Monday, November 22, 2010

Bob and Doug McKenzie, Canadian Stereotypes

Last blog I commented on "Phil the Alien" a Canadian movie, and compared it to "Men in Black", an American movie. But perhaps I should have also mentioned another Canadian movie called "Strange Brew", and especially, the impact of it's main characters Doug and Bob McKenzie.

Doug and Bob burst on to the scene in the early eighties. In my opinion, they were a self parody of Canadians, or what a Canadian thinks an American thinks is a Canadian. In this way, it was kind of ground breaking, because never before had Canadians ever seen themselves though this double looking glass.

The skit started because of a two minute difference between Canada and the USA versions of the Canadian TV show "SCTV". Canada did not allow as many commercials as the USA, so an extra two minutes of material had to be found for the Canadian audience. And, according to the overbearing Canadian government, this two minutes had to be specifically "Canadian" content.

So their skit was originally a two-minute filler, shown only in Canada, dictated by the typical government intervention of socialist Canada, to replace the paying commercials that were run on the same show in the free enterprise USA.

What Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas came up with was an extremely dumb and cheap filler to poke fun at the "Canadian Content" requirement. Full of cliches, catchphrases, and stereotypical Canadian behaviour. Although beer drinking, and saying "eh!" were based on some pre-existing widespread Canadianisms, they popularized some other lesser known traits, and possibly invented some others out of thin air. The wearing of woolen toques indoors was a slight distortion of reality, in that Canadians did often wear toques outdoors, but usually took them off if it was not freezing cold.

The stereotype included lumberjack clothes, sitting in easy chairs, cooking back bacon, smoking and drinking beer on the set. They made up supposedly important Canadian topics to talk about, dealing with donut shop etiquette, how to get a free case of beer by putting a mouse in an empty bottle.

They padded their skit with every stupid Canadian thing they could think of to please the CRTC and the Canadian Federal Communications Ministry. This skit popularized the word "Hoser" in Canadian-speak, and the modified the meaning of the term "Great white North" to include all of Canada. Up till then, if you had used the word "Great white north" you were probably referring to the North West Territories only.

In this early version of the show, the credits say "There are four Americans working on this show, but they have landed immigrant status, and have signed CRTC affidavits swearing that they dink beer, eat back bacon, drive snowmobiles, and wear toques. Any resemblance between this program and the content of any American program is purely coincidental and not the intention of the producers or the various television agencies of the Canadian Government who have screened these programs prior to bulk erasing in accordance with the policies of the Federal Television Identity Board."

Somehow a few of these largely embarrassing episodes accidentally made it into the American homes, and instantly became a hit. Apparently these dumb carefree Canadian characters struck a chord with Americans. And once they were a hit in the USA, suddenly Doug and Bob McKenzie were adored in Canada. Soon Bob and Doug had a movie out called "Strange Brew". That's the way it used to go thirty years ago.

So for about a decade, the "real" Canadian character started to take form around the stereotypes provided by Dog and Bob McKenzie. A stereotype promoted by the television show, and recognizable by Americans. For the first time, there was a real Canadian stereotype, an identity for people who up till then could only describe themselves as "Not Americans".

I think that since then we have moved forward. Well, either that or Americans have moved backward. Today there are some other popular stereotypes of Canada emerging, besides the donut shops, the beers, and the back bacon. Now we are more of a multicultural society than we were thirty years ago. The donut shops, possibly helped by Doug and Bob, have thrived and multiplied. Today you can't avoid a donut shop almost anywhere in Canada. We have four Tim Horton's within a 20 minute walk of our house. People don't say Hoser anymore, and I'm not real sure we ever did before the McKenzies.

A Canadian movie from 1995 still showing inspiration of Bob and Doug (starring John Candy) was "Canadian Bacon". Candy and friends are attempting yet another American invasion of Canada, when their stolen "RMPC" truck gets pulled over by a Canadian motorcycle cop. Here is a clip with Dan Akroyd as motorcycle cop.


  1. Many important film critics rate Max von Sydow's performance in Strange Brew as one of his finest, second only perhaps to that of the knight in Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal.

    Koo-roo koo koo koo-roo koo koo!

  2. If you wonder how Max Von Sydow got sucked into this film, the allusions to Hamlet, and a credit at the end to a certain "W. Shakespeare" might explain. And of course, all the free beers.