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Peter Black

Local Journalism Initiative reporter

This country has supplied English-language culture with boatloads of comedy for decades, from Rich Little to Lorne Michaels to Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Russell Peters, Ivan Reitman, Catherine O’Hara, Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel and Samantha Bee. Heck, we’ll even throw in the Ryans – Reynolds and Gosling – who have been in hit comedies. The list goes on and on.

Theories abound as to why Canadians are funny in numbers outrageously disproportionate to the population. Even the world’s reigning goddess of serious letters, that Canuck scribbler Margaret Atwood, has opined on the existential font of Canadian mirth.

In a 1974 essay titled “What’s so Funny? Notes on Canadian humour,” she wrote, “Canadian laughers and audiences … seem to be saying ‘I am not like them. I am not provincial, I am cosmopolitan.’” Atwood can be such a hoot!

So, for whatever reason, Canadians are responsible for barrels and barrels of laughs on television, in the movies and on the radio (the CBC boasts a fine tradition of comic programming). But what about in the written medium? How do homie hosers stack up in the category of humorous or satirical publications?

What prompts this pensée is the resurrection from the magazine graveyard of Safarir, the brazen Quebec humour magazine that ridiculed all things supposedly sacred in the distinct society for three decades.

Launched in 1987 in Quebec City, the saucy mag moved its operations to Montreal in 2001, where it managed to survive on newsstands, valiantly battling the internet monster until 2016.

Now it’s back in a free monthly digital format, that even includes video clips. Launched last week, the first edition of Safarir 2.0 is chock-full of – how do we put this? – pandemic jokes. Are we ready to laugh at a deadly global plague?

Safarir editor-in-chief Jean-Marie Corbeil thinks so. He told the often-risible Journal de Québec, “After a year of the pandemic, people need a laugh and a change of mind more than ever. So now is the perfect time to bring Safarir back.”

In his editor’s note, Corbeil joked that they relaunched Safarir the day before the first anniversary of the declaration of the pandemic to “scoop” the event, so that, “from now on when we allude to this date we will no longer say ‘it is from this moment that I dressed in sweatpants for 14 months’ but rather ‘it is the day of the rebirth of the greatest humour magazine in the world.’”

Indeed, la une (the front page) of the first reborn edition has a photo of comedian Michel Courtemanche hiding his face, with the headline: SAF va bien aller. The coronavirus yuks continue relentlessly throughout the mag’s 36 lively pages.

In a two-page spread called “News from the Future,” a silver-haired Premier François Legault is pictured with the text: “After 37 years of confinement, François Legault declares at a press conference, “J’avoue que ça n’a pas si bien été que ça finalement.” (I admit it didn't go so well after all).

Another headline notes all Canadians are now vaccinated for COVID-19. “Now we wait for a vaccine for COVID-23, 35, 45, 47 and 52.” Ouch.

It’s not all virus jokes, though. In the same future news section, a second Videotron Centre is depicted under construction next to the current one, with the caption, “We thought we’d double our chances of getting a team.” Nordiques, get it?

While the humour in Safarir’s digital pages is obvious, its revenue stream is not. The only ads in the mag are parodies – although one for a hot-dog restaurant might be real; we’re not so sure. Since the magazine is free online, there’s no income from subscriptions.

While we try to resolve the mystery of how Safarir is bankrolled, its publishers can take a bow for bucking the trend and boldly launching what may turn out to be a brilliant bit of digital niche-finding.

Canadians who prefer their domestic digital humour in la langue de Shakespeare – or should that be Leacock? – have limited options. There’s The Beaverton online magazine (and TV show if you have the right cable package), or Frank magazine, which is available in print and online by paid subscription.

Neither publication, we note, has any qualms about finding dark humour in the pandemic. Whoever said “laughter is the best medicine” probably never envisioned twisted pandemic parodies.

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