CSAs ’21: Powerhouse Canadian comedies go head to head

This year's Canadian Screen Awards comedy contenders look back on the meteoric rise of domestic comedy in the last five years.

Canadian comedy is approaching the end of an era.

The last five years have marked a pitch perfect confluence of a number of sharp Canadian sitcoms finding their voice as streaming services have infinitely boosted their international discoverability.

This year’s powerhouse lineup of Best Comedy Series nominees for the Canadian Screen Awards – Schitt’s Creek (Not a Real Company Productions), Kim’s Convenience (Thunderbird Entertainment), Letterkenny (New Metric Media), Workin’ Moms (Wolf + Rabbit Entertainment) and Baroness Von Sketch Show (Frantic Films)– not only represent some of the best of Canadian comedy talent, but the beginning of the end of a remarkable time in Canadian TV history. Both Schitt’s Creek and Baroness Von Sketch Show ended their run in 2020, and Kim’s Convenience closed up shop this year following the departure of its co-creators.

baroness-von-sketch-s5“Canadians have a reputation globally as being funny people,” Jennifer Whalen, Baroness Von Sketch Show co-creator, star and executive producer, tells Playback Daily. “In the past people pointed to Canadians who moved to the U.S. and found success there as examples of that. Now we’ve got a wealth of shows starring Canadians, made in Canada, that we can point to in a low key, self-effacing way as proof of our global domination of comedy across all platforms.”

While Schitt’s Creek has redefined what a successful Canadian show can achieve with its record-breaking Emmy wins and continued awards streak, each of the Best Comedy Series nominees have been powerhouses in their own right.

Crave sitcom Letterkenny became a global sensation after finding a bigger audience with Hulu, while CBC comedies Kim’s Convenience and Workin’ Moms have steadily gained momentum at home and abroad through Netflix.

“Canadian comedies are being taken more seriously as comedies, not just Canadian comedies,” says Mark Montefiore, president and executive producer of New Metric Media. “Adding Canadian as a prefix to comedies has gone from negative to neutral to now a positive in the way Scandinavia has really branded Scandi-noirs.”

The talent themselves have also stepped into the spotlight as global talents. Kim’s Convenience star Simu Liu is on the brink of global stardom when the upcoming Marvel Studios film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits screens, while co-star Paul Sun-Hyung Lee has already joined the Star Wars universe with The Mandalorian. Schitt’s Creek and Letterkenny talents Emily Hampshire and Jacob Tierney recently announced plans to remake the Norman Lear hit Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

sc6_ep613_d43_sw_0219_retouchedHampshire, who is up for Best Supporting Actress, Comedy for the sixth year running, says what makes Canadian comedy stand out as special is its unique underdog quality. “I think that comes from sometimes being in the shadow of something you think is bigger than you and trying to find your power by being funny,” she says.

While the rise of streaming services has no question had an impact on their global accessibility, Hampshire argues the rise in popularity is also because of a common need to escape the stress of the political climate of the last few years. “People wanted something with a good heart and they wanted to live in Schitt’s Creek instead of where they were at the moment,” she says. “I think that was even further pushed with the pandemic, with people at home wanting a kind of a chosen family. I would choose the Roses.”

Dani Kind, who is nominated for Best Lead Actress, Comedy this year for the second time, knows firsthand the breadth of reach Canadian TV has gained when it comes to global audiences, thanks to her roles on Workin’ Moms and Wynonna Earp. “I talk to people in every country possible for both of these shows,” she says. “I think [streamers are] evening the playing field for everybody in a great way, artistically.”

With Schitt’s Creek and Baroness Von Sketch Show making their final CSA bow this year, and Kim’s Convenience one year away from theirs, the question becomes what the future Canadian Screen Awards darlings might become.

Many are hedging their bets on their own projects or those of their colleagues. Both Whalen and Baroness Von Sketch Show co-creator Aurora Browne are rooting for Pretty Hard Cases, starring fellow sketch alum Meredith MacNeill, to make the cut in 2022. Montefiore is keeping his fingers crossed that New Metric Media’s upcoming CTV comedy Children Ruin Everything will gain the same momentum as Letterkenny. Hampshire says Save Me creator Fab Filippo, whose new comedy Sort Of with co-creator Bilal Baig is set to debut on CBC later this year, is a creator to watch.

workin-moms-csa-01Juno Rinaldi, nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Comedy for Workin’ Moms, says the siloed way production has operated during the pandemic has largely meant the industry buzz about upcoming series has been too quiet. “I look forward to getting back to some sort of normalcy and hearing about exciting stuff, because there always is,” she says. “I really do feel like the talent in Canada is extraordinary and needs to be recognized.”

The winners of the 2021 Canadian Screen Awards will be announced virtually once again this year in livestreams scheduled between May 17 and 20. To say the nominees have mixed feelings about a virtual ceremony is no understatement.

“I don’t mind getting dressed up, but I don’t want to have to prove it,” says Hampshire. “I don’t want to have to walk out of the house and maintain it. I don’t want to have to wear heels and maintain it.”

“I would kill to go to the CSAs,” counters Rinaldi. “I don’t want to be sitting in my office in a puffy dress with a glass of champagne and have my kids with me. I don’t want to do that.”

Whether virtual or in-person, a nomination at the CSAs will always be something to celebrate. Hampshire recalls her first awards season for Schitt’s Creek, where both her and Tierney were both up for nominations for their respective projects. “We’ve been friends since we were 17. We lived together, we’ve failed so much together, we’ve struggled as actors, and him as a director,” she says. “That was a moment that just felt like a culmination of so many things on so many levels, that we were both there individually, but together.”

For the lucky few, a win is priceless.

“Having a solid, three dimensional trophy convinced [my dad] that I have a real show with real success,” says Browne. “When I look at the brass angels on my shelf I have a literal symbol of my self worth and my father’s love, and that’s pretty awesome. Normally I’d have to go to therapy for that.”


Best Comedy Series nominee quick facts

Schitt’s Creek

First premiered: Jan. 13, 2015
Number of nominations this year: 21 (+1 for the Best Wishes, Warmest Regards: A Schitt’s Creek Farewell)
Most-nominated year: 2020 (26 nominations)
Did you know: Catherine O’Hara has won the Best Lead Actress, Comedy for her role as Moira Rose every year since 2016.


First premiered: Feb. 7, 2016
Number of nominations this year: Six
Most-nominated year: 2020 (10 nominations)
Did you know: Letterkenny is the only series of the five to be nominated for Best Comedy Series each year since 2017.

Baroness Von Sketch Show

First premiered: June 14, 2016
Number of nominations this year: Six
Most-nominated year: 2021 and 2018 tie (six nominations)
Did you know: This is the first year Baroness Von Sketch Show has been nominated for Best Comedy Series due to the temporary collapse of the sketch comedy category.

Kim’s Convenience

First premiered: Oct. 11, 2016
Number of nominations this year: 11
Most-nominated year: 2018 (12 nominations)
Did you know: Andrew Phung has the most Supporting Actor, Comedy wins out of all five series, winning the category in 2017, 2018, and 2020. Noah Reid picked up the award for Schitt’s Creek in 2019.

Workin’ Moms

First premiered: Jan. 10, 2017
Number of nominations this year: 11
Most-nominated year: 2021
CSA history: Outside of being the highest year for nominations yet, 2021 marks the first year actors Juno Rinaldi, Ryan Belleville and Sarah McVie have earned acting nods for their Workin’ Mom roles.