Comic crusader

Dave Broadfoot is a Canadian icon. There are few living, breathing Canadian adults who don’t know the Member from Kicking Horse Pass, Sergeant Renfrew of the Mounties, his faithful dog Cuddles, and Big Bobby Clobber, the NHL stalwart who’s just a wee bit smarter than a puck. He’s taken his one-man Comedy Crusade back and forth across this great land of ours countless times, and he works so many trade shows, conventions and festivals across Canada that he and his wife Diane (pronounced Deeane because she’s from Québec) could use his Frequent Flyer points to go to Australia.

Once a month during the Royal Canadian Air Farce schedule, he makes a guest appearance on the CBC Radio show, and the audience bursts into applause. And, bless him, he’s managed to make the Queen laugh. A few years ago, after she had done her repatriating the Constitution thing in Ottawa, Dave did his comedy routine at a gala night held in her honour at the National Arts Centre – and Her Majesty was quite definitely amused.

That’s the public persona, the Dave Broadfoot that audiences just love, the comedian who makes Canadians laugh at themselves. But what’s the private oadfoot like? That’s the premise I used to get CARPNews to give the green light on an interview with Mr. B.

The truth is, I’ve known for more than 25 years what Dave Broadfoot is like.

In the 1960s we lived in Montréal. I was an editor at Financial Times of Canada, moonlighting as a comedy writer for a succession of radio and TV shows in which Dave Broadfoot was featured.

(The site for the National Arts Centre was being excavated at the time, which inspired the line about the federal minister involved: “He doesn’t know his arts from a hole in the ground.”)

There were parties at which comedy writers, performers and financial journalists mixed and mingled. And if there was a really serious discussion going on about human rights, women’s issues or economic inequities, Broadfoot was at the heart of it, had probably started it.

So this wonderfully funny man was really a deeply concerned and caring citizen. He still is. “I get angry about issues,” he says. “So I try to find a way to sublimate that anger into comedy, to highlight the issues, but not preach about them – to make people laugh.”

For an astonishing 50 years now, making people laugh has been Broadfoot’s business, his profession, his craft. So, has he thought about slowing down? He smiles: “I really don’t have anything to retire from or to.”

Which is true. Broadfoot, going on 73, is in full career flight. He’s never been more in demand. He’s a born traveller who actually enjoys criss-crossing Canada’s time zones. He likes the public recognition, largely because his performances at benefits help raise money for causes he believes in, such as Easter Seals, and Amnesty International – “I care about guys locked up in prison for things they’ve said or written.” He has plans for a second TV special with a title that could be the motto for CARP members – Old Enough to Say What I Think.

Plus, he experiences the pure joy of delivering a piece of comedy material he’s written (and re-written, over and over), and hearing a whole theatre erupt into laughter and applause.

Retirement? Unthinkable. Especially when he’s constantly working to update his act, to write funny stuff about the latest trends and news events, to break new ground. “Ken,” he says, “I’m looking for a new concept, a whole new approach, something different, distinctive, funny…”

Broadfoot is a big guy with a firm handshake and a lot of energy. At one point, recalling an antic stage performance by Spike Milligan of Goon Show fame, he leaps to his feet, and positively bounces about the room.

Asked how he keeps so active and involved, he recalls his childhood in North Vancouver, and the family friend who lived to about 90, and “stayed interested in everything, including what we young people were doing.”

The interview over, the Broadfoots insist that we (my wife Jean had gone shopping while I conducted the interview) stay for lunch.

We sit out on a shaded patio behind the handsome two-storey home in Forest Hill, a good Toronto address, looking across the sparkling swimming pool and the well-tended flowers, shrubs, and trees. She’s the gardener, he’s the tree man.

Diane is a former CBC producer, now much occupied with volunteer work. (Earlier Broadfoot had said: “This country would fall apart without volunteerism. The volunteers are the salt of the earth. Everybody who can should give it a try.”)

The Broadfoots celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary this year. They’ll probably squeeze in another trip to England or France, or both.

We have a lovely leisurely lunch, sharing the shade with Chloe the black cat. There’s lots to talk about. And every little while, on this sun-filled afternoon, there is the ageless sound of laughter.