The comedy community is grieving right now, we’ve lost Mike MacDonald. There’s no person more singularly responsible for making stand-up a thing in this country, Mike was the best of us.
A lot of people don’t know that Mike’s career in show business started as a drummer in a punk band, and that punk mentality never left him. He was always challenging in his ideas and larger than life on stage, his comedy was fast-paced and biting. I don’t think I ever saw Mike take a single second off on-stage, he just always gave it his all.
I’m a stand-up comic from Ottawa, which means I have an extra bit of reverence for Mike. His name was mentioned on amateur nights back at the old Ottawa Yuk Yuk’s. Not because he was performing there those nights, he was living in LA at the time. It was because it was such a point of pride for that club and that scene to say that Mike came from that city. I remember every show starting off the same way “Some of the greatest comics in the world got their start here, comics like Mike MacDonald. So enjoy the show folks, you’re in for a treat”. That little preamble by the host at the top of the show always made the audience sit up in their chairs.
“Did you hear that? This is where Mike MacDonald started”
That little bit of information resulted in those Wednesday amateur nights being taken that much more seriously by audience members and comics. Everyone knew Mike, he was Canadian stand-up’s first star.
What Mike accomplished on-stage is staggering. He has the record for appearances at Just for Laughs, toured the world, appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and influenced countless artists. But what he accomplished off-stage is just as important.
Mike dealt with a variety of health issues, and in doing so helped many people get through their own problems. He received a new liver in 2013 and became an advocate for organ donation, even working it into his sets. He was a living expression of human generosity and tried to spread that word and help as many people as he could in the process. He also lived with addiction and mental health issues, often speaking on those topics and the triumphs and struggles he had with both. The following is from an interview that Mike did with the CBC’s Mainstreet host Karen Mair:
“One guy said, ‘I was going to commit suicide, but my friends dragged me to your show, and after laughing at the subject I don’t want to do it anymore.” – Mike MacDonald in an interview with the CBC’s Karen Mair
Mike meant so much to so many people in so many different ways. He was an artist, a pioneer, a survivor and an inspiration. For a comic to be acquainted with Mike’s comedy is like a student learning math – it’s a basic foundation that you just can’t skip over. It’s essential, required material.
One of the first times I can say I truly felt like a comedian was when Mike invited me to write with him on a project he was working on at the time. If you were a hockey player, this would be like being on the power-play with Gordie Howe. Sitting across from him, pitching jokes and making him laugh was all so validating to me as a young comic. Just telling friends and family I was writing with Mike made me sound like a bigshot and got them off my back for a bit. He was The King. That he would take time out like that to find new comics to work with says so much about him. I was so lucky and fortunate to have gotten to know him and I will do my very best to carry forward the lessons I learned.
Thank you for everything, Mike.