Diagnosing the NDP’s patient zero in Quebec

Comic Mike Ward is the reason some Quebecers voted NDP

Raging, screechy and profane, Mike Ward has spent the better part of 20 years at once delighting and offending Quebecers’ sensibilities with his anatomically-incorrect riffs on sex, relationships and Céline Dion. Performing primarily in French but also in English, Ward is something of an equal opportunity offender. According to some, he is also one of the main reasons Quebecers voted en masse for Jack Layton and the NDP in the last election. Ward and Jack hugged it out prior to the election on Tout Le Monde En Parle, and the embrace was felt across the province. Maclean’s caught up with the stand-up comic following his return from Florida.

Q: How does it feel being the NDP’s patient zero in Quebec?

A: You know, it’s funny because before the election, people were telling me that the NDP was doing well, but as soon as the Bloc got wiped out, I was getting angry messages on Twitter. Like I was the one who went to people’s houses and told them, ‘okay, vote for this person who’s never been in your riding, who doesn’t know s–t about politics.’ I didn’t even tell people to vote; I just said that I’d voted NDP the last two elections, and the reason I voted NDP wasn’t really because of the party, it was because Jack Layton seemed like a really honest guy.

Q: But that sort of crystallizes what Quebec felt. You said that the other politicians seemed like crooks and that Layton was someone you’d like to give a hug to.

A: I think people were fed up with the Bloc in Quebec. I was helping Jean-François Mercier, who was running as an independent in Chambly, and he was getting s–t from people. I think people from the Bloc felt that things weren’t going well and they were just trying to find anyone they could blame.

Q: You said you didn’t have any influence in the vote, but I was in Louiseville and this guy told me that he’d voted for Ruth Ellen Brosseau because of your appearance on Tout Le Monde En Parle.

A: Oh, really? I guess I am the problem.

Q: Tell me a bit about yourself. You’re from Quebec City, right?

A: Yup, grew up in Quebec City. When I was little, I spoke only English with my dad, and went to school in English, and spoke only French with my mom. So when I speak English, I have a French accent, and when I speak French, I have an English accent. I’m like Jean Chrétien, just not as exaggerated.

Q: So what do you consider yourself?

A: Often times, the first five minutes comics do will be about whatever heritage they are or what they look like, and that always got on my nerves. Whenever I’d see an Asian comic do jokes about Asian people I’d be like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ I never did that. So even though my name’s Mike Ward, often times French people are surprised when they find out I can speak English. And it’s the same thing when I do shows in English; I don’t talk about the French thing. I’m not hiding anything, but it’s just not something that makes me laugh.

Q: You went to Afghanistan to perform for the troops. You must have been a dream for the brass because you’re a guy who can talk potty mouth in both official languages.

A: Right before I got on stage, some higher-ups told me that I couldn’t swear, but I was there for the troops and I knew that they’d really like my material. I had almost more fun than they did. They were freaking out. I was doing jokes about what their superiors were saying to me during the day, but if anyone knew [who I was talking about] they’d get fired.

Q: Your bit about gay sex and Afghani men nearly made me puke.

A: I’m 37, but for some reason I still have the same mind as when I was 11 or 12. I still like shocking people. My goal isn’t to offend people when I’m writing. When people walk out, I’m kind of disappointed. At the same time, I can’t believe they paid money to see me when they knew what kind of comedy I do.

Q: Ricky Gervais does Holocaust jokes. Louis CK, this pasty white guy, riffs on the n-word. In the same way, you’ve shown that you can be funny about anything if it’s put the right way.

A: And then I got death threats. That was a little less cool.

Q: Is there anything in the world that isn’t funny to you?

A: There are a lot of things I don’t find funny. I don’t like racist jokes, but you can write some things that are racial that are funny. It’s racial, not racist, but sometimes people don’t see the subtleties. This comedian, Eddy King, once told me, ‘If you’re doing black jokes, if you are comfortable doing them in front of black people in the audience, you’re fine. But if you skip the joke because there’s a black guy in the room then that’s not a joke you should be doing.’ If I was afraid of doing a wheelchair joke in front of someone in a wheelchair, then I wouldn’t do it.

Q: And you do have a bunch of jokes about people in wheelchairs.

A: When I was in London, I was talking about my friend who’s in a wheelchair, and there was a guy in a wheelchair there. For some reason, someone at the table next to his started freaking out. This woman was yelling that I was racist. And I was trying to explain to her that it’s not a race, and I was trying to think of the appropriate word: ‘Chairist’? ‘Handipist’? ‘Handicapist’? Half the audience was really digging it; the other half was really angry. After the show I had to use a side door. So, you might get death threats, and you might have to run, but you can still laugh at anything.

Q: Are the stereotypes true? Are English people really uptight, and will French people laugh at anything?

A: The big difference is that French people clap a lot. In French, if you’re halfway decent, you get a standing ovation. It almost means nothing. It’s just a polite way of saying thank you for the show. And I find the laughs are better in English than in French. I find English people laugh more while French people clap more.

Q: On Tout Le Monde En Parle, co-host Danny Turcotte said ‘the French gave the English Céline Dion and the English gave the French Mike Ward. That’s what you call getting screwed.’

A: I have a French joke about Céline Dion, and René Angelil apparently reads everything that is said about Céline, anywhere. I have a lot of jokes about famous people, so I decided to invite them all to the premiere. The day after the show, I found out what Angelil’s legal team could do to me. I was super excited. I mean, René’s talking about me in Vegas! To me, I’d made it.

Q: What was the joke?

A: Basically it’s about how Céline’s had work done, because if you look at her now and what she looked like when she was 12, it’s a totally different woman. So I was like… [Joke redacted. Maclean’s is a family magazine.]

Q: You’re doing the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu benefit fundraiser. Give me your best flood joke.

A: The only flood joke I wrote was on Twitter the day the water was rising. I live in St-Jean, so I said that the value of my house had actually gone up, because when I bought it I didn’t have a pool in the basement. It’s not an amazing joke, but that’s all I got so far.