There were plenty of laughs for a serious cause Thursday night as more than a 100 people turned out for a fundraising dinner and awards ceremony in Ottawa to honour Canadian comedy stars Andrea Martin and Colin Mochrie. The event marked the inaugural Candy Awards, a tribute to the late, legendary Canadian comedian and actor John Candy. Candy starred in the classic Second City Television (SCTV) sketch-comedy series and later achieved even greater fame with such films as Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains and Automobiles before his death in 1994 at the age of just 43.
The awards dinner was part of Alterna Savings Crackup, the week-long Ottawa festival of stand-up comedy. Crackup grew out of the annual Cracking Up The Capital comedy nights that started in 2004 as a means to raise awareness and funds in support of mental health.
Crackup founder and president John Helmkay introduced the Candy Awards this year in order to recognize Canadian comedians for a lifetime of outstanding achievement (the moniker was inspired by comedian Norm Macdonald who, a couple of years ago, first suggested it for the Canadian Screen Awards trophy). The recipients, one man and one woman, were selected in consultation with John Candy’s children, Jen and Chris.
Support for mental health
“I think it’s fabulous that they named this award after my Dad,” says Jen Candy, who attended the dinner with her brother and their mother, Rosemary. Both Candy children are actors in Los Angeles.
“It’s a cause, I think if my Dad were around, he would want to continue to participate in and bring knowledge to. I think it’s great that we get to be here.”
The cause was also important for Andrea Martin, the SCTV alumna who worked with Candy and continues to enjoy a successful career that has garnered both Emmy and Tony Awards. She flew to Ottawa from L.A. specifically to be part of the event.
“Really, why I’m here is I really believe in the mental health initiatives and I think Canada does a better job than the United States,” she says. “I try to pick the charities that really mean something to me and this is one that I think is very important.”
Colin Mochrie, the improv ace who starred on both the British and American versions of Whose Line Is It Anyway? as well as CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, described his award as “an incredible honour”.
No laughing matter
Like so many Canadian comedians, he and Martin have achieved great success south of the border yet are both frustrated and, given the success of so many Canadian entertainers there, somewhat baffled at the difficulties Canadians comics have gaining traction in their own country. They both feel the fundamental problem is cultural, whether it’s the audiences or the industry.
“I actually get upset when people are constantly pointing out on American television ‘oh they’re Canadian’ and feeling that sense of pride,” complains Mochrie. “Why don’t we have that while they’re here plying their trade? They’re just as funny. They’re just as talented. Let’s help them make a living here. Why should there be this talent drain on our comedy? Go to a comedy club, go out to an improv, see your stand-up, support these people.”
“[Comedians working in Canada are] just as funny. They’re just as talented. Let’s help them make a living here. Why should there be this talent drain on our comedy? Go to a comedy club, go out to an improv, see your stand-up, support these people.”
Martin, who was born in the U.S. and became a Canadian citizen last November after being a landed immigrant/permanent resident here for 47 years, says she loves Canada dearly and recognizes all sorts of talent here, but bemoans what she sees as a complacency in the entertainment industry.
“I think it’s an attitude… I wish I was a therapist and could figure it out,” she says. “It’s infuriating to me because I’ve worked a lot in Canada and afterwards I say why don’t people here have the same sort of fervour for the work that I experience in the United States, because it doesn’t mean they don’t have talent. They’re more enthused (in the U.S.)… hungry, maybe that’s what it is, I don’t get a hunger here. You have to be hungry, that’s what ambition is.”
Major donation to CHEO
Along with achievement awards for Martin and Mochrie, a third Candy for being a Mental Health Champion went to Patrick McKenna, the versatile star of such television shows as Traders, The Red Green Show and Hard Rock Medical.
Along with the big names in comedy, the event also celebrated a big donation to the cause behind it all: $20-thousand from the Tony Graham Family Foundation that will go to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and its 1door4care project in support of youth mental health.