went down to this one village where they had no technology, they were riding horse and buggy and he gets in and he's sitting beside this Mennonite man. And it's this very kind of sombre moment and the Mennonite man turns over to Roy and he says, 'Did you hear about those two identical twins? They looked exactly alike, especially the one.' And it was this bizarre moment of, 'Oh, there's more than meets the eye here.' And the further you look, the more you find that.

I think that Mennonites because they were on the outskirts of society for so long and they were persecuted for so long, you become a tight-knit community. You develop this humour as a way of surviving and I think that's passed down through the generations.

What do you hope people take away from the film?

I hope people just become really excited about their culture. That's what I did.

The film's premier is at 4 p.m. at the Keystone Cinema in Steinbach, Man. and it is free for all to attend.

The interview was edited for clarity and length.


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