This Hour Has 22 Minutes

This Hour Has 22 Minutes, also known as 22 Minutes, is a sketch comedy and satirical news show that has aired on CBC TV since 1993. A forerunner of the mock-newscast format popularized by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, it has averaged as many as 1 million viewers per episode and has remained one of the CBC’s highest-rated shows throughout its run. It was developed by CODCO members Mary Walsh and Cathy Jones along with producers Michael Donovan, Jack Kellum, Gerald Lunz and George Anthony. Over the years, the show has featured such comedians as Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Colin Mochrie, Mark Critch, Gavin Crawford, Shaun Majumder, Geri Hall, Nathan Fielder and Susan Kent. The series has won 28 Gemini Awards, 20 Canadian Comedy Awards, 5 Writers Guild of Canada Awards and the Academy Icon Award at the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards.

Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, being interviewed by Mark Critch of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, 26 October 2017.

Background

This Hour Has 22 Minutes was originally conceived by Newfoundland comedian Mary Walsh as a follow-up to the CBC sketch-comedy series CODCO (short for “Cod Company”), which aired from 1987 to 1992. Walsh brought the idea for a weekly satirical news show to Michael Donovan, the executive producer of CODCO, who pitched it to CBC. After the broadcaster green-lit six episodes, Walsh and Jones added two other Newfoundlanders to the cast: fellow CODCO alumnus Greg Thomey, and Rick Mercer, an up-and-coming writer and performer who had recently gained national recognition for his one-man stage shows Show Me The Button, I’ll Push It (or Charles Lynch Must Die), and I’ve Killed Before, I’ll Kill Again.

The title, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, references the groundbreaking satirical current affairs show This Hour Has Seven Days, which aired on CBC TV from 1964 to 1966, when it was cancelled due to controversial content related to the Steven Truscott case. The “22 minutes” alludes to the average duration, minus commercials, of every half-hour segment of network television. This blatant critique of television programming trends distilled in the show’s title would reflect the ongoing satirical boldness of its content.

Premiere and First Season

The first episode of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, taped in front of a live audience of about 200 people in downtown Halifax, aired on 11 October 1993. Directed by Henry Sarwer-Foner, the format featured a mock newscast interspersed with satirical skits taking aim at a wide range of political and media personalities — a format that would later be popularized by some of the most influential TV comedy programs of the next two decades, such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

This Hour Has 22 Minutes was an immediate success, with the premiere attracting more than 400,000 viewers. Over the next few episodes viewership rose substantially, and by the fourth episode (which drew 750,000 viewers), CBC had commissioned a full season. CBC advertised the new hit show, airing on Monday evenings, as a “volatile mix of news parody, sketch comedy, scathing editorial commentary and the collective comic genius of the dynamite cast and their alter egos.”

Cast Changes

This Hour Has 22 Minutes has had numerous changes to its cast throughout its long run. In 2001, Rick Mercer, who was already three seasons into his CBC sitcom Made in Canada, left the show. He subsequently developed Rick Mercer Report, a family-friendly, current events CBC comedy show, which eventually aired in the time slot immediately before 22 Minutes. Mercer was replaced by Colin Mochrie, the Canadian improv comedian best known for his appearances on ABC’s hit improv comedy show, Whose Line Is It Anyway? Mochrie dropped out of the show in 2003 due to the demands of commuting between Halifax and Los Angeles.

Mary Walsh described the 22 Minutes environment as “a hotbed of fervid, seething creation,” but said that “after I got to year nine, or year 10, I realized I wasn't coming up with any new characters. I didn't know how long I could effectively go on doing what I was doing.” She left the show in 2004 to pursue other film, television and writing projects, but has returned for the occasional cameo.

The Alberta-born comic Gavin Crawford was asked to fill in for Walsh in 2003 and ended up serving as both a writer and cast member for eight seasons. Two other longtime cast members also joined the show in 2003: the St. John’s comic Mark Critch, who was hired as a writer when Mercer left in 2001; and Newfoundland-raised comedian Shaun Majumder, who also served as a writer in 2003–04, 2011–13, and 2016.

Original cast member Greg Thomey left the show in 2005, although he has made many guest appearances since as both a writer and performer. Other prominent cast members throughout the show’s history include Geri Hall (2004, 2007–08, 2011), Nathan Fielder (2007–09), Susan Kent (2012–15, 2017), Trent McClellan and Meredith MacNeill. Cathy Jones (1993–2018) is the only remaining original cast member.

Mercer, Rick
Satirist Rick Mercer's witty approach to Canadian politics has made him a prominent political and social commentator (photo courtesy Rick Mercer Report).

Cast Alter Egos

The cast’s development of recurring alter egos has played a large role in the success and originality of the series, which gained considerable notoriety for its unconventional interviews with politicians and famous Canadians. The cast members, often in character as one of their alter egos, would frequently ambush their subjects at public events.

One of the cast’s best-known alter egos is Cathy Jones’s “Joe Crow,” an elderly Indigenous man who mournfully bemoans the environmental crimes of the modern world. Greg Thomey enjoyed success as the hyperactive “Jerry Boyle,” the scandal-ridden, haplessly optimistic leader of “The Newfoundland Separation Federation.” Mary Walsh embodied “Marg Delahunty,” a self-proclaimed cultural and political pundit who directs her sharp opinions and wit towards patriarchal systems of power. And Rick Mercer developed his now iconic “rants,” which feature him pacing through a heavily graffitied alley delivering a political diatribe directly at the camera.

Gavin Crawford created a number of the show’s most memorable characters, such as “Mark Jackson,” an acne-scarred, braces-wearing, terminally awkward teen correspondent who frequently interviews prominent Canadian politicians. Mark Critch quickly became a mainstay on the program and developed a number of iconic acts, such as his imitation of the notoriously verbose CBC pundit, Rex Murphy. Shaun Majumder’s best-known alter ego is a profusely sweating, heavily accented reporter named Raj Binder, who asks pointed questions while exaggerating and oversimplifying cultural differences until they become ridiculous.

Notable Skits and Controversies

Rick Mercer’s“Talking to Americans” was one of the show’s most successful recurring bits. Posing as a Canadian journalist, Mercer travelled throughout the United States, asking Americans questions about Canada that were designed to expose their ignorance of the neighbouring country. In 2000, Mercer asked George W. Bush, at the time a US presidential candidate, about his endorsement of the Canadian prime minister, “Jean Poutine,” a perversion of the then prime minister’s actual name, Jean Chrétien. Bush replied in earnest that he looked forward to working with his counterpart to the north. The gag was a huge success in Canada. In 2001, Mercer transformed “Talking to Americans” into an hour-long special, which attracted international attention and 2.7 million viewers, making it the highest-rated comedy special in CBC history.

During the 2000 federal election campaign, in response to a proposal by Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day to hold binding referendums on issues that gained the support of 3 per cent of the population, Mercer did a bit asking 3 per cent of Canadians to sign a petition that would require Day to change his first name to Doris. “We all saw this as a back-door way to get abortion, capital punishment, gay rights, those types of hot button issues on a ballot,” Mercer said. The Alliance lost the election and Day was removed as leader a year later.

In 2004, This Hour Has 22 Minutes recorded a short promo skit that featured Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish stomping on a George W. Bush doll. Outrage surrounding the skit contributed to Parrish’s eventual expulsion from the Liberal caucus and became a national news story. “We do a parody of the news here and suddenly we were part of this news frenzy,” Mark Critch said in a 2005 interview with the Globe and Mail. “It was a really useful lesson in how the media works.”

In 2011, Mary Walsh made a guest appearance on This Hour Has 22 Minutes as one of her classic characters, Marg Delahunty. She showed up at the house of Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who was then embroiled in a crack cocaine scandal, to record an ambush-style interview. Ford called 911 and later claimed that he had never heard of This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

Writers, Directors and Producers

In addition to many of the cast members who also served as writers, This Hour Has 22 Minutes has featured the work of some of the top comedy writers in Canada, including: Tim McAuliffe (The Hour, Corner Gas, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), Mark Farrell (The Red Green Show, Corner Gas, Made in Canada), Jennifer Whalen (Insecurity, Baroness von Sketch Show), Carolyn Taylor (Baroness von Sketch Show), Barry Julien (The Colbert Report, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) and Ron Sparks (Comedy Now!, Little Mosque on the Prairie).

Directors of This Hour Has 22 Minutes have included Henry Sarwer-Foner (1993–2003), Mike Clattenburg (2004), Stephen Reynolds (2005–2013), Samir Rehem (2012), Vivieno Caldinelli (2013–2017), Michael Lewis (2013–2017), Jordan Canning (2016–2017), Warren P. Sonoda (2016–2017), Mars Horodyski (2017–18) and Jason Shipley (2017).

The series was originally produced for the CBC by the Halifax-based production company Salter Street Films. Alliance Atlantis purchased Salter Street in 2001 and took over production of the show in the 12th season, beginning in the fall of 2004. In 2005, Salter Street co-founder Michael Donovan resumed production of the show through his new company, The Halifax Film Company, which became DHX Media in 2006.

Awards

Gemini Awards

  • Best Comedy Series (Michael Donovan, Geoff D’Eon, Gerald Lunz, Jack Kellum, Jenipher Ritchie) (1995)
  • Best Performance in a Comedy Program or Series, Individual or Ensemble (Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Mary Walsh) (1995)
  • Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series (Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Alan Resnick) (1995)
  • Best Comedy Series (Michael Donovan, Geoff D'Eon, Gerald Lunz, Jack Kellum, Jenipher Ritchie) (1996)
  • Best Performance in a Comedy Program or Series, Individual or Ensemble (Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Mary Walsh) (1996)
  • Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series (Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Alan Resnick, Ed Macdonald, Paul Bellini) (1996)
  • Best Comedy Series (Michael Donovan, Geoff D’Eon, Gerald Lunz, Jack Kellum, Marilyn Richardson) (1997)
  • Best Performance in a Comedy Program or Series, Individual or Ensemble (Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Mary Walsh) (1997)
  • Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series (Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Alan Resnick, Ed Macdonald, Paul Bellini, Mary Walsh) (1997)
  • Best Comedy Program or Series (Michael Donovan, Geoff D’Eon, Gerald Lunz, Jack Kellum, Marilyn Richardson) (1998)
  • Best Comedy Program or Series (Michael Donovan, Geoff D’Eon, Gerald Lunz, Jack Kellum, Andrew McInnes) (1998* Note: The 12th and 13th Gemini Awards were both held in 1998.)
  • Best Direction in a Variety or Performing Arts Program or Series (Henry Sarwer-Foner) (1998)
  • Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series (Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Tim Steeves, Mark Farrell, Edward Kay, Chris Finn) (1998)
  • Best Direction in a Variety or Performing Arts Program or Series (Henry Sarwer-Foner) (1999)
  • Best Music, Variety Program or Series (Michael Donovan, Geoff D’Eon, Paul Bellini, Jack Kellum, Andrew McInnes) (1999)
  • Best Performance in a Comedy Program or Series (Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey) (1999)
  • Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series (Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Tim Steeves, Mark Farrell, Ron James, Edward Kay, Chris Finn) (1999)
  • Best Comedy Program or Series (Michael Donovan, Geoff D’Eon, Jack Kellum, Mark Farrell, Ginny Jones Duzak) (2000)
  • Best Performance in a Comedy Program or Series (Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Mary Walsh) (2000)
  • Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series (Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Tim Steeves, Mark Farrell, Luciano Casimiri, Edward Kay, Christian Murray, Chris Finn, George Westerholm) (2000)
  • Best Comedy Program or Series (Michael Donovan, Jack Kellum, Geoff D’Eon, Susan MacDonald, Mark Farrell, Jenipher Ritchie) (2003)
  • Best Achievement in Makeup (Penny Lee, Karen Byers) (2003)
  • Best Direction in a Comedy Program or Series (Henry Sarwer-Foner) (2003)
  • Best Direction in a Variety Program or Series (Henry Sarwer-Foner) (2003)
  • Best Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Program or Series (Cathy Jones, Colin Mochrie, Greg Thomey, Mary Walsh) (2003)
  • Best Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Program or Series (Mark Critch, Gavin Crawford, Shaun Majumder, Cathy Jones) (2006)
  • Best Comedy Program or Series (Michael Donovan, Mark Farrell, Jack Kellum, Geoff D’Eon, Jenipher Ritchie, Susan MacDonald) (2008)
  • Best Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Program or Series (Shaun Majumder, Gavin Crawford, Geri Hall, Cathy Jones, Mark Critch) (2010)

Canadian Comedy Awards

  • Television Performance, Female (Mary Walsh) (2000)
  • Television Direction, Episode or Special (Henry Sarwer-Foner) (2000)
  • Television Writing, Series (Tim Steeves, Rick Mercer, Cathy Jones, Edward Kay, Mary Walsh, Greg Thomey) (2000)
  • Television Writing, Episode or Special (Tim Steeves, Rick Mercer, Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh, Edward Kay, Greg Thomey) (2000)
  • Television Direction, Series (Henry Sarwer-Foner) (2001)
  • Television Performance, Female (Cathy Jones) (2001)
  • Television Writing, Series (Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Mary Walsh, Mark Farrell, Chris Finn, Edward Kay, Tim Steeves, George Westerholm, Luciano Casimiri, Michael Best, Randy Metson, Heidi Foss, Jordan Kawchuk, Paul Mather, Christian Murray, Kevin White, Peter McBain) (2001)
  • Television Writing, Series (Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Mary Walsh, Mark Farrell, Luciano Casimiri, Christian Murray, Peter McBain, George Westerholm, Kevin White, Paul Mather) (2002)
  • Television Performance, Female (Cathy Jones) (2003)
  • Television Writing, Episode or Special (Greg Thomey, Colin Mochrie, Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Mark Critch, Mark Farrell, Paul Mather, Peter McBain, Kevin White (2003)
  • Television Direction, Episode or Special (Stephen Reynolds) (2005)
  • Television Writing, Episode or Special (Kevin White, Mark Critch, Gary Pearson, Gavin Crawford, Jennifer Whalen, Dave Nystrom, Carolyn Taylor, Albert Howell) (2007)
  • Television Writing, Episode or Special (Mark Critch, Gavin Crawford, Gary Pearson, Kyle Tingley, Jennifer Whalen, Albert Howell, Tim McAuliffe, Nathan Fielder, Geri Hall, Andrew Bush, Dean Jenkinson) (2008)
  • Television Performance, Male (Gavin Crawford) (2008)
  • Best TV Show (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) (2013)
  • Best TV Show (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) (2014)
  • Television Performance, Male (Shaun Majumder) (2015)
  • Television Direction, Episode or Special (Vivieno Caldinelli, Michael Lewis) (2015)
  • Television Writing, Series or Special (Mike Allison, Sonya Bell, Jon Blair, Heidi Brander, Adam Christie, Mark Critch, Pat Dussault, Dean Jenkinson, Cathy Jones, Bob Kerr, Tim Polley, Ron Sparks, Scott Vrooman, Jeremy Woodcock) (2015)
  • Best TV Show (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) (2015)

Canadian Screen Awards

  • Best Writing in a Variety or Sketch Comedy Program or Series (Albert Howell, Bob Kerr, Cathy Jones, Dean Jenkinson, Gary Pearson, Greg Thomey, Mark Critch, Mary Walsh, Michael Balazo, Mike Allison, Nigel Lawrence, Rupinder Gill, Scott Vrooman, Shaun Majumder, Susan Kent) (2014)
  • Academy Icon Award (2016)

Others

  • Writers Guild of Canada Award (Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Paul Bellini, Alan Resnick, Ed Macdonald) (1997)
  • Writers Guild of Canada Award (Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Colin Mochrie, Greg Thomey, Mark Farrell, Kevin White, Peter McBain, Paul Mather, Scot Feschuk) (2002)
  • Best Variety Series (Kevin White, Mark Critch, Irwin Barker, Gavin Crawford, Gary Pearson, Jennifer Whalen, Carolyn Taylor, Albert Howell, Dave Nystrom, Geri Hall, Todd Allen, Tim McAuliffe) Writers Guild of Canada (2008)
  • Best Variety Series (Jennifer Whalen / Written by Mark Critch, Gavin Crawford, Kyle Tingley, Jennifer Whalen, Albert Howell, Tim McAuliffe, Dean Jenkinson, Geri Hall, Nathan Fielder) Writers Guild of Canada (2009)
  • Best Variety Series (Ed Macdonald, Mark Critch, Kyle Tingley, Albert Howell, Dean Jenkinson, Joanne O’Sullivan, Tara Doyle, Erik Van Wyck, Mike Allison, Joey Case) Writers Guild of Canada (2010)
  • Best Television Series (DHX Media), Screen Nova Scotia Awards (2017)