Lunz shares the driver’s seat on Comedy Bus

Gerald Lunz doesn’t appear too nervous about participating as the subject of a Banff master class on writing. Perhaps he seems comfortable because he’ll be up there with Rick Mercer, a man with whom he has worked and laughed for more than a decade, the pair making up a partnership known as Island Edge (see Mercer story, p. 29). Or maybe it’s because the title of the master class is ‘Driving the Comedy Bus,’ a topic he understands very well.

‘Live shows are our specialty,’ laughs Lunz. ‘It’s more about how Rick and I work and have always worked together. Our favorite line is ‘You Do the Money, We’ll Do the Funny.’ That’s been our deal with our corporate partner, Salter Street Films, for the last 10 years.’

Halifax’s Salter Street is the money behind shows This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Made in Canada, two series that Lunz had a hand in shaping – as creative producer on the former and executive producer on the latter. Those series, plus his and Mercer’s fearless comedy specials Talking to Americans, will be the focus of much of what is discussed during the class.

‘That’s what we’ve done for a decade out here and [those projects] should propel questions and hopefully dialogue,’ he says.

Lunz, who now resides in St. John’s, was born in Hamilton, ON and shaped in Ottawa. After attending the University of Ottawa’s theatre program, he took a job at the National Arts Centre. While there he was asked to find one-person shows from the East Coast to bring to Ottawa, following the success of Cathy Jones’ Wedding in Texas. He found Mercer, then a performer with the comedy troupe Corey & Wade’s Playhouse, and the two have been creatively inseparable since.

‘I first noticed Rick on stage performing these little mini-rants based around his dissatisfaction with the Meech Lake Accord and its progress,’ says Lunz. ‘He was as lippy as he is today and I was thinking ‘He is just too funny.’ We still make each other laugh and we’re on the same page when it comes to comedy. It’s a collective voice, where Rick’s on camera.’

Lunz feels the ‘comedy industry’ is steadily growing in Canada and he is happy to see so many Canuck comedians doing fine work in Hollywood as well as at home.

‘We’ve always excelled at being funny,’ says Lunz. ‘Wayne and Schuster showed that. Even though styles have changed, it shows that really funny people come from here. And I find the farther we get from the centre, the funnier people are. By the time you get to Newfoundland, they are the funniest, because you’re one step removed from it.’

Lunz believes it’s always easier to see humor at a distance – from the outside looking in, as it were. While people in Canada can look south and see the humor in the U.S. that Americans aren’t necessarily in on, the same can be said for people outside of big-city Canada looking at the faults or inconsistencies in the country’s political makeup and major business/cultural centres.

And while folks such as Mike Myers and Jim Carrey are raking in millions for being funny in the States, Lunz says there are still a number of extremely talented comedians here. He thinks people such as Mark McKinney, ex of Kids in the Hall, and stand-up practitioners Derek Edwards and Brent Butt (see story, p.45) are really on top of their game, and there is one comedian Lunz is especially fond of right now.

‘The king of funny these days – who’s owning the store – is Ron James,’ says Lunz of the comic who shared in a writing Gemini for 22 Minutes. ‘Go see this guy live. See his standup and you’re going to hurt yourself. We just did a gala at the National Arts Centre with Ron and he cleaned up. He broke people; he hurt old women. He’s my new king of comedy.’

Lunz says that although comedy has traditionally been prevalent on Canadian TV, he gets frustrated that Canada doesn’t produce a lot of funny features. With exceptions such as Men with Brooms and Duct Tape Forever, Lunz feels the feature world is not adequately tapping into a great talent pool of comedians.

‘There is a lot of comedy that should be on the big screen in this country, and it is not [happening],’ says Lunz. ‘We really go for the angst-driven film. Why don’t we utilize these great Canadian [comedy] writers and great actors?’

Lunz says he’s seen the talent in places producers probably wouldn’t think to look. One of his favorite tasks on Made in Canada was casting the guest stars for each week’s episode. He was often surprised, he says, by how funny performers not known for comedy could be, mentioning Sonja Smits as one dramatic actor with particularly excellent comedic instincts.

‘We need more funding from the government to keep this going,’ says Lunz. ‘Comedy jumps borders and is a natural export because funny is funny.’