Just for Laughs and École nationale de l’humour plan to offer Haitians a comedy education, as Allan Woods reports for Toronto’s Star.
Some jokes, it is true, just don’t translate from one country to another.
But a new Quebec project has nonetheless set a stage in Haiti in the hope that lessons used to churn out a star-studded cast of French-Canadian comics, actors and writers over a quarter-century can deliver a strong punch line for the island nation’s comedians.
Haiti has had many handouts in the three years since the deadly 2010 earthquake shook the country. So much money was raised through donations in the early days of the relief effort that the backlogged funds are still waiting to be delivered.
The country is now in search of a hand-up so that once the infrastructure is rebuilt, Haiti’s industries and economies can thrive. That is where the Quebec’s world-famous Just For Laughs festival and École nationale de l’humour come in.
In essence, the plan is to export the building blocks of the province’s renowned comedy culture to a country that laughs, though it may be much easier at times to cry.
There is already a great comedic tradition in Haiti that allows the poor to mock the many powerful and corrupt leaders that have, over the years, seized power and the now flattened Presidential Palace in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Even the grandfather of current Haitian President Michel Martelly, Auguste de Pradines (known popularly as “Kandjo”), found his fame as a singer who used comedy and satire to denounce the U.S. occupation of Haiti between 1915 and 1934.
The Haitian comedians of today tend to thrive on the radio, which is by far the country’s most accessible and popular source of communication. One program launched in the aftermath of the 2004 overthrow of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was Rigolo Thérapie (Comedy Therapy), a show meant for listeners who were confined to their homes by nightly curfews but needed an outlet for their fears and frustrations.
It continued to play that role in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake and remains the country’s most popular show.
The idea to offer Haitians a formal comedic education was the brainchild of the country’s consul general in Montreal. Justin Viard struck up a conversation with officials from the Just For Laughs festival, an event that brings tourists to Montreal from around the world each year, about the possibility of a cultural partnership.
Just For Laughs pulled École nationale de l’humour into the conversation and the beginnings of the project soon took shape.
The short-term plan is to highlight Haiti at this summer’s festival with four Haitian comics taking the microphone for two shows in Montreal. Another four Quebec comics will go on tour in Haiti. Both sets of entertainers have the task of raising money to help launch a formal training program for the Caribbean country’s up-and-coming comedians.
André Picard, the festival’s vice-president of public affairs, said the money may also go toward a bursary to help those many striving comics who may not have the funds.
Meanwhile, the 25-year-old humour academy in downtown Montreal is getting to work drawing up a curriculum suitable for Haiti. This is the long-term goal.
Louise Richer, the school’s director, said the initial training will be tailored first to established comics, either professional or semi-professional, in the hope that they will go on to become educators.
“In our learning model here, the profs are practitioners,” she said. “The idea is that their school will be run in the way that they want it to be run. We’ve developed a way of doing things, but they may have another way of operating that corresponds to their own needs.”
With most theatres having been shaken to the ground in the Haitian capital, a thriving standup comedy scene may be a far way off. But Richer hopes to create an incubator for the country’s comedic and creative class from which they can go forth and multiply
“The more creators they have, the more it’s going to help the radio and television,” Richer said. “As more people are trained, it’s going to help develop a cultural industry.”
Both Picard and Richer say they are aware, and wary, of detractors who see some sort of cultural imperialism at play here. But they insist that their only plan is to deliver the tools with which Haitians can decide what to construct
And Picard said his own confidence was bolstered by Haitian-born Quebec novelist Dany Laferrière, whom he describes as an “adviser, counsel, guide, endorser and spokesperson” for the project.
“There are a lot of people who say, well, aren’t there other things to do? His answer is unequivocally, no. No. Life continues,” Picard recounted.
“We sat at the same dinner table on the same terrace where he was when the earthquake hit. He said that life continued that very same day. There are a lot of things to be done and this is one of them.”
For the original report go to http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/2013/03/15/quebec_en_scne_just_for_laughs_helps_haiti_rebuild_its_comedy.html