Tallboyz Make a Splash on CBC

Vance, Franco, Guled and Tim

Canada has a long history of producing great sketch comedy shows. SCTV introduced us to Eugene Levy, Catherine O’hara, John Candy, and many more.  The Kids in the Hall gave us mind bending creativity, and an ensemble with incredible range.  These days you can watch the hilarious Baroness Von Sketch Show on TV, Netflix, or CBC Gem (The free CBC streaming service).  Canadian comedy is in a great place right now and it just added another jewel to the crown.

Tallboyz debuted tonight on CBC and CBC Gem.  The four person sketch group from Toronto is made up of Guled Abdi, Vance Banzo, Franco Nguyen, and Tim Blair.  I won’t spoil too much for you, but this show has great range.  The sketch they released online this morning as a teaser features a boy band where one of the members has a partially absorbed twin who sings from his stomach.  The production quality was stellar, and it signals that this show has a bright future.

Another sketch that had me howling was Vance doing a “man on the street” game show, where the contestant had to figure out if he was talking about an Indigenous person or a penny.  I’ll let you explore the rest of this great show on your own.  Front to back the Tallboyz really delivered in their first episode.

Earlier today I was lucky enough to speak with Tallboyz cast member Tim Blair.  We talked about the importance of original Canadian comedy, what it’s like to work with Bruce McCulloch, and how it feels to have a TV show at 23 years old.

“It feels insane to be like ‘oh yeah we’re a sketch group that used to meet at my dad’s house like 3 years ago and now we’re on a billboard downtown’.  It’s so surreal because I feel like opportunities like this in Canadian comedy don’t come around very often.”

It’s real Tim.  You have a show now, and it’s awesome.  Check out Tallboyz on CBC, Tuesdays at 9pm, or anytime on CBC Gem.

The Holy Grail of Canadian Comedy

Ten comedians in Canada are preparing for what could be the biggest show of their lives.  Every year, Sirius XM Top Comic scours the country for the best chuckle-makers.  They have to ace a live audition, survive an online voting round, and then dazzle the judges at the final show at JFL 42 in Toronto.

The winner gets $25,000 and that’s not all.  I spoke with Ben Miner, host and senior producer for Just for Laughs Canada, about why this competition is so important.

“I think it’s pretty significant. You win this competition, you’re now booked for a TV taping in Montreal at just for laughs, you get an hour in Toronto for JFL 42, a headline set in Vancouver for JFL Northwest, and you get flown out to Australia for Just for Laughs Australia.”

The final show is Thursday the 26th of September in Toronto as part of the JFL 42 festival. In addition to the very funny contestants, the show is headlined by the one and only Deanne Smith. If you’re not in the area or can’t get tickets, you can listen live on Just for Laughs Canada, channel 168 on Sirius XM.

Trying to Block the Wind

When I was five years old my family took a vacation to the Oregon coast. This happened 32 years ago so I have almost no memories of it except for one. We were out exploring the sand dunes one day when the wind picked up. Sand was blasting through the wind all around me, I lost track of my family, and I got scared. Perhaps some people in this scenario would start running around haphazardly, but I had a different tactic. I crumpled myself into a little ball on the ground and covered my face. I knew my parents would come find me, and sure enough they did. They even commended me for my decision to take cover. That’s why, to this day, when trouble comes my way I just get into the fetal position. The armadillo is my spirit animal.

This story is what comes to mind anytime I think of the taxi industry in BC. They were out enjoying a nice sunny vacation when the wind changed direction. All of a sudden they had ride-sharing services blasting them from every direction. That’s when they made the decision to hunker down and wait for saving. Sure enough the BC government came along and carried them off to safety.

We’ve all had bad experiences with taxis. It’s inevitable.   From the guy who was falling asleep at the wheel, to the driver who said he would only take cash, there’s no shortage of problems. I’ve seen denied fares, dropped reservations, and the horrendous line up of people waiting at the airport. The bottom line is that the taxi industry has problems.

Whenever I have a bad experience with a taxi I’ll inevitably take to social media to decry our lack of ride sharing services. Among the agreeable replies there will typically be someone who comes out in support of the taxi industry. The most memorable instance of this was when a friend of mine shared a podcast about a New York cabbie who sadly committed suicide after ride sharing devalued his taxi medallion.

A taxi medallion is the license to operate a cab, and before ride sharing came along, a retired medallion owner could make a few thousand a month by renting it out to other drivers. Many drivers counted on the value of their medallion as part of their retirement. When the medallions lost their inherent value, many drivers were left without a retirement plan. It’s understandable that someone suddenly losing their ability to provide for themselves would succumb to those feelings of hopelessness and despair.

We have a similar system in place here in Vancouver. The license to operate a taxi is incredibly expensive. I heard a rumour that at one point a taxi license was worth about a million dollars. This means that the person driving your cab is certainly not the license holder. Much like single detached homes, a taxi license in Vancouver is just a place to park your money. You dump 6 or 7 figures into a license and slowly recoup that investment by charging other people to drive your cab. It’s understandable why the taxi industry is so vehemently opposed to ride sharing. They’ve invested a lot of money into the current system, and they’re rightfully concerned about the wellbeing of their drivers.

I can see where both sides are coming from, but here’s the sticking point. I don’t understand what makes the taxi industry different from any other. We know for a fact that Walmart destroys small businesses, and yet we had no problem letting them into Canada. We told small businesses that if they wanted to compete they would have to adapt and grow their business online. Then we had no problem letting Amazon annihilate their online sales with predatory practices. For anyone who doesn’t know how Amazon kills business, here’s a brief explanation. They allow vendors to sell products through them for as long as it takes for them to develop a competing product, and then they force the original seller out of the market. Amazon will happily sell things at a loss if it means hurting their competition.

Uber came to Canada in 2012 and since then BC has done everything to stand in their way. The ban on ride sharing is finally ending in BC, with services expected to be available by Christmas. As damaging as this will be to the taxi industry, we have to view it as a necessary step for our city. Vancouver attracts visitors from all over the world, and it’s incredibly confusing for people from the states who arrive and realize there’s no easy way to get around. If Vancouver wants to be known as a world-class city, then we have to have the same services you’d expect to find in New York or LA. Otherwise, we run the risk of alienating the business community, the sporting community, and countless others. Why would people plan important conferences or event in a city where participants have to rely on an outdated system of transportation? Imagine being late for the NHL draft because you couldn’t get a cab.

The taxi industry has had seven years to prepare for the launch of ride sharing, and while some cab companies have developed apps for easier booking in that time, the systems are still far from perfect. Perhaps they thought the government could protect them forever from the changing times. Unfortunately technology marches forward and our society either moves on with it, or gets left behind. Ride sharing can’t be stopped. If you need evidence of this you only have to look as far as Richmond. The Chinese community has been using black market ride sharing for the last few years. They have their own apps and even when this became public knowledge, there was little the government could do to stop it. Embracing change or let it push you out of the way.

It’s natural for us to want to protect our fellow citizens from having their livelihood destroyed, but trying to stand in the way of innovation is like trying to block the wind… it’ll just go around you.

WoW Classic and the Death Knell of my Youth

World of Warcraft was released on November 23rd 2003 and I was there for it. I pre-ordered the game at Electronic Boutique and picked it up at the midnight release party. Two guys walked into the store that night and asked if they had any copies that weren’t spoken for, and of course they didn’t. I remember thinking, “These idiots. Don’t they know how huge this game is?” and boy did it ever live up to the hype.

WoW was the first mainstream MMORPG(Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game). The genre was popularized by games like Everquest, Asheron’s Call, and Final Fantasy XI, but all those games appealed to niche audiences. The early MMO’s were very difficult and punished failure. For example in Final Fantasy XI, if your character died and couldn’t get resurrected by another player, you lost 8% of your current level’s experience. In addition, you could only gain experience after level 10 by joining a 5 person hunting party. It took a group effort to gain levels, and all that could be undone by wandering too close to a monster when you were on your own.

WoW was the first MMO with gameplay tailored to be user friendly. If you died all you had to do was run back to your corpse. If an enemy player killed you, they couldn’t steal any of your items (unlike in Everquest). To top it all off, it was developed and released by Blizzard Entertainment, a company that had a reputation for releasing games that were extremely fun and polished (Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo).

The game launched and the community of players ballooned up to over 10 million unique players. Together we logged hundreds of millions of hours into this game. The player base has dwindled over the years but WoW still remains the most successful MMORPG of all time. Every few years after the game came out, there would be a rumour that a new MMO was on it’s way, and that this new game would be the “WoW Killer”, the game that finally dethroned WoW.  Guild Wars 2, Wildstar, Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online… they all thought they’d be the WoW killer, and they all failed in that mission.

World of Warcraft has evolved an incredible amount over the last 16 years. The original game capped player experience at level 60, but every few years a new expansion pack was released, the level cap was increased, and the game changed. The Burning Crusade raised the level cap to 70, took players through the dark portal to an alien world, and introduced flying to the game. Wrath of the Lich King raised the level cap to 80 and took players to the continent of Northrend to face one of the most iconic villains in Warcraft lore (Arthas Menethil, The Lich King). Then the cap was increased to 85, then 90, and as of today the level cap is 120. That’s double the levels from where we started. With every expansion, the game became less and less recognizable from what it used to be and a good portion of the player base began to yearn for the days of old.

Blizzard heard their players, and on August 26th 2019 they released World of Warcraft Classic. It’s just the original game with none of the modern bells and whistles. To say this game had a lot of hype around it would be an understatement. The servers went online at 3pm PST on August 26th and it was pure chaos. Millions of players logging into the game at the same time, scrambling past one another to try and kill the same level one creatures. Amidst all the lag and crowding and hard work, a familiar sensation was felt… we were having fun again. We were putting in hard work and getting rewarded for it. The game lived up to the hype and it dawned on us that maybe the “WoW Killer” was gonna be WoW Classic.

August 26th 2019, pure chaos

I dove back into WoW Classic as a gnome warrior, the most ridiculous class and race pairing. Warriors are the sturdiest and strongest class, and Gnomes are tiny little creatures with squeaky voices. It’s a hilarious combination to be sure. I loved diving back into this game that had been such an important part of my youth. I quested, I died, I got into dungeon groups, I joined a guild. As much fun as I was having, I slowly but surely realized that I couldn’t devote the kind of time to this game that I wanted to. That’s when I realized what the real “WoW Killer” is… becoming an adult.

I’m married. I have a job. I have a dog. I go to school. I’m expecting my first child. The only way I could give WoW Classic the amount of effort I wanted to is if I ignored my other responsibilities. If I did that, yeah I’d be awesome in game, but I’d be a failure as a husband, a student, an employee, and an expectant father. That kind of guilt just isn’t worth it. I’ve finally become that thing I swore I’d never be… a grown up.

Life is only gonna get more complicated from here. In 3 months I’ll be a dad. In 7 months I’ll be finished school and trying to get a job in my chosen field. Would it be nice to join a raiding guild that has Blackwing Lair on farm while my max level warrior gathers materials to craft Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker? Yeah of course it would, but you know what would feel even better? Investing in my relationship with my family, and becoming a max level dad with story time on farm.

There will always be video games. I can put down the mouse and keyboard for now and focus on my real life. Then one day, many years from now, when my kid is in school and my wife is bored with me and I have my career in place… maybe then I’ll have time to jump back into World of Warcraft.

For those of you with less responsibility in life, enjoy classic my friends. Lok’tar Ogar.

None of the Above

In the 1985 film “Brewster’s Millions”, Richard Pryor plays a man who has the chance to inherit 300 million dollars. The stipulation for his inheritance is that he has to recklessly spend 30 million dollars in a month, in order to learn the value of a dollar. This means that he has to blow through a vast sum of money and have nothing to show for it at the end of the month. To top it all off, he’s not allowed to disclose his mission to anyone.

He can donate 5% to charity and gamble away another 5%, but other than that he has to find ways to spend the money without wasting it. He checks himself in to the most expensive hotel in New York, and hires a personal staff at way above market rates. He pays to have the New York Yankees play an exhibition game against the Hackensack Bulls, a minor league team that Brewster pitches for.

Perhaps the most ingenious use of his money is a brief foray into politics. Brewster realizes that the two candidates for Mayor of New York are equally terrible so he starts a political campaign to urge people to vote for “none of the above”. If the available candidates are bad choices, then voters deserve the chance to voice that opinion.

Brewster's Millions (1985) Universal Pictures

This is how I feel about the looming Canadian federal election. There are a slew of weak options for us to choose from, and the deadline is fast approaching. In a matter of weeks the balance of power in Ottawa will shift once again. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the people vying for your votes.

Justin Trudeau: The incumbent Prime Minister of Canada was a breath of fresh air after a decade of Harper conservative rule, but that fresh air was quickly tainted by cotton candy flavoured vape clouds. He made Canada a world leader for those seeking refugee status and legalized marijuana on a national level, but that’s where I start running out of good things to say about him. The SNC-Lavalin affair will be a stain on his tenure as PM, as well as his failure to overhaul our ridiculous electoral system. Perhaps his worst move as PM was the decision to purchase the Trans-Mountain pipeline. It was obviously an attempt to garner support in Alberta, but it cost him support from his more environmentally minded voters. Someone should have told Justin that “haters goanna hate” and that trying to please Alberta is a fool’s errand. He also sold arms to Saudi Arabia, which isn’t a good look.

Elizabeth May: Honestly, I like Elizabeth May because I think she has a lot of good ideas. The problem with the Green Party is that nobody votes for them. They will probably win one or two seats in the coming election. Without the power of a voting block, there’s little that the Greens can ever accomplish in parliament. This is why Canadians wanted an overhaul of the electoral system, so that we could cast a vote for the smaller party without “wasting” our vote. Under the current system you either vote for the winner or your vote goes in the trash. Most Canadians are in favour of a ranked voting system, where you can vote for multiple candidates on the same ballot. That way if your first choice has no chance of winning, your vote moves to your second choice. This would allow more Canadians to vote for the candidates who best represent our values, but that didn’t pan out… Thanks Justin.

Jagmeet Singh: Who? Seriously, what is this guy’s deal? He’s been the leader of the federal NDP for two years at this point and I have heard almost nothing about him. I mean if you don’t have much to talk about in terms of policy, at least steal a page out of Trudeau’s playbook and go shirtless jogging every other day. Literally all I know about Jagmeet is that he got married (congrats bro) and that racist Canadians can’t tell the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim. This is actually one of the best things about the Singh brothers. They’ve both been confronted by racist baby boomers ranting about “sharia law” and they’ve both diffused the situation with grace and dignity.

Maxime Bernier: This guy is like 8chan and r/the_donald had a baby. Screw him and his populist crap. I like living in a country that celebrates ethnic diversity. They should rename the PPC to the IPC, for Incel’s Party of Canada.

Andrew Scheer: Andy owes Maxime Bernier a debt of gratitude. If it weren’t for Bernier and the PPC, Andrew Scheer would be the biggest turd running for PM. If Justin Trudeau doesn’t win the next election then it will undoubtedly go to Andy. Maybe that doesn’t bother you, but the regressive right wing has a lot of terrible ideas. Scheer has been running on the “putting more money in your pocket” shtick, which is just code for cutting social programs. So you’ll pay a little bit less in taxes under a conservative government, but you’ll also get less help from them. The most vulnerable Canadians will do much worse under a conservative government. We also can’t forget that it’s the conservatives who always want to intertwine their religion with their government policy. They’re anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-drug. Fun group of people huh? If Scheer thinks he can undo the legalization of marijuana, good luck getting that genie back in the bottle.

In a few weeks from now we will all be tasked with the decision of picking one of these less than stellar candidates. In an alternate universe where Justin Trudeau delivered on the election reform he promised us, my ranked ballot in the upcoming election would look like this:

1. None of the above
2. Elizabeth May
3. The ghost of Jack Layton
4. Justin Trudeau

Unfortunately though you only get one vote, and it either gets counted or thrown in the trash. Pick the best of the bad options, even if your heart is screaming “NONE OF THE ABOVE!”.