A Brief History of All the Canadian Comedies That Have Infiltrated American Television

Not a fan of reality comedy shows? Blame Tom Green
A Brief History of All the Canadian Comedies That Have Infiltrated American Television

Before Saturday Night Live, there was the Canadian sketch comedy Wayne & Shuster. Before Jackassthere was The Tom Green Show. 

Canadian comedies have had quite a hand in shaping the landscape of both television and comedy in the U.S., and it’s crazy to think that popular franchises like Wayne’s World would never have existed if the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation didn’t give Mike Myers a show to develop Wayne Campbell.

With the hilariously funny Canadian sitcom Workin’ Moms out now on Netflix with its final season, let’s take a look at some of the most significant comedies from north of the border that not only infiltrated U.S. television but brought some of the best Canadian comedians to our screens…

‘Second City Television’ — 1976 to 1984

Second City Television (SCTV) is the now-legendary sketch show from the comedy troupe that spawned stars like John Candy, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Rick Moranis — to name a few. The show hit NBC in 1981, treating Americans to the iconic duo of Bob and Doug McKenzie (Moranis and Dave Thomas), and Candy as Babe Ruth eating hotdogs and doing cartwheels at the request of a sick little fanboy.

Not only did SCTV entertain Americans during a time when SNL was losing its way, but it made its actors household names, leading many of them to later feature in big U.S. comedies from Ghostbusters to almost every Christopher Guest mockumentary. Many of the troupe members also transitioned to SNL, with some taking their SCTV characters with them — like Martin Short’s criminally energetic nerd, Ed Grimley.

‘The Kids in the Hall’ — 1988 to 1995, 2022

Another Canadian sketch show that made its mark abroad, The Kids in the Hall debuted both on CBC Television and HBO in 1988, becoming a regular weekly series a year later. The troupe consists of Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson, and together they portray most of the characters on the show. The series is less SNL and more Monty Python’s Flying Circus, leaning hard into surrealism and featuring a lot of drag. The Kids in the Hall spawned many memorable characters, from McCulloch’s Cabbage Head to McKinney’s Mr. Tyzik, whose goal in life is to watch people and pretend to crush their heads with his fingers. It is shocking just how delightful that simple premise is.

In 2022, Amazon Prime revived the show for a sixth season, and it became the streamer’s first original Canadian series.

‘The Tom Green Show’ — 1994 to 2000

Before prank shows became a dime a dozen and Johnny Knoxville hurt his brain on Jackass, there was The Tom Green Show, where the Canadian comedian pranked people in public and pissed off his parents.

The show first aired in Canada in 1994 before it started broadcasting on MTV in 1999. It was a show that, much like its counterparts, was either loved or despised, but it didn’t stop MTV from airing reruns even when Green had to take a break to deal with testicular cancer. Low ratings eventually canceled Green’s revival show, The New Tom Green Show, but it’s pretty obvious how the comedian’s shenanigans influenced reality comedy shows to come.

‘Kenny vs. Spenny’ — 2000 to 2010

The turn of the millennium saw reality comedy TV burst from its shell to both entertain and push the boundaries of social decorum. Canada was there riding the wave alongside fellow Gen-Xers to make people cringe-laugh at their “so dumb it’s funny” ideas and productions. Kenny vs. Spenny was the brainchild of Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice, who decided to take the concept of competition and apply it to themselves. Only, instead of seeing who can become a better wrestler or whatever, they did things like “Who Can Keep a Dump in their Pants the Longest?” and “Who Can Smoke More Weed?”

The comedy was rooted in the two’s opposite personalities, with Hotz having no problem cheating and Rice being more socially conscious about the stunts they performed. The award-nominated show made its way all around the world (as far as South Africa and Finland even), leading to Hotz joining the South Park writing team in 2004 after Trey Parker and Matt Stone became executive producers of Kenny vs. Spenny in the show’s fourth season.

‘Trailer Park Boys’ — 2001 to 2021

Who’d ever have guessed that a sitcom about a trailer park community would prove to be so enduringly popular? Trailer Park Boys has seen a lot of success, enjoying 12 seasons, three movies, an animated spin-off and even some comic books. The sitcom successfully employed the mockumentary style the same year BBC’s The Office came out, and it’s had a steady following ever since Julian, Ricky and Bubbles first appeared as the weed-loving misfits of Sunnyvale Trailer Park.

‘Schitt’s Creek’ — 2015 to 2020

At first, the quirky Canadian comedy starring Second City legends Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara only aired on CBC Television and Pop TV in the United States, to mild popularity. But when Netflix started streaming the show regionally after its third season, Schitt’s Creek boomed, only growing from there. The show thrived on social media, dominated awards seasons and caused every other person to post their best Moira Rose impression online.

‘Kim’s Convenience’ — 2016 to 2021

Based on co-creator Ins Choi’s 2011 stage play, Kim’s Convenience was hailed for representing a Korean-Canadian family on TV. By its second season, it was picked up and streamed internationally on Netflix, which would most likely have had a longer run if its creators didn’t decide to move on to other projects.

Regardless, the show proved popular enough to spawn a spin-off series, Strays, and although Kim’s Convenience was marred by the unfortunate lack of diversity behind the scenes, the revelation of a lack of representation during its creation brought awareness to its importance.

‘Letterkenny’ — 2016 to present

Arguably the most popular Canadian sitcom right now, Letterkenny went from being a YouTube web series to a Hulu favorite. Created by Jared Keeso and directed by Jacob Tierney, the two star alongside Nathan Dales, Michelle Mylett and Dylan Playfair as residents of the fictional rural town of Letterkenny in Ontario, Canada.

The award-winning show about a town with only 5,000 occupants is filled with small-town Canadian slang and a lot of hockey talk. It does not, however, simply punch down as the show subverts the trope of narrow-minded rural folk by having its characters share enlightened views on a myriad of social issues.

In 2022, Letterkenny’s elusive character, Shoresy, got his own spin-off series with the same name because there’s just no such thing as too many ice hockey comedies.

‘Workin’ Moms’ — 2017 to 2023

Wildly popular on Netflix (but, at the same time, arguably underrated) is the female-led Canadian sitcom Workin’ Moms. It’s a show about moms who also work (duh), but don’t let the simple premise fool you, as it contains multitudes. Created by its leading lady Catherine Reitman, it’s a show made by a younger generation for a younger generation, as these women hilariously navigate their careers, demon teenagers, same-sex marriages and being a role model to a child while figuring out what it means to be a grown-up.

The show might be ending, but judging from the entries above, it will soon be passing the torch to the next batch of Canadian comedies crossing the border.

You can follow Zanandi on Twitter.


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