(This epilogue is still a work in progress. But I have decided to post it anyway. I will be adding to it as time goes on, and revising or correcting where necessary.)
THE LEGACY OF FUNNY
It has now been three years since we lost Mike.
Three years has not dulled the sadness and loss. It has not dulled his memory. But it has given way to gratitude and reflection.
Even though he is gone, he continues to influence the people he left behind. Those of us lucky enough to have seen him perform, who knew him, loved him, worked with him – all have our stories to share with a whole new generation of comedy talent.
His legend lives on in the people who’s lives he shaped and inspired. So he is not really gone.
Funny never dies.
I have done my best to tell his story as it happened. But if I have anything wrong, if there are any inaccuracies in what I have written, please contact me and I will put it right.
I thought I would use a few photographs of Mike taken by other comedians for this series. I think they have added significance. That other comics would want to photograph him onstage shows the esteem he was held in, and besides, who would know what shot sums up a comic better than another comic?
So I am immensely grateful to comic/photographers David Bruce and Rob Trick for their generosity in sharing their photos with me, and for allowing me to use them here.
If any other comedy pals have pictures of Mike performing that they would like me to use, feel free to message me and I will find someplace to add them in.
Other photos used in this series are from various sources, and I apologise to the photographers if I have not credited them, but I have so many I honestly don’t know where they all came from, and many have no name attached. So if I have used your photos, please contact me and I will amend with credit – and payment, if required.
I have also used quotes from several of Mike’s contemporaries to head many of the preceding ‘chapters.’ Again, this shows the esteem Mike was held in, how he impacted the work and lives of others in the business. How he is remembered, how he will always be remembered.
I thank these people for allowing me to use their quotes: John Wing, Lara Rae, Simon Rakoff, Ritch Shydner, Howard Nemetz, Glen Foster, Fred Mundy and Jim McAleese.
Mike’s personality and talent continues to resonate in his absence.
Going on to his Facebook page, (now a memorial page) I am struck by the thousands of people who have written about him over the past two years. Fans, other comics, family, old friends. People who never knew him personally and those who knew him very well indeed. We all share in his loss. We all remain changed by his passing. And none of us, have forgotten.
Soon after his death his family held a ‘celebration of life’ in Ottawa. It was a fitting tribute; a firing of comedic rifles over the grave of a fallen warrior. I wish I could have attended. Many of Mike’s comedy pals, his family, and life-long friends, all spoke at the event.
It can be found here on YouTube – in several parts. Let’s face it, he was too large a character to fit into a short synopsis.(https://youtu.be/vW4fnQTTVqE)
Mike was posthumously awarded the Canadian Comedy Award for ‘Comedic Artist of the Year’ in 2018. His wife Bonnie accepted the Award on his behalf, a bittersweet event.
He remains the only comedian to have performed at every ‘Just For Laughs’ Festival – from the time of its inception until his death.
There is a yearly summer comedy competition named after Mike in Ottawa, Ontario, during which comics from all over the world (amateur and pro) battle it out to win the coveted title of being ‘technically funny.’ It is run at the Ottawa Yuk Yuk’s club by Mike’s friend Howard Wagman.
More information can be found on their Facebook page, their website (https://www.yukyuks.com/ottawa) or by ‘googling’ Mike MacDonald Summer Comedy Competition.
Director Brendan Mertens made a documentary about Mike and his battle to return to the stage after his liver transplant. It was called ‘The Mike Stand,’ and this is the trailer for it: https://youtu.be/NH9Q4hsGMS4
Further information can be found at: http://www.themikestandmovie.com
Mike’s close friend Ritch Shydner has dedicated an entire chapter of his most recent book – ‘Kicking Through the Ashes’ – to his beloved friend. It’s a great read and I can highly recommend it. You can get it through Amazon (https://g.co/kgs/twc1Bt)
Both Ritch – and Mike’s other comedy sibling, Len Austervich – made it to his aforementioned celebration of life. You’ll see them in the video. Broke my heart a little bit…
If you worked with Mike or saw him perform, if you are a fan, a friend or a member of the extended MacDonald clan – please feel free to add your comments in the section below and tell us what Mike meant to you.
If you are a comic or involved in the comedy industry, feel free to get in touch with me and I will add your comments or stories to the “Tributes from the Trenches’ section here.
We keep him in our hearts by sharing our memories.
And can someone please tell me HOW THE FUCK Mike MacDonald is NOT an inductee on Canada’s ‘Walk Of Fame’ in Toronto?!
He was the acknowledged KING of CANADIAN COMEDY!
This will not stand.
Let’s right this injustice.
We have to make this happen.
I hereby call on his friends, his fans, his comedy comrades to raise their voices in Mike’s memory. We need to get him his star.
He doesn’t just deserve it…He EARNED it.
More details to follow soon!
This series of posts is my own personal tribute. And yes, I probably could have made it shorter, more succinct, easier to get through. But the truth is, I just didn’t want to. My blog, my rules…
I continue to lament his passing every day. He was my big brother. My comrade. My protector. And my friend. An inspiration. A comedy legend.
I still find it impossible that he is gone.
My pal, writer and comic Chris Finn, said something to me recently that I often reflect on. I was remarking on the cruelty of it all. How Mike had fought so hard for so long. But Chris reminded me, ‘You know Sherry, Mike really did treat that extra five years after his transplant as a gift.’
And that is true. He did. He knew how lucky he was. He was grateful every day. Even when it was hard.
He got his encore.
All because someone – at a time of great loss in their own lives – thought about the life of a stranger. Or because someone facing their own mortality head-on, made the choice to donate their organs so that someone else might live.
That person saved my friend. Their family saved my friend.
And we got five more years with Mike MacDonald.
So I would be remiss – and Mike would be annoyed – if I didn’t urge people to consider becoming an organ donor. Talk to your family about it. Tell them of your wishes. Share the gift of life itself.
TRIBUTES FROM THE TRENCHS
Comedy Comrades Reflect on Mike MacDonald
‘Mike MacDonald was a fantastic stand up comic. While comics are known for standing at the back of a comedy club, watching their friends do a set for the express purpose of laughing when their friend bombs, comics would watch Mike because he was special. He could tell thirty jokes where the punchline was “Fuck off!” and each one would be different, and each one would be funny. When most comics try out bits on you, you just look at them like, “Really? Just talk to me like a human being.” But Mike would talk to you like a human being, making you laugh at something he said. Then he’d go onstage and do it and get a huge laugh. I could never help feeling impressed at how well I was just used.The only real regret I have from my stand up days is deciding to go upstairs and smoke a J with a group of comics, missing Mike’s set a few minutes after he found out his long-time girlfriend had been cheating on him with, as he put it, “a fat guy.” He was the embodiment of focused rage, and from everything I heard, that was a magical night. Comics, especially young ones, are not known for their ability to deal with any emotion other than anger. I was very close with my grandparents, and the first time I saw Mike after my grandmother died, he looked at me and said, “Whatever I’m supposed to say.” I have never received a better condolence response from anyone after a death. Goodbye, Mike. Whatever I’m supposed to say. – Howard Nemetz
‘In Toronto in the 80’s getting stage time at Yuk Yuks was always a big deal (even if it was under appreciated by me at the time) but the real privilege was that it allowed me to be present when Mike took the stage. Wow… that’s how I felt watching him live… Wow. It didn’t matter if it was first time or the thirtieth time I saw him him. It was still …Wow… and that’s a privilege for which I will forever be grateful.’ – Howard Busgang
‘I am a disciple of Mike – my entire approach to stand up was somewhat formed by him. I opened for Mike once when I was first starting out – at the National Arts Center in Ottawa – I did 15 minutes and I thought I did pretty good – Mike did 2 hours and 35 mins. To two encores and a couple of standing ovations. At the wine and cheese reception afterwards people couldn’t quite place where they knew me from. “I did 15 minutes bout three hours ago.” He was the greatest comic I’ve ever seen as far as connection to the audience. And that’s really all it’s about. – Tim Steeves
‘I remember the first thought I had when Mike passed away was fear. Who will stick up for the female comics now? Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of awesome male comics who support female comics – but not at Mikes stature. It was always great when Mike would step in. I remember besides grief, feeling fear. He was a great supporter of the underdog. He would always say something if something wasn’t right. I miss him doing that in our community. He really was like The Godfather of comedy. When Kevin McGrath had a horrible car accident and was in rehab for months I did a fundraiser for him. I was kinda nervous to ask Mike since he didn’t live in Toronto and it was quite the drive. Within 5 seconds he said YES. Which allowed me to bring in bigger names and make more money for Kevin. My favorite memories of mike are EATING! We always had bacon together when he came to town or late night meals after shows and he would tell me funny stories. He was a true gentleman and I miss my funny friend. – Mini Holmes
‘I met Mike in Toronto in the late 70’s and he was revered in our small group. We were at the club every night. It was like the Woodstock of comedy. We stayed up all night. Nobody wanted to leave. Mike held court. We did too many drugs. But we all knew the King of Canadian comedy was born. Later, and until his passing, he still came down to the Ottawa club as long as his health would allow. He had a corner near the bar where he would watch and then talk to the young comics about their sets. He never wanted to perform, just be there. Be in the club. Be around comedy We will run the Mike MacDonald Summer Comedy Competition as long as I’m here. And if I’ve taught correctly long after…’ – Howard Wagman
‘The first time he ever spoke to me was at a party. I showed up late after flying in from a western tour and we were introduced and Mike said “I know who he is” and walked away. I pretended it was a “he knows who I am, I’ve made it in comedy” but of course it wasn’t. But after his illness I gigged with him, hung out with him and booked and represented him and he was nothing but gracious and wonderful and complimentary to me. And lord knows we can never get enough of any of that. He was the first Yuks comic to go big and was the measure that everyone after him tried to emulate. – Tony Krolo
‘He was an inspiration, a collaborator, a co-conspirator, mostly he was my friend, and my brother in arms. Forever missed and forever loved.’ – Ron Vaudry
‘Mike MacDonald was a comic genius. I was so grateful to have worked with him…especially when he stepped up for and headlined #ComicVision in 2009 in TO, London, Calgary and Vancouver. His authenticity around Mental Health was impactful and his timing and facial expressions were INSPIRING!!!! A true legend.‘ – Meg Soper
‘Mike was truly a King of comedy. A Jedi master. Not just in Canada, but all over the whole wide world. Even in Fairview.’ – Steven Pearl
‘When I was living in San Francisco, Mike was headlining Cobbs, one of the great clubs, for the first time. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Someone famous, I forget who, had been booked, but had to cancel at the last minute. The act’s agent called the club’s owner Tom Sawyer to tell him the act had to cancel, but he would send him Mike MacDonald to fill the spot. Sawyer said he didn’t want Mike. He had seen him and didn’t like him and didn’t think he would go over well at Cobbs. The agent says to trust him. Tom says he isn’t taking him. The agent says if he doesn’t take Mike he is never getting any of his acts again. Sawyer, who booked many of the guys acts, including the clubs best draws, reluctantly agrees. but lets him know he is not happy about it. The agent tells Mike about the gig. He also tells Mike that the owner didn’t want him there and Mike is going in against the owner’s will. So now, Mike has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Club week was Tuesday to Sunday. First night Mike does 45 minutes and kills. Second night Mike does a totally different 45 and kills. Now this is during the period where Mike and Ritch Shydner were having contests to see who can do the longest sets, so he’s primed. Third night, completely different 45 and kills. The owner is coming around. Friday first, different 45, same Friday late. The owner is now in love. Saturday Mike puts the best of the previous shows and some other stuff into the two shows. Blows the doors off. Same thing Sunday, by which point Tom Sawyer has placed Mike’s picture above the entry door, where he has his favourite acts. As seen here top left. – Harry Doupe
‘I didn’t get to meet Mike until the last two years he was with us I was so fortunate to be working at the Victoria Yuks when he was here. Got to pick him up at the hotel, and go out to Denny’s with him and hang with him. I was always on the road and just missed him for decades. He was such a class act. I saw him for the first time (!) in a little room in Vancouver with about 12 people. He played it like a crowd of 500. Such a pro. Of course seeing him at Yuks in front of full crowds was a complete treat as well. I didn’t know him for long, but miss him a lot.’ – David Bruce
“While I was studying for my masters at AFI, I went on the road for the summer and left my apartment. Mike and Bonnie stored my bed on their dining room table while I was gone. That’s a good friend. So fuckin generous, both of them. When I was taking care of my manager Victoria Dushoff, who was dying of cancer, Mike came over regularly to make her laugh right until the end. Some of his best sets, and she totally appreciated it. When she died she left him her meds. Bonnie came over often when I had to get to a gig and even stayed over. Last but not least it was Mike and Bonnie that I called when I narrowly escaped being raped after a 30 minute struggle. I went over there and spent the night talking and coming to terms with what happened. Just unbelievable friends. I loved every time I got to work with him, which happened often, In Las Vegas, Rochester, LA and Ottawa, where Sunday morning we were both outside waiting to be picked up by our parents. We laughed about that. Every time I got to work with him, I was so so so excited-to watch the master and then get to play all night-still say he’s my favorite comic even to the kids that didn’t know him.’ – Kandi Abelson
‘At his best, when he was in the moment, he seemed to literally lift off the stage and start flying. He was the Charlie Parker of comedic riffs.‘ – Lou Eisen
‘Mike was the best comic I ever saw. Sure, I told him that. That I went with Sarah Gough to Yuks at $1.04 on a Monday and was mesmerized forever. Ruined for normal life. Already probing comedy through Peter Sellars and Monty Python, Dick Van Dyke, and Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Carol Burnett. And there in front of me on a night that included Gerry Bednob and Howie Mandel, was Mike. So precise with every gesture and brutally funny. Yes there was funny, but this was deeper richer and even painful. Truth. Truth. It took me another eight years to get to the same place on an amateur night. 24 and I knew how good comedy was or at least could be. I was at yuks and there was Mike, rungs and rungs ahead of all of us. Later when I took up photography, after Mike’s Liver surgery, Dave Martin put on a night down at The Dominion Hotel, I was asked by Dave if I could catch it on camera. I jumped at it saying yes and proceeded to rent a lens to capture it in lowlight. I spent $100 for a lens so I could do him justice. I was honoured to do so. There are going to be so many things said about Mike, good and bad, but no one will argue that he delivered and hard, and chose a difficult path and excelled. Thanks Mike for the inspiration and the standard. Thank you for letting us into the fraternity. Peace brother, peace.’ – Rob Trick
‘On a few occasions, several of the comics including Mike MacDonald would get together to play music. Mike loved to play drums and mug at me as he played rim shots to his own jokes. He would pretend to pass out, fall forward and lay into the snare like Ed Shaughnessy! Mike found out that I hadn’t made one of the sessions because I was teaching music to a group of my students. Mike called me Johnny Seminar at the next gathering and forever after. He would give me eyes and brows and, grumble, “Johnny Seminar..”I was just thankful to have been given a scornful nickname by Mike MacDonald!!!’ – Chris Quinn
‘I always loved the way his mind works. And I was amazed at all the touring he did after one of his near death episodes. He answered that with, “Lady Gaga tours. I show up at places.” A generous mentor to other comics, and proof that great talents go unappreciated.’ – Jim Slotek
‘When I first met Mike he was kind of an asshole but that didn’t change the fact that he was one of the funniest people I had ever seen on stage. This was prior to him moving to LA. It was amazing to watch him destroy the room that night. Fast forward, 15 years (around 2003 or 04) & I am on tour in Calgary & Mike is in town doing a corporate gig. I am supposed to host the Amateur Night that evening & Yuk’s was doing “workshops” to help open mic acts prior to these shows. I was going to be late for the workshop because of another gig so Mike stepped in. I managed to catch the last 30 minutes of his talk & it was GREAT!! He offered sound, practical advice to the open mic comics with no attitude, just grace. Helped them with jokes, added great tags. Still remember that moment very fondly.’ – Herb Irving
‘Sitting in Kelowna Denny’s after a Comedy Festival gig there. He was all, “Whaddya mean? Have some more coffee. It’s only 3:30. You can sleep any time.” I ‘d been warned about talking to him before showtime, by I think Kelamis or someone…I hadn’t actually met Mike before the Kelowna festival…we’re up in the green room…but he came over – ‘hey, I’m Mike…etc…’ He wouldn’t shut the fuck up. It was hilarious. Was clean and sober and all that by then, perhaps that was it, but we got along like the proverbial house on fire. It was a funny thing…‘ – Nelson Giles
‘…A couple of things- when we had softball games in the schoolyard near the club he pitched and it was fast and hard to hit. Also, one night standing at the back of the club and he’s doing a some quiet trash talking to me about the act of the comic on stage. He asks what I think and I say, “What do you say about me when I’m on stage?” “Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh…” – Sid Potma
‘Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club on Bay Street in Toronto was the hub of Canadian comedy in the 1980’s, and everything revolved around it. Every major Canadian comic hung out there, alongside any touring American headliners. And Mike was the King of the Bay street club. That is where I first met him, in September of 1983. As a newbie it was interesting to see the reverence given to Mike by every other comic. Whenever he went on stage, everyone came out of the green room to watch. He was electrifying – whether he was doing proven material, or trying some new stuff. Like everyone else, I watched in awe! How could anyone be so funny and hit on every joke in any situation? It hit me in the face how far I had to go just to be good, but at least I saw the top of the mountain. As I got to know Mike off stage it soon became clear to me that there was the nice Mike and the mean Mike. You never knew which one was going to show up on a given night. But if he liked you he would welcome you to the Club House. It was even better if he laughed at your set or took the time to talk to you about comedy. Luckily for me, Mike liked me. He saw that I loved comedy as much as he did, and I never imposed on him for advice. We had a connection through our mutual background in the music business. Any chance I got I took pictures of Mike on stage (the days of film) and never charged him for the prints. One night I was asked to drive Mike to a gig in London ON. I jumped at the chance to spend two hours in the car with him. There was a terrible snow storm that night but the show was still on, so I picked Mike up at the Bay Street club. At the time, I was driving a retired OPP cruiser. He rolled his eyes when I pulled up and got into the car with his Ghetto Blaster and tapes. (For the youngsters, a Ghetto Blaster is a huge tape recorder and played cassette tapes) Mike played tunes, we talked about music, and then he gave me a seminar on comedy writing. It was honest and thoughtful. Once we hit London and got to the University of Western Ontario, Mike proceeded to do a 2 ½ hour set with no opener. He just went on cold – and killed from the first joke to the last joke. It was incredible to watch. On the drive back the weather got worse. Mike asked me to pick up John Wing at the gig he was doing. I did. So, I had two major Canadian comedy acts in my car driving back to Toronto in a blizzard. They talked music and comedy while I followed a snowblower all the way home. We arrived back to the Yuk Yuk’s on Bat Street around 2am, as the weather was so terrible it took us 4 hours to get back. As usual a few comics were still hanging out at the club. (That is what comics did back in the day) Mike went up on stage, turned on the mic, and did another hour on how I drove back in the storm and would not pass the snowblower. It was funny, animated and on the mark. The other comics laughed, which is not easy to do! I was officially a member of the Mike Macdonald Club House!‘ -David Reuben