Insolent Puppet roils Canadian politics

Stan & Sandy Anonby stan-sandy_anonby at
Sun Feb 22 23:34:18 UTC 2004

I suppose that a whole lot of comedy is about pushing the limits of what's
socially acceptable to say.  Maybe Conan didn't know the Canadian rules too
well.  Rule of thumb I try to live by is that the weaker can poke fun at the
stronger, but not vice versa.  Maybe not 100% fair, OK by me.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
To: "Language Policy-List" <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Monday, February 16, 2004 3:09 PM
Subject: Insolent Puppet roils Canadian politics

> >From the NYTimes,  February 16, 2004
> An Insolent Puppet Roils Canadian Politics
> TORONTO, Feb. 15  Conan O'Brien came to Toronto last week, and he nearly
> started a civil war. Just kidding, sort of.
> On a taped segment on Thursday night's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" on
> NBC, the puppet Triumph the Insult Comic Dog visited the Winter Carnival
> in Quebec City and touched the third rail of Canadian politics by telling
> the Quebecois they ought to learn English since they live in North
> America. "So you're French and Canadian, yes?" Triumph asked a passer-by
> in a Continental accent. "You're obnoxious and dull."
> If that were not enough teasing along the delicate cultural divide between
> Francophone and Anglophone Canadians, the puppet told another: "I can tell
> you're French, you know. You have that proud expression, that superior
> look." And of a third, rather plump, man the puppet asked: "Are you a
> separatist?  Maybe you should try separating yourself from doughnuts
> first."
> Worst of all, perhaps, the Toronto audience laughed heartily. Such
> dialogue was hardly what Toronto's tourism authorities had in mind when
> they invited Mr. O'Brien to bring his show here along with Canadian comic
> stars like Jim Carrey and Mike Myers to boost American interest in a city
> that is still hurting from last year's SARS epidemic.
> The four-night production did fill an estimated 700 hotel rooms, and gave
> some part-time work to scores of stagehands who have had a lot less work
> in recent months because of SARS and a rising Canadian dollar. But the
> seemingly harmless if crass remarks of a puppet created a blaze of
> protests on the floor of the House of Commons and became fodder for
> national politicians seeking to win Quebecois votes. Canada is in the
> of the biggest political scandal in more than a generation, but the
> foul-mouthed puppet was still front-page news and heavily covered on
> national television.
> "We can all make jokes about each other but you don't start telling people
> in Quebec they have to speak another language," said Stephen Harper, a
> Conservative member of Parliament who is a contender for Prime Minister in
> elections expected this year. "That's completely unacceptable." Alexa
> McDonough, a member of Parliament from the social democratic New
> Democratic Party, demanded that the show return an estimated $750,000 it
> received in Canadian taxpayer's promotional money for coming to Toronto.
> She characterized the puppet act as "vile and vicious."
> CHUM television, the local broadcaster, cut the puppetry act out of a
> rebroadcast of the episode and issued an apology. Leading Quebec
> politicians generally refused to comment. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a
> character created by the comic and writer Robert Smigel, appears often on
> "Late Night." Triumph has landed some controversial shots before, and his
> targets have included the rapper Eminem and "Star Wars" fans. But his
> latest television fray could be the biggest since the 1999 "South Park"
> animated movie "Bigger, Longer and Uncut" farcically depicted a war
> between Canada and the United States.
> Some commentators expressed puzzled amusement at all the fuss. A headline
> in Saturday's Toronto Star read: "Oh, Canada! We let ourselves be baited
> by a dog puppet." Nevertheless an editorial in the same issue of The Star
> said the sketch "wasn't clever it was hateful and, yes, racist." The
> editorial went on to say, "O'Brien would never have dared such a stunt at
> home in New York City with American Hispanics or Jews," and added:
> "Goodbye, Conan. Don't come back soon."
> Political satire is a big part of Canadian culture, and it can be rather
> ribald. It can also be rather anti-American, with hefty helpings of
> insults about President Bush and American ignorance about things Canadian.
> Crude anti-French jokes are not uncommon outside Quebec, but they are
> generally told in private along with other ethnic humor considered
> politically incorrect. One reason nerves became so frayed was that the
> Triumph the Insult Comic Dog routine came just three weeks after Don
> Cherry, the CBC hockey commentator and an hero among a certain class of
> rough-and-tumble Anglophone Canadians, poked fun at French Canadian and
> European players for wearing protective visors on their helmets.
> That remark was one in a string of statements made over the years deemed
> unfair to Quebecois players, leading the CBC to design a seven-second
> system to suppress any future insults before they are broadcast. Tensions
> in Quebec have subsided since a 1995 separatist referendum went down to a
> narrow defeat, and laws designed to protect the French language have been
> effectively enforced. A pro-federalist premier was elected in Quebec by a
> landslide last year. Mr. O'Brien stopped short of an apology, although in
> his fourth and final taping of the week, he said, "For those of you who
> don't know me, I'm the guy who was hired to make Don Cherry look good."
> Marc Liepis, a spokesman for NBC, said neither Mr. O'Brien nor the network
> would have any further comment.

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