Covering the 2019 election craziness with a punchline

The cast of 22 Minutes on the Trudeau brownface scandal, climate change and fake news.

The cast of 22 Minutes on the Trudeau brownface scandal, climate change and fake news.

Mark Critch of This Hour has 22 Minutes was writing sketches on a plane to Vancouver last Thursday, on his way to interview Green Party leader Elizabeth May. That's when the photos of Trudeau wearing brownface and blackface were released, and everything changed.

"I just looked up and deleted the sketch I was writing, because I knew I would never use it," said Critch, a cast member since 2003. 

Susan Kent, an eight-year veteran of the show, remarked that the scandal changed the dynamics of the production team immediately: "It was insane. All of the different departments went into high gear and we shot brand new stuff."

This week's episode of 22 Minutes was everything you could ask for during an election full of scandal and controversy. It's the unexpected nature of elections that keeps the cast and writers of 22 Minutes on their toes during election season.

"Jagmeet Singh happened to be in town, and we were able to talk to him right in front of a live audience, and I think that keeps it really fresh," said Critch. "Politicians are putting themselves out there and leaving themselves open to all kinds of gaffes and mistakes on the campaign trail." 

"Normally they're more protected and locked in their office, and harder to get at, but now there's way more footage and stories to choose from, which makes it a lot more exciting."

As the political climate changes, so do the punchlines. This time around, the usual political spin from candidates is served with a side of "lies, misrepresentation, and fake news," said Critch. 

"This is the first time I'm seeing leaders not only spinning things, but actually making them up while purposely misleading the public, and I've never seen that before...the social media algorithms show people what they want to see. People aren't seeing other opinions, they are just reinforcing their own opinions, and they're being lied to a lot."  

Compared to five years ago, before the Liberals took power, the country was in a different place under the Harper government, says Kent. 

"The missing and murdered Indigenous women were not on the radar, there was no thought of gender parity in caucus or race representation. Nobody gave a shit about climate change until, like, last year, when we're like, 'guys we have 12 years before we burst into flames.'"

"The Greens have been pushing that all along, but usually the Greens are a punchline. We've been playing at like, 'Oh, you bunch of hippies.' Now everyone has a climate change platform." 

Elizabeth May on 22 Minutes

Critch makes it clear that parity is crucial during an election season: "We do try to be fair and have everybody on, we had Elizabeth May, Jagmeet Singh, Maxime Bernier, we're lining up an interview with Andrew Scheer. From the responses we get on Twitter, the conservatives are upset, the lefties are upset, and if both sides are upset at you 50 percent of the time, then you're doing your job."

Comedians have a kind of access to politicians that only happens in Canada, says Critch. 

"In the States they would tase you for coming up to politicians. Just walking up to someone and asking about the campaign, it only happens in Canada. It's always been that way. I've interviewed every prime minister since Chrétien." 

He says this is because satire is respected enough in Canadian society and leaders think it's something they have to take part in. 

"Comedy is truth," said Critch. "I think comedy is a great way of popping balloons of hypocrisy. It's incredible."

"Satirical coverage is important for democracy, because we're criticizing and we're holding up people's mistakes and ideas, and people who are watching get to decide who they agree with, what's important, and what really stinks," said Kent. 

"Sometimes it doesn't feel like you can make change as just one person or that your vote won't matter, and there's a frustration to that," said Kent. 

"It helps to deal with the frustration to be able to laugh at stuff."

This Hour Has 22 Minutes Season 27 premiered September 17 on CBC. The show is taped in front of a live audience in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Full episodes are available on CBC Gem. Most watched sketches are available on YouTube. You can also get the latest news about 22 Minutes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.