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Bruce Dowbiggin

Gervais, Chappelle: Laughing In The Face Of Cancel Culture

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The passing of comedian Tommy Smothers over the holidays almost went unreported. But in 1968, the prime-time TV show featuring Smothers and his brother Dick was considered the essence of counter-culture resistance against Viet Nam, racial intolerance and the drug scene. Folk singer Joan Baez used the show to pay tribute to her husband David who was going to jail for avoiding the draft.

Its creative staff featured (among others) David Steinberg, Steve Martin, Bob Einstein, Rob Reiner and Lorenzo Music in sketches that defined the insubordination of the younger generation. One of its producers was a Canadian, Alan Blye. In one cheeky running gag Pat Paulsen ended up running for president. So when CBS cancelled the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1969 to placate sponsors and the White House it produced a furor. Cries of “censorship” reverberated from the hip Left. “Never again would censors attack free speech” they wailed.

LOS ANGELES – MARCH 30: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. A CBS comedy / variety television show. Premiere episode broadcast March 30, 1988. Pictured from left is Tom Smothers, Dick Smothers. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Fast forward to the dawn of 2024. Two controversial comedians launched new podcasts on Netflix in the teeth of a howling mob of Woke critics who want them banned for heresy or apostasy. But Ricky Gervais and Dave Chapelle are not being threatened with cancellation by Trumpian reactionaries. No, it’s the current generation of smug progressives who want them silenced. Permanently. For breaking the code.

This is typical pushback from the scolds: “Gervais’s jokes, which mock illegal immigrants, homeless people, trans people and more, are the sort of opinions that, far from getting you cancelled, are likely to be vote winners at the ballot box,” Nervous Nick Hilton wrote in the leftwing UK The Independent. Says humourless trade paper Variety: “Ricky Gervais’ New Netflix Special Tries So Hard to Be Edgy and Offensive — but It’s Just a Total Bore.” Take that.

Chappelle has been raked for “punching down” on the Left’s pet causes. For all the threats Gervais and Chappelle have received over alleged LGBTQ-2 slurs in the past, they have never backed down from the comedic art of in-your-face political commentary. And their new products Armageddon (Gervais) and The Dreamer (Chappelle) are no exception.

Sample: Chappelle tells an extended story about meeting his idol Jim Carrey on the set of Andy Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon. The problem was that Carrey stayed in character as Kaufman even between scenes. Chappelle is advised to call him Andy, not Jim. But an exuberant Chapelle forgets and still calls him Jim.

The crew is mortified. Chappelle is puzzled, talking to what is clearly Jim Carrey but calling him Andy. It was a strange experience says Chappelle. Dramatic pause. “Sort of like how I feel talking to a trans person.” The crowd explodes in guilty laughter, knowing that it would kill their own careers to ever voice such “sedition” in everyday conversation.

Gervais is equally aggressive. In one bit he talks about the mob who want to pull down statues of people who might have been involved in the slave trade 200 years ago. “But they built that beautiful hospital over there,” says Gervais. “Okay, you can leave that. But pull down the statue and throw it in the canal.” Pause. “But he built that canal.” Ricky-as-rioter: “Okay, you can leave that. But pull down the statue.” Etc.

Both men reflect on their bête noir reputations. Chappelle pokes fun at his tour with Chris Rock in the months after Rock was slapped by Will Smith at the Oscars. Then Chappelle himself is assaulted onstage in L.A. by a homeless man allegedly incensed over Chappelle’s jokes about gays. He references his security man now perched just offstage. And describes Puffy coming to his rescue.

Gervais does a symposium about words-as-weapons in the radical left and its effect on audiences. He pleads for divorcing the comedian from the comedy, urging his audience to laugh freely again. Hearing the uproarious laughter for forbidden words and concepts in London (Gervais) and Washington D.C. (Chappelle) was like attending a secret society, a Resistance to the tyranny of radical scolds. And a glimmer that the worst could be over.

For those with memories that go back even further than The Smothers Brothers, these extemporaneous challenges over free speech recall 1960s comic Lenny Bruce, who was hounded till his death for controversial material on sex and politics. In his later years Bruce, who was an unrepentant liberal, would forgo jokes and routines just to read trial transcripts from his cases to a stunned crowd.

Like Gervais and Chappelle, he was obsessed about free speech and liberty. Unlike them, he was not rescued by Netflix.

Gervais and Chappelle stand in stark contrast to the podcast/ TV series Smartless, featuring comedians Will Arnott, Jason Bateman and Sean Hayes. This is the Scientology of comedy. Drumming consensus. Started during Covid, Smartless features the trio talking glibly about their lives in the culture bubble and introducing a surprise guest to the other two. Needless to say Smartless stays on the approved side of Woke culture in its lengthy list of guests.

While the roster is choked by “safe” entertainment and news figures (Rachel Maddow, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmell, Jen Psaki, Bill Maher) you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone bending even slightly Right on the roster. Wayne Gretzky? Certainly no one is going to do a comic dissertation on why the people who lionized the Smothers Brothers now endorse swatting the homes of their enemies. Or palling it up with Hamas.

The episode with black comic Kevin Hart is especially revealing for the three progressive hosts. (The roster of Smartless guests is paler than a Vatican synod.)  Using the Woke Ranking of Grievance, Hart is untouchable for this Hollywood crowd. Exotic and uncontrollable, he owns the set as Arnett, Bateman and Hayes try not to get caught off the reservation as he savages them for talking about peeing sitting down.

As the gay man on set Hayes is similarly protected from most cancellation sins. But Canadian Arnett and especially Bateman are like long tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs. As the conversation heads to the DMZ of comedy Bateman keeps saying, Oh, not you’re not going to get me canceled. His palpable fear of falling afoul of his censorship colleagues is as far from Chappelle and Gervais inviting censure as you can get and still call it comedy.

Speaking of which. Ricky has come up with a fabulous idea for the moribund Oscars broadcast. He thinks he and Chappelle should co-host. Make our day. As long as there’s a camera on the Smartness guys as their world is torn apart.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Corked: The Incongruous Affection For Government Liquor Retailing

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First, the nostalgia. In 1974 we worked at the (now departed) Huron and Dupont LCBO site for Xmas. In those days, when people arrived by dog sled, customers were required to consult a book, find the code that corresponded to their choice of wine or booze, and then hand the slip to a clerk (us) who would fetch the evil brew from a deep lair beneath the store.

Okay, it was from shelves beyond the view of customers. We would then return with the bottle, a cashier would process the transaction, and democracy was safe for another day. After we left, the LCBO modernized stores to allow customers to actually see the bottles they were considering (heresy). They hired clerks who actually knew something about the products, Later still they even had sales and tasting bars in fancy stores adorned in chrome and wood accents.

Those who wanted anything different could hoover to Buffalo or Rochester where the stores were often modest but the prices attractive. Different stores carried different inventories. While Ontario customers ordered rationed futures or shivered in parking lots to get a miniscule share of a hot new wine, getting product at the U.S. stores was both immediate and not rationed.

The contrast was stark. Which is where things sit today. The Ontario government (like all provincial governments save Alberta) is still in the retail business. In the day, they had about 8,000 slots for shelf-worthy products. If you wanted to purchase something else you needed a process that made finding the headwaters of the Nile seem like a casual jaunt. It’s less strenuous now, with the Ford government allowing sales in corner outlets and grocery stores.

But the LCBO remains a unionized tribute to Bill Davis’ Ontario. A polite, apologetic concession to pre-Trudeau Canada. Which is why the noisy ruckus being kicked up by the unionized employees is a downer for the Family Compact sensibilities. The people who stock shelves, operate cashes, check IDs and refuse to give you plastic bags are on strike to protect their sinecures with government. Have they no gratitude?

Union leaders are insisting that the loss of their workers will be a death blow to healthcare and education in the province. All sorts of miscreants will be allowed to escape detection in the buying process. For those of us now living in Alberta this eye-rolling claim is amusing. You see, private liquor retailing has been in effect here for decades. Different stores have different choices. Sales are an everyday feature of the experience. While the LCBO brags about its buying power you don’t see it reflected in prices. Bonus: We also can purchase Costco’s Kirkland brand wines which are cheap and delicious.

The predicted increase in crime and diminution of tax income without unionized store clerks has not happened. As Brian Lilley explains in The Sun, “Statistics Canada tracks the annual net income of liquor authorities in Canada and for fiscal year 2022-23, Alberta returned $825,104,000 to the provincial coffers. With a population of 4,645,229 as of April 1, 2023, that means the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission gave the government a per capita return of $177.62.

“That same year, the LCBO’s net income from liquor was $2,457,527,000. With a population of 15,457,075 as of April 1, 2023, the LCBO returned $158.99 per capita. Even using the $2.58 billion the LCBO remits, which includes other earnings, the LCBO’s per capita return to the province would be $166.91, which is still lower than Alberta’s return.” In short, we call bogus on the union’s claim.

But there is in government liquor sales the Canadian quality of worshipful adherence to the state. This is the polite impulse of restricting competition that has driven healthcare into the stratosphere for Canadians. Even as they wait 18 months to see a specialist or sit endlessly in a waiting room, Canadians privately welcome this as a merit badge for not accepting the two-tiered systems of Europe or the insurance-based market in the U.S.

Their suffering gives them gravitas that, as middle-class folk, they can suffer like the poor folks do, the ones whom, pace the NDP, need our empathy. The glossy brochures churned out by LCBO minions allow a frisson of pizazz but without oppressing the folks camped out in Trinity Bellwods park.

For this reason the Ford Conservatives are treading very carefully despite the evident big-foot uselessness of the current model. In the venerable Ontario government tradition of trying to be half-pregnant they don’t want to stir up the class warriors seen recently in ant-Israel demos. It’s similar in the rest of the provinces where bureaucrats have convinced elected officials that, like Jack in Brokeback Mountain, “I wish I knew how to quit you, Ennis.”

Whatever the LCBO strike result it’s a safe assumption that no one in the Canadian bureaucracy will be losing their jobs to the free market. The huge bumps in hiring since Covid show a colossus that has no intention of giving back its power to regulate. From liquor to climate Canadian politicians have ceded responsibility for areas that can be handled more efficiently and cheaply by civil servants and consultants. Kind of like CBC.

It is possible to kick the habit. The recent Chevron SCOTUS decision seeks to unpack the bureaucratic state by de-fanging its armies of in-house experts, pushing regulations and laws back to elected officials and away from the sprawling DEI-infested bureaucracy. You can tell it’s working by the torrents of complaint from redundant officials. Even more drastically, new Argentine president Javier Milei has reduced his cabinet departments from 22 to just nine.

While PM-in-waiting Pierre Poilievre talks a big game about tackling these excesses, he doesn’t stand a chance at rationalizing government services. So it’s likely he’ll have to content himself with a nice glass of beer or wine. That, under the LCBO, will cost him more than it should.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL And Changed hockey is now available on Amazon. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his previous book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Soccer Most Foul: While Canada Soars The Game Suffers

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Watching Canada’s mens team at the Copa 2024 soccer tournament has been a hoot. With a coach who hasn’t been there long enough to unpack his bags and with a smattering of world-class players they’ve managed to make a little go a long way. They play mighty Argentina on Tuesday after winning a dramatic shootout against Venezuela on Friday.

They’ve yet to score more than once in any game. In two games they’ve been shut out in regulation time. One of the top forwards, Tajan Buchanan, broke his leg. The grandstands are about five percent Canada, 95 percent the other guys. They played almost an entire game with a man advantage and never took any advantage.

The Canada national team huddle together during the Concacaf Gold Cup football match semifinal between Mexico and Canada at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on July 29, 2021. (Photo by AARON M. SPRECHER / AFP) (Photo by AARON M. SPRECHER/AFP via Getty Images)

But here they are. God bless ‘em. The American announcers, bereft after the U.S. collapsed, have adopted Canada as a feel-good story. Should they beat Argentina it will be almost enough for Canadians to forget that Justin Trudeau is still their prime minister. Almost.

What is unavoidable— outside the Canada plot line— is the distressed state of soccer being played at the Copa and the concurrent Euro 24 tournament deciding the champion of that neck of the world. Not that it hasn’t been a disputatious disgrace in the past, but the soccer playing out next to Canada’s ascension is breaching new lows.

Soccer is the UN of sports. It has a storied past. It represents many good and virtuous things in the world. But it is now a swamp of corruption, cynicism and bad people. To paraphrase the Hunter S. Thompson expression, soccer is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.

At times it seems that the object is the litigation process of lies and deception during the game, not the eventual outcome. Like Iran on the UN Women’s Commission or China on the Human Rights board, Ecuador as a soccer titan seems to beggar the imagination. But there you go.

The nadir of this incarnation of “the beautiful game” was likely the unwatchable spectacle of Uruguay and Brazil on Saturday night. The way the bodies were hitting the ground you’d have thought it was the Somme. Except at the Somme, the bodies didn’t miraculously revive and rejoin the battle as if nothing had happened to them.

While there were 37 fouls called (including four yellow cards and a red card) dozens more incidents ended up with players writhing on the turf, pounding the grass with their fist as if their leg had been severed. When the referee ignored the charade, their teammates swarmed Dario Herrera to dispute the sheer injustice of it all. The pantomime of outrage and pomposity was more suited to Gilbert & Sullivan than a sporting event.

Creating some offence seemed to be too heavy of a load for the Brazilians and Uruguayans. (Brazil’s star Vincius Jr. was suspended for the game.) Hence the puny four shots on target in the entire 120-minutes plus of regulation (three by Brazil, one by Uruguay). Better to see if the referee can set you up for a free kick inside the box by feigning injury. Or halt your opponents as they threaten to launch a ball in the direction of your goalie.

The endless lather, rinse, repeat of this process was exhausting as it became clear that the clubs were going to let a shootout settle who would proceed to the semifinals against Colombia (Canada/ Argentina is the other semi.) Finally Uruguay outlasted Brazil 4-2 in the shootout.

Almost hidden in the docket of legal challenges made to luckless referee Herrera was the fact that one of the Brazilian players is currently being investigated in for match fixing. Turns out he’s been (allegedly) taking a dive to draw a yellow cards so his being buddies can cash in.

But he’s been granted a papal dispensation or the equivalent to play in the tournament . Oh, that puts the whole thing beyond the pale. Remember that unhappy bettors once murdered a Colombian player for an own goal at the World Cup. What could possibly go wrong?

That brings up another subject. Which is the standards for what’s allowed in the game. Under a mysterious tradition, defenders are apparently allowed to grab jerseys, hand-check attackers, tackle players in the penalty box on corner kicks and generally impede attackers who stray into their vicinity. If you want to know why three of four COPA matches and three of four Euro matches ended in SO or OT, look no further than the permissible impeding of offence. Scoring is a herculean task when teams are remotely competent.

In a hidebound sport such as soccer where politics reigns supreme, nothing happens without someone’s palm being greased. (And this is our seemingly umpteenth time in our four decades reporting on sport that we have made this point.) But we shall try again.

Other sports have understood that neither fans nor networks pay to see defence. So the NBA made hand-checking opponents a foul. The NHL made slashing the hands of a shooter into a two-minute penalty. The NFL told defensive backs that they couldn’t grab jerseys or limbs in covering receivers. It worked, freeing up the game enough so it doesn’t look like Brazil/ Uruguay every night.

Surely, soccer can restrict the borderline tactics of defenders to allow more flow to the sport. No doubt the cro-magnons that roam the pitch will howl. The players-turned-announcers in the booth will scoff. Fans will blame “sissy tactics” when their team loses.

But please. For one last time. We want to enjoy soccer, not endure it. Open up the game. Shut down the players who turn soccer into The English Patient. Let skill, not clever fouling, decide matches. Remove the terpsichorean spectacle from the pitch.

There. We said it. Nothing will change, but we will feel better about not watching in the future.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL And Changed hockey is now available on Amazon. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his previous book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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