Robert Cohen – Being Canadian
Years ago, Canadian comedy writer Robert Cohen was out in Los Angeles when he noticed his American date seemed to have something on her mind. He inquired.
“I just don’t understand,” she said. “Why would you ever have to take a dog sled?”
Puzzled, he responded, “Why would I have to take a dog sled, where?”
“Why do you guys drive those around? Why don’t you just get cars?”
Such a strange notion: Why, indeed, would Canadians drive dog sleds as opposed to cars? The question is so ridiculous — so asinine — it’s amazing anyone would ever think it valid to ask. But this is just one of the numerous bizarre episodes Cohen has encountered while living in the Good Ole U.S. of A. that spurred him to make Being Canadian, a documentary that cuts through the misconceptions shrouding the Great White North to the heart of what it means to, well, be Canadian. As the Calgary-raised Emmy Award winner explains, “It’s good to be liked, generally, by everybody around the world, but I actually wanted to find out the details and if they’ve changed.”
Having lived in the United States for 30 years, working on various comedic television shows and films, including The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory, Saturday Night Live and the second and third Austin Powers movies, Cohen has tangled with ignorance towards Canada in all its shapes and forms. From being ticketed for driving with fake plates (the cop never heard of “Al-bee-err-ta”) to American friends warning him of the shock he’ll likely feel from L.A.’s above-freezing winter weather, Cohen’s heard it all. “I’ve had the living-in-igloos one million times,” says the 47-year-old. “Every Canadian has those stories.”
Who hasn’t been asked by a befuddled American what it’s like to grow up on hockey skates or what type of maple syrup our pet polar bears prefer? We’ve all seen Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans, we know many don’t know and don’t really care about their neighbours to the north. But Cohen found this ungrounded mysticism unbearably trite. He decided to shed light on the subject by rounding up some prominent Red-and-White blooded countrymen. He reached out to old friends like The Kids in the Hall star Dave Foley and the host of Wayne’s World, Mike Myers. The pair jumped at the opportunity to be part of the project.
Word spread like prairie fire and soon Cohen was meeting with other Canadian legends like Dan Aykroyd, Howie Mandel, Russell Peters, Michael J. Fox, Rick Mercer, Alex Trebek, Martin Short, William Shatner, Malcolm Gladwell and more.
“I find that with Canadians, as we all know, we like to sniff out who else is Canadian. So it was sort of the same affect,” Cohen says. “It’s had this great momentum of very generous people wanting to sit down and do interviews.”
While many of these Canucks are renowned for their humorous work, Cohen found deep-seated passions for Canada effortlessly surfacing, with many interviews quickly turning into serious philosophical journeys to the heart of Canadianisms. He notes how Howie Mandel bought his childhood home in Toronto so when travelling abroad he knows he still owns a piece of Canada, and how Mike Myers delved into Canadian history and the substantial contributions our country’s made to the world. Those were what made so many of these interviews so great, Cohen explains, when that pride and enthusiasm burst forth. “That’s the stuff that is going to be in this movie,” he adds. “There will be some jokes too, but that’s the best stuff.”
To wrap up the film, Cohen recently spent 10 days travelling from coast to coast to capture candid perspectives from everyday Canadians. What he discovered was a new sense of confidence permeating among those who are traditionally viewed as polite and reserved. “It was the first time in my life that I’ve seen Canada and Canadians feeling cool and confident and sort of badass about themselves,” he says. And why not? We made it through the recession relatively unscathed; we’re quite progressive when it comes to immigration and gay rights, and some of the best comedians, actors, musicians and thinkers in the world call Canada home. There’s definitely plenty to be proud of.
“This is my love letter to Canada,” Cohen says of his film. “I just hope Canadians realize how awesome we are and that being Canadian means something really great and fun
10 Best in Canada – by Robert Cohen
Best Canadian TV Show: CTV
Best Prime Ministe: Pierre Trudeau
Best Canadian Actor: Donald Sutherland
Best Canadian Export: The Canadian sense of humour
Best Canadian City: Calgary
Best Canadian Dish: It’s a tie between an Alberta steak and poutine
Best Canadian Band: Rush or Triumph
Best Canadian Writer: Malcolm Gladwell or Douglas Coupland
Best Canadian Comedian: I don’t think I could pick just one: Wayne and Shuster, the cast of SCTV, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Martin Short. It’s tough. best Canadian Kisser Jennifer Cohen, Grade 7