Ever look up at the semi-clearcut hills around Lake Cowichan and think they resemble some one who tried cutting their own hair? And then wonder how Bald Mountain—which is more or less covered on top—got its name?
Sometimes it takes an outsider to an outsider to see the humour in a small town, which is precisely what actor and comedian Jonny Harris did during his week-long stay in Lake Cowichan.
Harris was filming an episode of the CBC television program Still Standing, in which he visits towns “on the ropes” across Canada, sharing their stories and poking some fun along the way. The week of filming culminated in a free performance of Harris’s Cowichan-themed standup material, which will then be used in the episode.
He admitted that when it comes to comedy, sometimes it can be challenging to walk the line between funny and mean.
“You need to take a certain tact with it. You want to be able to make some jokes but always keep it respectful,” he said. “You don’t want to hurt anybody.”
Harris’s standup routine—and don’t worry, there are no big spoilers ahead—delved into the Lake’s history, its abundance of natural beauty and some of the important area landmarks including the Riverside Inn and Youbou Lanes.
He shared stories and jokes about some of the people he met here including the Lady of the Lake team, Ahamida Segee, Greg Adams and Mayor Ross Forrest, who took Harris out for a boat tour on the lake.
“It’s interesting about your mayor Ross and [his] wooden leg. After I interviewed him he said have it at it you want, so I made a few jokes there and he didn’t seem to mind,” said Harris.
“Everybody was really gracious, everybody really showed us a good time.”
Harris’ set ran approximately 40 minutes and appeared to have the audience (of more than 250 people) in stitches. He said the creative process for Still Standing is pretty intense, with he and his team conducting interviews all day and writing and memorizing jokes late into the night.
“It’s a lot to cram into your brain but anyway you get it done,” he said.
Harris told the audience he loved the vibe in Lake Cowichan and its a place he would like to spend more time.
At the end of the show, the mayor presented with his very own “Lake Cowichan tuxedo”—a grey Stanfield’s shirt—and thanked the comedian for his visit. Forrest made it clear there were no hard feelings about the onstage antics at his expense.
“I didn’t mind being the source of jokes. It didn’t offend me at all,” he said. “I told them I’m a mayor now, I’ve got pretty thick skin. I can take that stuff. I thought the jokes were fantastic.”
Forrest said he also thought the show was a great opportunity for Lake Cowichan and the other lake communities. He said the whole country will have a chance to see and learn about Lake Cowichan when the show airs sometime in 2017, as part of Still Standing’s third season. When that happens, Forrest said he’d like there to be a public screening somewhere in town that everyone can enjoy.
He said Harris had a way of charming anyone he talked to.
“He was a great guy,” said Forrest. “I was mic’d up to speak with him for a couple hours, but I wasn’t the least bit nervous because he has a way of putting you at ease.“
Crystal Bell, the 2015 Lady of Lake, echoed these sentiments. She and the first and second princesses filmed a scene with Johnny in downtown Lake Cowichan atop the ladies’ parade float.
“The highlight for me definitely was meeting Jonny,” said Bell. “He’s got a good personality, and he’s a down-to-earth person. He really wants to listen to what you say.”
Bell said it was a surreal moment when she learned she’d be meeting and filming with Harris. She was already a fan of CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries, on which Harris plays Constable George Crabtree.
“I had just finished watching all the season of Murdoch Mysteries and then bam – I got a call saying ‘Oh you’re going to be on TV with him.’”
Bell even came up with the idea of blasting the Murdoch Mysteries theme song from the float as they came to pick up Harris.
“It was a total surprise for him, and he loved it,” she said.
Still Standing is based off a television show in Denmark, and while the model has been replicated in other countries, producer Maureen Riley said she believes the key to its success in Canada has been Harris.
“I often say it would be a very different show if another comedian were to do it,” she said.
“I think what’s so special about Jonny is he has a big heart. He’s actually really interested in what everyone has to say and how they do things. He comes from a small town himself.”
Riley said creating the show is a group effort, with several comedians contributing to the writing of the jokes and the stories, but Harris always brings the group back to how he would genuinely interact with the people he meets.
She said she hasn’t noticed too many regional differences when it comes to senses of humour across Canada.
“Although I will say this audience got the bowl [of marijuana] joke really quickly,” she said.