Deadpanning for comedy gold in the North

The day after Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield landed back on the planet in 2013, Canadian earthlings celebrated. But in one corner of the Internet, rage was growing. 

The day after Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield landed back on the planet in 2013, Canadian earthlings celebrated.

But in one corner of the Internet, rage was growing.

“Hadfield comes home to $1.37-million Rogers phone bill,” the headline shouted.

And the Internet folks, as Internet folks are prone to do, lost their marbles.

The story got half a million hits and Canadians went after the telecommunications company for saddling a national hero with such a crushing burden.

It’s unlikely anyone in the angry virtual mob actually clicked on the article.

If they had, they would have noticed a few, let’s say, red flags.

Hadfield racked up the bill, according to the article, by watching Youtube videos of goats that sound like humans.

He’s quoted worrying about what his parents will think, suggesting he doesn’t pay his own phone bill.

The story was the handiwork of Alex Huntley, an editor with the satirical publication The Beaverton.

Canada’s answer to The Onion, The Beaverton tweaks Canadian news in the name of comedy.

Huntley moved to Whitehorse in April. Since then he’s started the website’s new North section and has been mining the territories for comedy.

The Hadfield article was his first to get major online attention since he started working there in 2012.

As funny as the reaction was, there’s a lesson there, he says.

“That’s the whole thing about the importance of clicking on the article and knowing the source. I never had the intention of spoofing people into believing that Chris Hadfield had a $1.37 million phone bill.”

The Beaverton has been around since 2010. In five years the website is up to a million hits a month. They have a TV deal and editors working out of Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and now Whitehorse.

“Because, you know, Vancouver wasn’t the next logical step, we’re going to Whitehorse here,” Huntley said.

The whole thing is run by volunteers, people who are passionate about comedy and the news.

“It’s something that I think is necessary, as someone who believes in critical thinking and making people laugh.”

Since arriving in Whitehorse, Huntley has gathered a small group of satire writers to work with. Their inaugural story, on Whitehorse changing its name to Yellowknife to avoid confusion, got 16,000 hits.

Not exactly astronaut-level success, but pretty good considering our size, Huntley says.

“It got about 16,000 hits, which, for a northern community is maybe half your population. Which is great.”

The Yukon so far has been a great source of comedy. Some headlines include: “Elections Canada announces new Yukon voting station teetering on Mount Logan’s Summit.” “Yellowknife’s closed KFC to become National Historic Site.” And, of course: “Actual news story about Conservative MP Ryan Leef campaign signs baffles satirists.”

“To be honest, we were all baffled,” Huntley said of the news that former MP Ryan Leef placed a Yukon woman under citizen’s arrest for vandalizing his signs.

It’s tough to make funny fake news when the truth is so funny on its own. In the end that became the joke. “With the inability to compete with non-fake news organizations, the online satirical publication immediately shut down,” the article said.

But when it comes to satire, not everything works.

Early this year the publication apologized and pulled down a piece it published after Ashley Callingbull, a Cree woman, won Mrs. Universe. The article was headlined “Mrs. First Cree Woman To Gain National Coverage If She Disappears.”

The story was meant to criticize the media for their failure to properly cover missing and murdered aboriginal women, but many readers took offense to making light of such a critical issue.

“Our intent was to say let’s talk more about this issue because it’s really important,” Huntley said.

“But at the same time you have to be clear with your communication with the joke and that’s what makes it (satire) so nuanced. It’s tough.”

Huntley said The Beaverton is a progressive publication and an ally to many social causes. “We always punch up with our humour, we never punch down.”

There’s plenty of targets left for comedy in Yukon. Huntley notes this is a region prone to power outages with plans for a second fibre-optic Internet line.

“That’s great, we’ve got Internet. We can’t turn on the modem because it requires electricity, but damn it we have two lines.”

Jokes in the North section of the website are meant to connect with readers across the country, he said.

Of course, they’ll have to have Internet.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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