Montreal

Comedy skit that spooked insurers broadcast ahead of Olivier gala

Quebec's annual comedy awards show, to be broadcast Sunday night, has become the latest frontline for comedians increasingly concerned about their right to crack risqué jokes in the province.

Comedy gala's decision to drop controversial sketch sparks protest from comedians

Quebec comedian Mike Ward is boycotting a Quebec comedy awards gala after the company that's insuring the event censored some of his jokes in a sketch about freedom of speech. (Karine Dufour)

Quebec's annual comedy awards show, to be broadcast Sunday night, has become the latest frontline for comedians increasingly concerned about their right to crack risqué jokes in the province.

The producers of Le Gala les Olivier — l'Association des professionnels de l'industrie de l'humour (APIH) — decided earlier this week to drop a skit from the broadcast, reportedly on the advice of a lawyer representing the insurance company underwriting the gala.

Radio-Canada said Friday that it couldn't broadcast the gala unless it was insured. 

The two comedians behind the skit, Mike Ward and Guy Nantel, decided to boycott the gala in protest. They also performed a version of the skit at a Montreal comedy club on Saturday night, and released the video on YouTube Sunday afternoon.

It garnered close to 10,000 views in the hour after it was posted. 

Comedians in support

Fellow comedians in Quebec have spoken out in support of Ward and Nantel. Several have added red Xs over their Facebook profile pictures, while the hashtag #NonALaCensure — No to censure — is circulating on Twitter.

Among the suggestions circulating on Twitter is to vote in support of Ward's nomination for Comedian of the Year. Others have proposed turning up late to the gala, or putting tape over their mouths. 

Several comedians have used the controversy to speak out against what they feel is an increasingly restrictive environment in which to perform. 

"It's been several years now that at every major event we feel pressure from sponsors about what we're going to say, about our parodies," François Morency, the host of this year's Olivier gala, told Radio-Canada.

"At the end of the line, we don't have the last word." 

Even the board of directors of the APIH is unhappy with how the controversy over the skit was handled, suggesting it was the sign of a larger problem in the industry. 

"This situation brings to light a very worrying situation, that of 'zero risk,' which inevitably leads to a restriction of freedom of expression," the board said in a news release on Sunday.

Ironic? 

The sketch that was pulled from the broadcast dealt with these concerns head-on. In the version broadcast on YouTube, Nantel pokes fun at Ward's own encounters with controversy. 

Ward, who is known for his often vulgar routines, is currently the subject of a human rights complaint for having ridiculed a Quebec singer with a physical disability.

In the YouTube skit, Ward acts as if he is too afraid of making a joke for fear of offending anyone. 

"Don't be afraid, people can take a joke," Nantel tells him.

Ward replies: "Tell that to the Human Rights Commission. Here's a joke they wrote for me: 'What's the difference between a homosexual and an Inuit person? There is none, both are fantastic! Long live diversity!'"

In the statement released by Radio-Canada on Friday, they suggested it was the discussion of the the Human Rights Commission that raised concerns from the insurance company's lawyer. 

"The sketch treats, among other things, a delicate topic that is currently before the Quebec Human Rights Commission, which has yet to hand down a judgement in the matter," the statement reads.

"Out of respect for the process, and following a legal analysis, the decision was taken by the APIH to suspend the broadcast of the sketch."

Comedian Guy Nantel told the CBC on Friday that the idea of an insurance company having veto power over jokes is 'absurd'.

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