Sunday, June 23, 2013

Montreal means funny

Guest post by Stephanie Noel

Let me be honest. I don't like winter; I don't care if the Montreal Canadians make it to the series or not and maple syrup, although delicious, is not something I pour on everything (I will, however, defend ours as the best in the world. Take that, Vermont!) Yes, I am French Canadian, why do you ask?

When Scott asked me to come up a guest post about the influence of Montreal in my writing, I was delighted. Then, after telling everyone that cares (or doesn't, really I didn't give them much of a choice) that I was going to write a guest post — moi! — I started thinking about how I was going to tackle this topic. It would have been easy to write about the first few things that come to mind when thinking about Quebec (aside from the three listed above and poutine): the English/French rivalry the province's desire for independence and the fact that our students demonstrate with little red square pinned to their clothes while banging on pots and pans.

Those topics I discarded as overdone. I kept on brainstorming.

I could also have talked about the realities of a Francophone writing in English in a province that will die defending La loi 101. This too, I felt had been explored numerous times. So I went deeper (insert Inception joke of your choice here). What is it that living in Montreal brings to my writing? What is so typical of Montreal that it permeates almost all spheres of our lives? When I found it, I realized that it had been staring me in the face all along.

What really influences my writing as a Montrealer is humour.
Humour is so natural to me that I take it for granted. I'm not saying that Montreal (or Quebec) has the monopoly on humour in Canada (I enjoy the acts of many English-Canadian stand-up comics, such as Russell Peters), but it is definitely an important part of our lives. We have the biggest humour festival in the world (Just for Laughs), a stand-up comedy university (our ratio of stand-up comedian per capita must be unusually high), and many girls will turn down a good-looking guy because he doesn't make her laugh. I know I have.
Montreal's Just for Laughs is the world's biggest comedy festival.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Being funny is what allowed me to survive high school relatively unscarred and has allowed me to make friends easily despite my shyness. I always felt that making people laugh was half the battle. Lastly, I'm convinced that our dads make the worst puns in all of Canada (my dad has shamed me more than once at the supermarket.)

I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but for me, it translates into a quirky writing style, infused with humour and wisecracking. There is of course a big difference between trying to be funny on purpose and just ending up being amusing. I am deadpan and quick with repartee, but I can't write comedy. I have never really tried, but I know it would just end up being boring because I can't be funny on demand. I need context, someone to give me something to work with. That's what happens when I write. I do a lot of automatic humour when working on the first draft and as a result, my characters do things that make me smile, even sometimes laugh. I don't try; it just happens.

Maybe this constant desire to be funny is a manifestation of the traditional Quebec underdog mentality. For a very long time, the province had an inferiority complex (and sometimes still does); while Anglophones were, historically, white collars with two kids, a dog and a white picket fence, Francophones plowed fields, manned assembly lines and reproduced as fast as bunnies. It's possible that humour was a way for French Canadians to defend themselves by mocking the powers that be. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, people can't antagonize you if you make them laugh. As Jimmy Carr (famously controversial British stand-up comedian says, "I write these jokes so that you'll love me."
Yes, Stephanie Noel is a Montrealer — which is why she's always
fashionable, even to wash the champagne glasses.

To sum it all, I could say that although I write in English and hardly identify with most of the French-Canadian culture, I think that Montreal has contributed to make me a writer with a sense of humour. A twisted and very dark one, mind you, but a sense of humour nonetheless.

Allow me to babble a little more to thank Scott for this great opportunity to reflect on the influences Montreal has had and still has on me.

Thank you, Stephanie!

Stephanie Noel is an avid reader, inspired writer and seasoned traveller based in, of course, Montreal, Canada. She graduated from Université de Montréal with a degree in East Asian Studies and Anthropology. She recently came back to Canada after five years spent teaching Japan. She’s currently working on different fiction and non-fiction projects. You can follow her on her blog, A Truth Universally Acknowledged, on her Facebook page, and on Twitter @atuaStephanieN. Also, leave a comment, below!

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