Remembering Mike Macdonald – The King Of Canadian Comedy – By Danny Mendlow
Like most Canadians with a comedy addiction, I of course knew who Mike Macdonald was from a very early age. How could you not? Anytime you turned on a TV in the 80s and 90s and saw stand-up comedy, there was a good chance Mike was there, and the funniest guy during that particular montage of comedians we were all raised on, The Just For Laughs Galas. But it wasn’t until many years later, when I had the great fortune of attending a couple of Just For Laughs Festivals, that I would truly start to understand just how much Mike meant to not just Canadian Comedians… but to every comedian.
It was our first trip to Montreal, and we were actually hired by the festival’s “Comedy Pro” division to run their social media accounts, go to shows and take photos, etc. Rather than just do that, I of course brought a 3 person camera team with me along for the ride and we made the most of our time at the big dance. If there was one thing I knew about the big dance, it’s that you often only get invited once, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be back again. We had a whirlwind first couple days, making quick work of befriending and volunteering our cameras and doing exciting Reddit AMA’s with the likes of Barry Katz and Paul Provenza. We began filming every episode of Katz’s “Industry Standard” Podcast and generally having the time of our lives. That was, until the cameras got stolen. Right after a magical night that included watching Mike Macdonald sit in Provenza’s iconic “Green Room” round-table with some of the biggest American comedians on the planet… it was then that I first caught a glimpse of the reverence all my favourite AMERICAN comedians had for Mike Macdonald, including Jim Norton, at the height of his Opie and Anthony fame. The biggest and most successful comedians of the time, stood in awe at his mere presence. So the morning after the cameras were stolen, and all of our footage along with it, I had to walk out of our first episode of Industry Standard we were filming, with Jim Norton, I was shaking and crying too much to hold the camera steady. We’d been up all night at the police station, no sleep, we were all a mess. I sat in the hallway and my comedy boss at the time, Mark Breslin, walked down the hallway… the next guest on the podcast. I sat there blubbering as he walked inside and asked “Why is Danny crying in the hallway?” as Norton left the room. And then the guys rolled the two cameras we’d scrounged together that morning, and Barry Katz, the legendary Manager who had helped launch the careers of the likes of Chappelle, Burr, Maron, Sykes… the list was endless… all Barry Katz wanted to talk with Mark Breslin about… was just how funny Mike Macdonald was.
Years later, I would find myself yet again witness to the magic of Mike, and the influence he had on not just Canada, or Canadian Comedians / Comedy fans. After booking a tour of Ontario for a group of misfit troublemakers from the Southern USA who called themselves “The American Heretics” shortly after Donald Trump’s election – the opening weekend would commence on Mike’s home turf, the Yuk Yuk’s in Downtown Ottawa. I had tried to get Mike to be the celebrity host for the guys but he didn’t feel he was the right fit for the show but wanted to come check it out regardless. He really just genuinely loved comedy. Backstage one night, Mike told the three headliners, Tom Simmons, Stewart Huff and Jay Whitecotton, a story from his past days touring in the Southern US. Despite having a near riot erupt in the audience during Tom’s set and the crowd still being unruly and volatile when Huff took the stage, Stewart just couldn’t help but tell the story Mike had just told him backstage, and make sure the audience knew how much Mike meant to him as a teenager who wanted to be a comedian.
One thing Mike used to say that I loved was, “If Comedy was an Olympic Sport, Canada would medal every year.” And that was perhaps what I’ll remember most about the man, was that he just plain, flat out cared. He wanted us all to be better. To reach people. To find an audience. To return to the glory days of Canadian Comedy, when he reigned supreme, the unquestioned leader of the Canadian Olympic Comedy Team. So in the midst of the early days of Coronovirus-mania, I saw a memorial post go up on Facebook, indicating the two-year anniversary of his passing. I thought how sad, that nobody would remember this great man amidst all this chaos. But to my pleasant surprise, when I shared the memorial post it went semi-viral. With over 270+ reactions and 28 shares. Even in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic, Canadians, Comedians and Comedy-Fans alike, took a minute to remember and pay respects, to the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) of Canadian Comedy. Mike Allan MacDonald. May he Rest In Peace. Gone but not forgotten.