DAAS -V- WORLD (excerpt from ‘Carry a Big Stick’)
“… The Doug Anthony AllStars [DAAS] used the Outrage-Then-Beguile tactic in every new market. We even managed to outrage the Canadians. They’re the world’s most polite and considerate people, so it wasn’t easy. Our more incendiary material was greeted with patient befuddlement and, more frustrating, polite encouragement.
We found their weakest spot at the Montreal Comedy Festival, Quebec. Juste Pour Rire (‘Just For Laughs’) is Canada’s biggest comedy festival, featuring big English- speaking international acts and local French-speaking comedians. We watched in mild irritation as various comedians gained rapturous applause for their clumsy attempts at French. It seemed absurd that they should be congratulated and thanked simply for saying ‘Bonsoir, Montreal!’
The Que?be?cois have stringent guidelines to protect their French language (though the French themselves find the Canadian version of the language coarse and old-fashioned). We played at the main stage in the packed boulevard Saint- Laurent. I complained to the boys that greeting the crowd with a French salutation was cap-doffing of the lowest kind.
‘Leave it with me,’ said Paul. Many parts of our shows were derived from improvisations that had succeeded. If one of us had an idea, we’d spring it on the others mid-show. So Richard and I didn’t bother to ask Paul what he had in mind. We barged on stage.
‘Good ev-en-ing,’ said Paul in his most precise Canberra accent. ‘We’re the Doug Anthony All Stars from Aus-tra-li-a.’
The crowd applauded ever so politely.
Paul continued. ‘We’ll be speaking English tonight because, let’s face it, French is a dead language.’
A moment went by as they translated this to each other. Then we saw what happens if the tightly-controlled Canadian outrage is provoked. It’s not pretty.
They shouted in French and threw food at us. (Despite their anger, the food was mostly potato chips, which is polite food for throwing.)
A woman glared at me, pointing as if she’d discovered a witch in the village’s midst. She screamed, ‘Fasceeest! Fasceeest!’
‘No thanks, madam,’ I said, ‘I don’t like French food.’
She clawed at the stage, held back by a security guard who had been expecting a quiet evening of ‘la comedie’. The guard seemed nonplussed, probably because he didn’t think we were worth saving.
We poured oil on the fire by bursting into a rendition of our song ‘Joan of Arc’. It’s a delicate tune with intricate harmonies featuring France’s greatest heroine and it worked in some way to calm the crowd members who hadn’t stormed away. But then we reached the song’s climax:
Of Arc! Ohhh… Joan… Of… Arc… Of… Arc… Of Arc… Oh, Joan…
And that started them shouting again.
Word spread through the festival that the Australians were ridiculing the French language, French food and (sacre bleu!) Saint Jeanne. (Note to comedians: Sex sells, but outrage – even if it’s mispronounced – gets more media.)
It felt a little unfair to poke the Que?be?cois in their most sensitive area, but that’s comedy. Plus, we must have had a valid point, or there’d be nothing for them to shout about.”