Ottawa’s Craig Lauzon bids the Royal Canadian Air Farce adieu

Craig Lauzon as Boris Johnson in the final New Year's Eve show of the Royal Canadian Air Farce.

After 46 years of hilarity, the Royal Canadian Air Farce will land forever with a final New Year’s Eve special on Dec. 30 at 8 p.m. on CBC-TV.

The Farce, found in 1973, has evolved from a radio show to a TV series and then to annual New Year’s Eve shows. It is, safe to say, an icon of Canadian humour. The last surviving original members are Don Ferguson and Luba Goy. They were with John Morgan, Roger Abbott, Dave Broadfoot and Martin Bronstein in the early years.

Since 2003, Ottawa actor and sketch comedian Craig Lauzon has been a member of the team. He’s not the only local to work on the show. Jessica Holmes started at about the same time.

Lauzon told ARTSFILE, he remembers listening to the Farce on the radio when he was driving in the car with his mother.

“But I didn’t really pay attention to it until the 1990s, when it was on television.” His early years were more heavily influenced by shows such as Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live.

Craig Lauzon

The Farce has always been heavily focused in the inanities of Canadian politics.

“People would always say they learned about politics listening to the show. It was kind of the same for me. Growing up in Ottawa, I wasn’t a political person.

“It wasn’t until I got involved in the show that I started reading the political stuff in the papers instead of just the sports page.”

If you listen to the radio shows, Lauzon said, “they were much more irreverent. It  definitely had a bite to it.”

The TV show was a bit more mellow, he said.

“The core was they wanted to have fun and not make fun. They weren’t trying to be nasty to anybody or with anybody.” Ironically, Lauzon, and other members of the cast,  would still get angry letters every week.

“Jean Chretien was prime minister for 10 years. For all those years the Farce skewered him. They would get letters from Liberal supporters saying they weren’t being fair.”

When Stephen Harper took over, the Farce took their shots at him.

“I played him for 10 years, Conservatives said you never did this when Chretien was in power. Sometimes people just hear what they want to hear.”

He started after John Morgan retired. In the first year after Morgan left they had guest stars every week.

“Roger and Don were always thinking ahead and they saved the last six shows of that season for (relatively) unknown Canadian comics.

“I was fortunate enough to be one of those people. I had done a special for the Comedy Network of my one man show called Ham I Am. A friend who worked with Air Farce got the tape in front of Roger and Don.

“They watched it and they were on board.”

They kept bringing him back along with Jessica Holmes and finally about a year later she and he were hired.

Lauzon is an actor and sketch comic by trade and training. In the early days of his time with the Farce, he was doing a lot of impressions of people such as George Strombolopoulos, “anybody under 65. I played Justin Trudeau and John Baird for awhile.”

In this scene from the last Air Farce special, there be Vikings: Luba Goy, Don Ferguson, Darryl Hinds and Craig Lauzon.

And he developed some original characters. One, named Pops, was totally silent. Lauzon is a fan of the silent film comics such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. There was another character named Jenkins. He was kind of a Walter Mitty character. “I loved playing him.”

Why John Baird?

“He would just snap at everybody all the time. He’d be doing an event and then just lose his mind on somebody.

He never met Baird, although he came close one memorable time.

“Baird was one of Roger Abbott’s favourite characters. Roger and I had a close relationship.” Abbott was a good friend and a mentor to Lauzon and the two often worked together.

“I was at the airport going to Winnipeg to do a play and Baird was in the waiting area. So I texted Roger to say Baird was there and I asked him if I should introduce myself, thinking he’d respond and say something funny. I never heard back. It was when Roger was in the hospital and he had passed away.”

In the end, Lauzon didn’t go up to Baird because “I’m a chicken. If Roger had said something I might have.”

Some people loved his impressions, he said. “Strombo loved the impression. He’d come see some tapings. I did him on his show. His mom even loved it.”

“I used to play Ben Mulroney and he hated it. eTalk came to do a segment on him doing his impressions.” The eTalk advance team urged him to do some Ben Mulroney in the segment.

“Then they showed up and I asked if they still wanted the Ben Mulroney impression?” They said no and told Lauzon he wasn’t a fan of that.

As the Farce flies into history, Lauzon said, “I have been on for 17 years. I’m good. I love the people and I loved getting to do a weekly show. You could really sink your teeth into stuff.

“But I’m an actor and I love doing different things. That was the best part of doing that show. I was doing different characters all the time. I will miss that and I will miss the people. But I’m good to do other things.”

In fact you’ll see him in a new CBC-TV series next year called The Trickster based on the books by B.C. writer Eden Robinson.

“I play Phil” the father of the hero of the books a teenager called Jared who makes his way through life watched over and bothered by a Trickster named Wee’git.

Lauzon is Ojibwe on his father’s side. His mom is British.

His dad, Lauzon said, “was not a proud First Nations person and chose to pass as a Quebecer. I am Canada except they were able to separate.”

He said he used to have hard feelings towards his father because he turned against his roots.

But he understands that “it was hard to be native when (his father) was growing up.”

Lauzon, in turn, is proud of his heritage. He grew up in the area around Cummings and Montreal Road in Vanier.

“We used to call it the ghetto. I used to fight a lot. I grew a foot between Grade 9 and 10 but up until then, I was five feet tall. I was a tough kid.”

He was a target he said because he was small. But he figured that “if you let them do it once, they’ll keep doing it” so he fought. He didn’t win a lot however.

“I was always kind of quirky. And I did try to diffuse things with humour, but it didn’t work on everybody.”

Lauzon has film and TV credits but he’s also an active theatre actor. He was recently in Ottawa with the one man show Tales of an Urban Indian, which he performed on an OC Transpo bus. He’s also done a lot of work with his close friend Lorne Cardinal (Corner Gas).

“Our shows went off air at same time and we couldn’t get anything. So we said ‘let’s do some theatre together’. We first did a show called Thunderstick about two cousins, one a photojournalist and one a reporter. They go on a hunt for a story about the prime minister. We switched roles every single time we did it, even if we had a two-show day.

“That toured around the country for about 18 months. Then they did another show called Where The Blood Mixes (written by the artistic director of the NAC’s Indigenous Theatre, Kevin Loring).

“We toured that for a year.”

Lauzon picked up a new agent at that time and she had only seen him doing Indigenous roles in theatre.

He said “she would only send me out for native parts in film and TV. I don’t read native on film. They don’t look at me and go that guy’s Ojibwe.

“It was breaking my heart because some of those parts were great and I wanted them and kept not getting them.”

So to avoid more frustration he told his agent not to send him for those auditions.

“I said I don’t want you to send me out for native parts any more. I’ll get them in theatre and that’s how I’ll scratch that itch.”

That almost cost him the Trickster job.

“Michelle Latimer, who is a dear friend, is the writer and director for Trickster. I’ve known her 20 years.

“She messaged me on Facebook saying she didn’t see my name on the audition list for Trickster.”

Lauzon told her about telling his agent not to send him out for native parts.

“Michelle is Algonquin from northern Ontario. She is very light skinned as well. We have always has this bond as light skinned natives.

“She said ‘Dude this is my show. I want to show the rainbow of brown.”

So he read for the show and got the part.

Lauzon is very interested in the fact that there is an Indigenous theatre at the NAC. But he does have a concern: “Does this now mean native actors will not be brought into the English stream or French stream at the NAC.

“I was in King Lear. I want to be able to do that kind of stuff. Yes, I want to be able to present our stories from the Indigenous canon that has been growing in the past 20 to 30 years, but I want to be able to do the other stuff.

“When Lorne and I were starting to do theatre together, we wanted to do a native play but didn’t want to do, what he calls the Bannock Circuit. We want to make sure we were putting that show in the main space of mainstream theatres — in their seasons  and not as a special event to come and see the native show.”

Ironically, for such a funny guy, Lauzon has never done stand up comedy.

“I just can’t do it, it’s too nerve-wracking. I like to not be me on stage.”

The cast: Craig Lauzon, Luba Goy, Darryl Hinds, Isabel Kanaan, Chris Wilson, Jessica Holmes and Don Ferguson. The final Royal Canadian Air Farce New Year’s Eve Special airs on CBC-TV Dec. 30 at 8 p.m. ET.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.