Did you hear the one about the ...

The Compass - - Editorial - Bob Wake­ham Bob Wake­ham has spent more than 40 years as a jour­nal­ist in New­found­land and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwake­[email protected]

It may not have got­ten the kind of pub­lic­ity gen­er­ated by the higher-pro­filed com­edy fes­ti­vals in the coun­try, but a re­cent gath­er­ing of com­pet­i­tive storytellers in a place called Hi­lar­i­ous Haven, Ont., had them rolling in the aisles with an as­sort­ment of jokes about this so-called smil­ing land of ours.

My source for this news, as usual, was my long stand­ing in­for­mant, Har­bour Deep Throat, and he did make a point of ad­mit­ting up­front that the fes­ti­val was called “NEWFIE JOKES: PAST AND PRESENT,” but he added a quick qual­i­fier — wor­ried, as he was, that I might lock him a shed with Alan Doyle for a 10-minute shit-knock­ing for dar­ing to even men­tion the “n” word — “Don’t go takin’ it out on me, Bob, b’y,” he said, “Don’t shoot the mes­sen­ger.”

In any case, here’s what tran­spired, ac­cord­ing to Har­bour Deep Throat:

There was a lot of “did you hear the one?” nat­u­rally, as in, “did you hear the one about the New­found­land gov­ern­ment in­vest­ing a for­tune in cu­cum­bers back in the 1980s?”

The head­line at the time, ac­cord­ing to the funny man, was: “Screwed by Sprung.”

The au­di­ence roared, Har­bour Deep Throat told me.

But the teller of that hi­lar­i­ous yarn was in the mi­nor leagues of com­edy com­pared to the Rich Lit­tle-type who did a bang-on im­pres­sion of Joey Small­wood, big glasses, over­sized bow tie, with a fake mist hov­er­ing over the stage: “This is our land, this is our river, and we will for­ever make sure that it will op­er­ate pri­mar­ily, chiefly, mainly, for the peo­ple of New­found­land.”

Well, the main­lan­ders, es­pe­cially a crowd that had trav­elled to the fes­ti­val from Que­bec, just ate it up.

“So I said to these dumb Frenchies,” the Joey im­i­ta­tor blared at his won-over au­di­ence, “let’s sign a deal for, say, 65 years, and even by 2018 you’ll have $27 bil­lion in the bank, and we’ll have $2 bil­lion.”

“Boy,” the Joey char­ac­ter ob­served, “did I ever put one over on them.”

There were even a few jokes us­ing dumb four-legged par­tic­i­pants as punch-lines, in­clud­ing one from a stand-up artist who showed slides of the be­fore-men­tioned Joey lead­ing a cat­tle drive on the Burin Penin­sula.

His rou­tine and slide show pre­sen­ta­tion sparked a few laughs, but he re­ally had the place shout­ing for more when he told the story of how the New­found­land gov­ern­ment once brought buf­falo in from Western Canada and trans­ported them by boat to Brunet Is­land in For­tune Bay, ig­nor­ing the fact that the poor old an­i­mals thought they were still roam­ing the end­less plains of Saskatchewan and could run for­ever.

“They pro­ceeded to plunge over the cliffs to the surf be­low,” he chuck­led, as his fans re­acted with up­roar­i­ous and mock­ing ap­proval.

Other tell­ers of Newfie jokes re­ferred to the Come By Chance Oil Refinery bank­ruptcy of the 1970s, the big­gest bank­ruptcy in Cana­dian his­tory at the time, the New­found­land gov­ern­ment sucked in by a big talk­ing Yank, John Sha­heen, a friend of Richard (Dirty Dick) Nixon, and a con­tem­po­rary of an­other Amer­i­can who tried to suck New­found­land dry, John C. Doyle.

And there was the Stephenville Liner­board Mill story to get a few laughs, and an as­sort­ment of yarns about choco­late bar and hockey stick fac­to­ries.

But the pièce de ré­sis­tance, ac­cord­ing to Har­bour Deep Throat, was a joke that brought the house down, and was the award win­ner of the night for the “Big­gest Newfie Joke” of all time.

It was called The Muskrat Falls Boon­dog­gle.

There were peo­ple buck­led over in pain from laugh­ing so hard, some of them prac­ti­cally beg­ging the per­former — an “Un­cle” some­body or other — to “please stop, we can’t take it any­more.”

But he wouldn’t let up, and the side-split­ting hu­mour only es­ca­lated as he had enor­mous fun with a story about a small prov­ince, seem­ingly for­ever on the brink of in­sol­vency, that watched as its rulers and their as­so­ci­ates al­lowed the cost of an elec­tri­cal project to soar from $6 bil­lion to $8 bil­lion and, fi­nally, to $12 bil­lion-plus.

Damn the tor­pe­does and full steam ahead, he com­i­cally de­scribed the vac­u­ous pol­icy.

It was as if that movie crowd, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” was in charge, he quipped.

But, tak­ing on a fake solemn tone, the joke-teller ob­served qui­etly: “But there was a vi­sion: Danny’s vi­sion. Ed’s vi­sion.”

And ac­cord­ing to the win­ning Newfie joke of the night, Danny sang a song to Ed, par­rot­ing Jef­fer­son Star­ship:

“Let ’em say we’re crazy, I don’t care about that.

And we can build this thing to­gether, and stand this stormy weather ... Noth­ing’s gonna stop us now.” The laugh­ter, Har­bour Deep Throat told me, was deaf­en­ing.

Ev­ery­one was in hys­ter­ics ex­cept a hand­ful of New­found­lan­ders who had slipped into the back of the hall in Hi­lar­i­ous Haven, Ont.

They just cried.

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