Loading the Chicken Cannon …

ImageChef.comWe Canadians are a pretty funny bunch. Mike Myers, Dan Ackroyd, Martin Short, Howie Mandel.  Ha, ha, ha.  Funny.

They say it is because of our unique position between American and British sensibilities. We are killer observers, we have a unique take on things and, ergo, are pretty darn amusing.

What has this got to do with adoption? Nothing. Except maybe it helps to have a sense of humour when dealing with adoption issues or you could lose your mind or live your life as a pretty unhappy banana.

No, there is nothing more about adoption here.  We are into the “And Other Topics” portion of this blog.

That’s nice, you say, thanks for the heads up, but we are curious. What exactly is a chicken cannon?

I will explain.

There is a television show in Canada called Air Farce. It’s on the CBC, Friday nights at 8. It used to be The Royal Canadian Air Farce but the name got shortened. It started out on CBC radio and always opened with the words – Ici Farce Canada. This was a spoof of the sign on for French language CBC radio which opened with Ici Radio Canada.

Air Farce, sadly, after a very long run of 15 years on TV is on its final season, or half season, as it is ending on New Year’s Eve. It has higher ratings than other newer shows but I suspect it is attracting “the wrong kind of viewers” so it has to go.  The wrong kind of viewers meaning, of course, it is not hitting whatever demographic groups advertiser believe spend the most money. (I don’t understand this because I am in the wrong demographic group yet I know I buy stuff – I have the VISA bills to prove it.)

But you are getting impatient. What about the chicken cannon, you are saying.

The chicken cannon is a bazooka-like weapon – a little bigger. It is handled by two of the Air Farce cast dressed up like members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

One poor smuuck has to load up the chicken cannon. Into it goes, baked beans, jello, packing beads, tuna salad, pretzels, whatever.  You are getting the picture – lots of gloppy, yucky stuff. Topped off and tamped down with a rubber chicken.

The order is then given to fire the chicken cannon. And splot, all this gunk hits the target.

And what is the target? Usually a very large black and white photo of someone in the news. Often a politician. Without naming any names, I’ll just say Canadian and otherwise targets.

I know this sounds completely wacky but you cannot imagine how satisfying and funny it is to watch the target get all this stuff right in the kisser.

It’s hilarious. It’s totally stupid.  And I repeat, for some mysterious reason – extremely satisfying.

But after December – no more chicken cannon.

I worry we may become a much angrier people. We’ll have to find some other way to work off steam.

Miss you already chicken cannon. You make us laugh.

btw – Do not try this at home.

On a more serious note, here is a little piece from the McGill University paper, The Tribune, about the Chicken Cannon and the nature of political satire here and in the US written in 2007.

Chicken Cannons Blast Political Culture

Sketch comedy: a government’s friend or foe? by Elizabeth Perle

Imagine a photo of George W. Bush, a cannon loaded with ammunition in the form of Iraqi oil, Texas manure and pretzels, an ecstatic audience and a satisfying blast of colourful goop discharged onto the American commander-in-chief’s forehead.

Anyone who has ever watched an episode of The Royal Canadian Air Farce-a Canadian political satire television staple-will be able to tell you about the recurring Chicken Cannon sketch, the latter scene being taken from the show’s 2002 end-of-the-year special.

Perry Rosemond has been the director of Air Farce since the show first made the transition from radio to television back in 1993. In a recent interview with the Tribune, Rosemond discussed his work with the show, its role within Canadian political culture and revealed the answer to a question in the back of the mind of every Air Farce fan: What politicians make the best Chicken Cannon targets?

“All of them,” he says, without the slightest hesitation.

The death of the Foley artist

It was during the 20th century that satire in the western world made the transition from print media to “performance” media. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the modern 30-minute television show.

Historically, televised political satire has played an important role in the Canadian comedy tradition. This Hour has 22 Minutes and The Royal Canadian Air Farce are two (of many) longstanding CBC programs that revolve around taking jabs at the Canadian government.

The most hard-hitting political satire in the United States, by contrast, has been happening off of television-in the form of The Onion and political cartoonists-with the exception of some segments of Saturday Night Live.

“I worked in the United States for 17 years and you could /not/ do a show this biting there,” Rosemond notes of some of the contentious political content on Air Farce. “[In the U.S.] they censor much, much, much more than we do.”

An interesting point of comparison is that the big names in Canadian televised political comedy have come (and are continuing to come) from a public broadcasting network, the CBC, whereas in the U.S., they are present exclusively on cable networks.

One might assume that government sponsored programming would imply a certain amount of limitation or censorship of content, with cable television allowing for more subversive programming. This, however, is apparently not the case.

“In America, if you are going to take a swat at George Bush and you’ve got a Chevrolet commercial, you may be in trouble,” Rosemond adds.

So the Newfoundland Pie Brigade was in good taste?

Canadian politicians have generally had a closer relationship with their comedians as a viable source for self-propagation; Rosemond gives the examples of Jean Chretien and Preston Manning, as well as various cabinet ministers, who have guest starred on episodes of Air Farce over the years.

“In the United States, they are scared stiff!” he asserts. “You would never see big name politicians on a sketch show.” (Editor’s (UM) Note: Didn’t Richard Nixon appear on Laugh In?)

Rosemond points to the example of former American politician Bob Dole who appeared on Saturday Night Live only after he was defeated for the presidency-because he had nothing else to lose.

“I remember watching him and thinking he was delightful!” Rosemond reflects. “I was thinking to myself, why didn’t this guy go on before the election?”

This Hour has 22 Minutes’ popular spin-off series, The Rick Mercer Report, has become particularly recognized these past few years for humanizing some of Canada’s biggest names in politics through conducting interviews in, shall we say, unusual conditions.

For example, Mercer interviewed Jean Chretien at Canadian Tire, Paul Martin at Harvey’s and hosted a slumber party with Stephen Harper. Bob Rae even skinny-dipped with the comedian during the Liberal Leadership race last year.

In the U.S., when Former President Bill Clinton played the saxophone in sunglasses on Arseneo, shock waves swept across the face of the American public.

What does this imply about our independent political cultures?

Perhaps, Canadians require a sense of humility-or even a capacity for self deprecation-from political leaders, and Americans expect the opposite: seriousness and dignity.

Everything’s bigger in America

Political satire, however, is currently quite popular in the U.S.-just look at the explosive successes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. This could very well be a reflection of the increasingly polarized political and cultural climate.

It is conceivable that Americans, especially younger Americans with increased access to more types of media than ever before, are now looking for politicians who embody different values: those who are willing to forego hackneyed rhetoric and speak to the public sans script.

Since television and politics were first brought together, politics have, arguably, become more scripted. Political comedy has therefore become an essential medium through which much of the televised political theatrics are deconstructed.

This has been especially important in the U.S. in order to counterbalance exceptionally partisan and sensationalist news forces such as Fox News and CNN’s former political “debate” show Crossfire.

In fact, many attribute the demise of Crossfire in 2005 to Jon Stewart’s shocking guest appearance, in which the interview quickly digressed into a terse argument between Stewart and Tucker Carlson (one of the show’s two hosts) about the show’s “partisan hackery.”

The turnout in the American midterm elections of 2006 was significantly higher than usual among youth voters, who are the primary demographic of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report/. While a direct relationship between the two cannot be proven, the likelihood of a correlation has not been ignored by /Fox/, which is currently in the midst of planning a conservative response to Comedy Central’s fake news monopoly.

The direct effect of political satire on politics has not been lost on Canada, either. A famous example occurred in the 2000 Canadian federal election campaign, when the Canadian Alliance proposed requiring a referendum take place if anyone could circulate a petition with sufficient signatures. This motion was mocked so effectively by This Hour Has 22 Minutes that it was discredited and soon dropped.

These examples lend themselves to the surreptitious question circling around the minds of so many media-savvy North Americans today: Does Political Satire have a political agenda?

Rosemond-similar to Stewart, Colbert and Mercer, when asked in interviews-does not answer this question. Instead, he explains:

“All satire is triggered by what is happening this week in the country. I’ve always said: It’s a lot easier to find a good political ideology than it is to find a good joke.”

Getting good reception

Daniel Oettl, U3 history and political science and editor-in-chief at McGill’s independent comedy paper The Red Herring, points to the audience-rather than political intent-for North America’s current appreciation of satire.

“It’s a matter of how many people in the audience know what the satire is about. So when, what is it?, 60 per cent of Americans disapprove of their head of state, it’s easy to make a joke and have people get it,” he suggests. “I don’t think it reflects any political mobilization; it’s just that the market has made political satire easier to sell, so we see more of it.”

This brings us back to that glorious Air Farce Chicken Canon sketch. Does it really have critical value? Perhaps. But no matter how you look at it, at the end of the day, who can deny that watching rubber chickens get shot out of cannons is not good for a giggle?





One Response to Loading the Chicken Cannon …

  1. maybe says:

    I can think of a lot of good targets for that chicken cannon.

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