About Me

My photo
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Remembering December 6, 1989

Early December marks a trio of horrible anniversaries: the shooting at L' Ecole Polytechnique on the 6th, the attack on Pearl Harbor on the 7th and the shooting of John Lennon on the 8th. I've always found the terrible trilogy to be a grim counter-point to the gradual onslaught of yuletide cheer.

It is with something of a heavy heart that I recount my memories of December 6, 1989 and the days that followed. I say that because my tone in the rest of my blog may suggest otherwise.

Working in comedy when horrible things like this happen ain't easy. I am still haunted by memories of a show I was in on September 12, 2001 when some majorly misguided stand-up comic rolled out his all new 911 material (I wonder if that would fall into Glen Beck's 9-12 program?).  That, however, is a blog for next September.

Back in 1989, I was writing, performing and producing a weekly sketch comedy radio series with my good pals and colleagues, The Vestibules. We already had our first CBC contract by then but we were still doing our series for CKUT 90.3 FM, Radio McGill. We saw it as a good way to continue to generate new material.

The show aired Thursday nights which meant that 90% of said new material for that week's show was written after 10 PM on Wednesday night. We knew nothing of the Polytechnique shooting that night (just as an aside I have never known what to call the event. I have never liked the Montreal Massacre. It sounds like something an American news network's graphics department came up with).

Not that we saw any news, American or otherwise that night. We were shut away from the world in Breakfast Studios throwing crumpled up bags around the room in attempt to either distract ourselves from the fact that we still didn't have a show written or in the hopes that physical activity would somehow indirectly inspire us to write the Greatest Sketch in the History of Comedy.

I did not learn of the shooting until waking up Thursday morning. I was just getting out of bed so that I could head right back to  Breakfast Studios to help prepare our newly written and recorded show for that evening's broadcast. My clock radio had just gone off. I heard the news for the first time on CKUT FM from an incredibly nervous sounding and shaken up kid clearly reading a wire story verbatim.

One of the newly written and recorded sketches that we had for the show was about these two gruff sounding sleazy movies critics. The critics review and hate just about every movie that was out at the time.  The only movies that get good reviews from these guys are soft core pornos. A simple joke, I know, but trust me, it was all in the performances. It did not take long for us to realize that it was a sketch that, under the circumstances,  none of us were comfortable with putting on the air.

Problem was that we had nothing else ready to put in the questionable sketch's place. So we spent most of the morning and early afternoon re-editing the bit. We cut out anything that we felt might be inappropriate. As it turns out, that was most of the sketch. It made the show a little short but CKUT didn't have all that strict a schedule to adhere to. The remaining bit left even our biggest fans going , "Huh?".

It was worth it.

As I look back on it now, I still wonder if  we were being overly sensitive or not. I think, though, that either way, it was my own (and I can only speak for myself on this score) way of showing, if only to myself, that yes, this horrible event affected me and that, yes, I did what I could.

I would do the same thing again today.

The day after that show aired, I was in the Friday night McGill Improv show (BTW, for the record, I never even attended McGill University) .  In the show, we were playing an improv game called "Most Deaths in a Minute". I'm not sure whose idea it was to even play that game that night but I suspect that some kind of iconoclastic reaction against the media bombardment about the event over the two previous days figured into the decision.

For the non-improv cognoscenti out there, the game is exactly what it sounds like: come up with as many different ways to die in a given location as you can in one minute. Of course, we got the suggestion of "school". Today under those circumstances, I would just turn the suggestion down cold. Back then, being the young Johnstonian  improv purists that we we were, we took it.

The timing of one minute began. There was hesitation amongst the players. Then finally someone ran onto the stage. Seemingly without even thinking, she said, "Is there where the engineering final is?" and then mimed getting shot. I believe the phrase "too soon" was invented that night.

Many years later, I had the occasion to reunite with that player. I told her the story of how she made the first joke about the December 6 shooting. She did not remember the incident at all and was mortified by even the suggestion that she did such a thing. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have mentioned it.

Working in comedy over the next 21 years, that was the one and only joke that I have ever heard about the events of December 6, 1989.

I hope it stays that way.


  1. I'm really glad I read this. For me, December 6th was always just the Feast of Saint Nicholas and--if I remembered--the anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. Then December 6, 1989 happened. As you know, I went to McGill from 1994-98 and the tone of that day, as a female university student in Montreal, was very different than anywhere else in the country. All classes were cancelled every year on that day, as I recall. It was a day we were encouraged to participate in vigils, rallies, memorials, or other activities to remind us of the violence that is directed at women just for the crime of being women. It was a lesson I didn't need to be taught because, as a woman, I already realize this is true. But it was a formative lesson to be reminded to use the tragedy as an impetus for vigilance, for active thought about cultural values that can lead to hate and violence. It was good to be reminded to remember.

    This year I told my daughter about the events at L'Ecole Polytechnique. I know she's young to hear it and I didn't mean to scare her, but we were talking about the significance of the day (she knows a lot about the Halifax Explosion and about the Feast of St. Nicholas already) and I told her also about the man who killed those 14 women in 1989. I told her because I want her to know how important it is to strive for a world that rejects misogyny, that does not limit women to "girl things," that does not foster the notion that women are out of place in science and technology fields, that does not stand by while gender stereotypes continue to limit human achievement. It's a lifelong lesson though, and one that she'll have to contend with forever.

    It's raining in Halifax today. Contemplative weather for a contemplative day.

    1. Nicely said. Thanks for reading and for sharing.