Deconstructing Jesse Brown

Posted by on Jul 20, 2017 in Brian's Blog, Comedy, Journalism, Media | 0 comments

If you’re one of the 390 viewers who watched Jesse Brown’s “comedy special” on YouTube, you’ll agree with me it’s not funny. Not lol funny, at any rate. Just look at the people in the audience. A few polite smiles. No rolling in the aisles. You get more laughs from 30 seconds of a Russell Peters stand-up routine than from the entire 35 minutes of Brown’s book-promoting video.

The same holds true for Brown’s The Canadaland Guide to Canada, the book of Canadian trivia that this video was created to publicize. It’s not funny either. Take a typical chapter, “Our Prime Ministers: Are They Fuckable?” You won’t read about this chapter in The Globe and Mail or the National Post because they don’t use language that might offend some readers. But I can tell you about it here, because I’m not trammelled by the self-censoring restrictions of the mainstream media.

Brown puts his “fuckable prime ministers” chapter in context in the video while projecting an unflattering image of a moustachioed Justin Trudeau onto his PowerPoint screen: “The world has recently discovered that it would like to fuck our prime minister. But the truth is, there’s a whole history of prime ministers that you might consider fucking.” He then goes on to rate, according to his own “fuckability index”, such former prime ministers as Pierre Trudeau (“pretty fuckable”), Jean Chrétien (“kind of fuckable”) and Lester Pearson (“Oh, go on then, throw the poor kid a fuck”). This is funny? You tell me.

So who is this Jesse Brown, and what exactly is Canadaland? He’s a freelance Toronto journalist, who made a bit of a splash for himself by helping break the story that led to Jian Ghomeshi being charged with sexual assault. Canadaland is the crowd-funded media-criticism podcast that he hosts. The release of The Canadaland Guide to Canada is timed to coincide with Canada’s 150th. Except Brown doesn’t want to celebrate the anniversary. He wants to spoil it. He has said so himself.

Brown has named as his influences the now-defunct gossip website Gawker, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart and the late New York Times media columnist David Carr. But the problem here, as the Globe and Mail’s Simon Houpt pointed out in a 2015 profile, is that Brown tries to embody all three personae “even though they’re essentially antithetical.” Sometimes he gossips, sometimes he mocks, and sometimes he provokes. Mostly he just snarks.

In the YouTube video, and in the Canadaland book – which he slyly dedicates to himself – he adopts the snarking persona. He starts with John A. Macdonald (“our drunk, racist dad”) and the Queen (“our estranged, infirm British mother”) and goes on to take the piss out of the RCMP (“union-stomping, queer-busting, barn-burning posse of farm boys”), hockey players (“smelly, moist, patchy-bearded ice goons”), the CBC (“a furnace of hostility where the worst human impulses and emotions are executed by way of a bloodless and stultifying bureaucracy”), Mr. Dressup (“including the creepiest thing on TV, the Tickle Trunk”), and other Canadian symbols. He classifies his book as a combination of jokes, little-known facts and vulgarity. I classify it as juvenilia. Leave comedy to the professionals, man. They know how to do this stuff.

Brown relishes his role as a critic. What would he say about my negative reaction here to his video and to his book? Likely, that I just don’t get it, man. That I don’t understand irony or satire. That I’m just like the people who watch This Hour Has 22 Minutes; the people who don’t like to laugh. Fair enough. No problem, there. If I give it, I should be able to take it. The comment box is below.

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Copyright 2017 Brian Brennan - Writer

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