Axing Bullard hurts Canadian talent

By Adam McArthur

Somebody kill the mike. Well, somebody did.

There is plenty of Canadian comedic talent that makes it big in show business. Carrey, Fox, MacDonald, Aykroyd and O’Hara to name a few. But look for Canadian funny folk succeeding without crossing to the wrong side of the tracks and the selection is much less abundant. Those numbers shrank more last week as Mike Bullard was axed from CanWest Global.

After almost seven years of gracing late night Canadian television, mostly on CTV and a brief stint on Global, Bullard was handed his walking papers on account of poor ratings amid stiff competition–there just happened to be too many funny men and not enough sad loners up ’til dawn to watch them. It does not seem fair to have to compete with heavyweights like Letterman and Leno, let alone battling O’Brien and Stewart for the scraps. Something had to give, and the outcome was seemingly inevitable.

And that’s a damn shame.

Bullard was never my favourite host. He averaged about 133,000 viewers at his peak on CTV and he rarely had a second guest you would recognize if you ran them over with your car. His audiences of what seemed to be made of people unable to get Maple Leafs tickets were sometimes the quietest group of people you could cram into a studio. But Mike put on a show that tried to speak to the Canadian audience and, outside of Conan’s fling in Toronto, this idea was unique.

The CBC puts an assortment of shows in primetime, all of which seem to feature Rick Mercer for some reason, but these are all group productions that feel more like SCTV than anything else. Bullard brought more than a scripted commentary on politics and Timbits.

Carolyn Parrish, MP and contributor of the line "damn Americans– I hate those bastards!" went on Bullard’s show last year to discuss her slip of the tongue. It was funny, sort of. But Bullard had a forum for such discussion if it warranted. And the calls to Leafs enforcer Tie Domi, or his voice mail to be more specific, followed by Mike’s taunts and challenges. It would never fly anywhere but on Canadian late night, and no one else would be able to have such an intimate piece.

Further, Bullard provided a place for young Canadian musicians to make their mark on national television. The Trews, whom I have seen about a dozen times live, recently got a spot to perform on the show. I remember seeing Five For Fighting as well, with that Superman song a few years back. Where will groups now look for the next step up the exposure ladder?

And what about Bullard himself? How did he get to be where he was?

He received the position after working for Bell and touring as a stand-up comic for almost 10 years. As a comic in Canada, you pay your dues. One of my best friends has been making a go of it on the Southern Ontario circuit. The pay is less than stellar and the travel schedule can be ridiculous. You don’t succeed simply by being a better performer than the next guy, but like everything, the internal politics of the industry can hold back new talent.

Bullard put in his time and came out on top. He became perhaps as big as you can be in Canadian comedy.

Now, he’s gone.

The country will go on without Mike Bullard, he was hardly the lynchpin of society. If you never watched him, you won’t miss him. But for hundreds of young artists and performers, Bullard’s show was a stepping stone to bigger and better things. They will miss his forum, and we will all lose out without a late night host of our own.

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