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Though polite and fastidious, the joke always seems to be on Canada

Often the butt of jokes on US television, Canadians politely bear the relentless comedy jibes of newscasts, sitcoms, cartoons and dramas as a compliment from a beloved sibling.
How I Met Your Mother has a running gag involving the character Robin Scherbatsky and her Canadian roots. Matt Sayles / AP Photo
How I Met Your Mother has a running gag involving the character Robin Scherbatsky and her Canadian roots. Matt Sayles / AP Photo

Being poked at with sharp sticks must hurt like the dickens when you're turning 145. But if you're nicey-nice Canada and it's your rowdy next-door neighbour, the US, doing the "rib-tickling" with endless jokes on its television shows - then you sigh, grin and bear it. Such is the polite stoicism of Canada.

The Great White North celebrates its 145th birthday as a nation today, and it's the perfect occasion to explore why the US gets its jollies by teasing its kinder, gentler neighbour north of the 49th parallel in popular media.

Here are 10 prime perpetrators - even Batman never had this many jokers to fight.

How I Met Your Mother

By far the most-inspired offender, this sitcom sees Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) spar with Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) almost weekly about her Canadian past as the teen pop-star Robin Sparkles. Topics include: the Canadian citizenship test (Barney says it's super easy: "It's Canada! Question one: Do you want to be Canadian? Question two: Really?"); her 1990s video, Let's Go to the Mall ("There's this boy I like / Met him at the food court / He's got hair like Gretzky"); and the Hoser Hut, a watering hole where patrons practise politeness, tuques and hockey jerseys are high fashion and everybody's afraid of the dark. Because you know, Canadians are.

30 Rock

Tina Fey's sitcom also loves to sink its barbs into Dominion soil, especially when it comes to Jack (Alec Baldwin) and Avery (Elizabeth Banks) and their horror at the Canadian birth of their daughter - who now can never become president of the US. Jack is furious that the state-financed Canadian hospital clerk won't accept a dime for health care: "Oh no you don't. We will not be party to this socialist perversion. You will take our money."

The Colbert Report

Calling Canadians his "poutine-sucking, healthcare-addicted" nemesis to the North, Stephen Colbert didn't like the idea that two months ago, cash-strapped Iceland was considering adopting the Canadian loonie as its currency over the US dollar. (After all, Canada was founded by a duck, a beaver and a moose.) Colbert also went ballistic over the Canadian Mint's plans for glow-in-the-dark dinosaur coins: "As for you, Canada, you keep your dinosaurs where they belong - liquefied in your tar sands and pumped directly into our gas tanks."

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Stewart's opening act loves to ruffle the ptarmigan feathers, too: "I've been to Canada, and I've always got the impression that I could take the country over in about two days." His most senior correspondent, the self-proclaimed "America's Canadian Sweetheart" Samantha Bee, recently reported that normally mild-mannered Wisconsinites, incensed by the failed effort to recall Governor Scott Walker, are acting like fools: "And this from Wisconsinites, the nicest, calmest, most non-shouty people you will ever meet. I mean, really, Wisconsinites are the closest thing this country has to Canadians."

The Conan O'Brien Show

Coco's love-hate relationship with Canada has spawned zingers such as: "With massive overpopulation threatening the globe, Canadians maintain a population of less than 35 million. How do they do it? Zero sex appeal!"

The Simpsons

Canadian border guard to American border guard: "Get lost, you Shatner-stealing Mexico touchers!" And in Bart's remedial class, students are reminded to talk slower to their Canadian classmate.

South Park

Cruder than Alberta oil, their animation depicts Canadians with tiny black eyes, initials on their clothing and with oval heads that split apart when they speak.

The West Wing

Even this White House drama took a pot-shot at Canada when Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) was denied entry to a presidential party when it was discovered that she was not really an American - her tiny Minnesota town, it turns out, is actually now part of Manitoba. "Do you feel funnier?" her friend asks, to which Donna replies: "No, but I am developing a massive inferiority complex."

The Office

When Michael Scott (Steve Carell) goes on a business trip to Winnipeg, he finds himself attracted to an employee at the hotel he's in, saying: "The concierge is the Winnipeg version of a geisha."

Saturday Night Live

It would take an encyclopaedia to trace all the Canadian references since SNL launched in 1975. After all, its producer, Lorne Michaels, was born in Toronto. But the crew blasted one out of the park with 2011 Celebrity Scoop - Live From Winnipeg. In a snowy cabin, drawling like refugees from Fargoin thick ski sweaters, the host Fred Armisen says: "Yep. We've got an explosive interview with Alex Trebek's old babysitter, you know. Well, she's up in Manitoba, so she might not make it because the road's closed."

Why do Americans love to rib Canadians?

“This goes back to SCTV [Second City Television] in the late 1970s. The hoser jokes. The Great White North. Take Off, the Billboard Top 40 song,” says the American pop culture professor Robert J Thompson of Syracuse University.

“You know, I think the answer to this question is a happy and optimistic one. Unlike our relationship with virtually anyone else, I think there’s a pretty unanimous idea: we like the Canadians and we don’t have any major gripes with them. And we have lots of gripes with each other – Democrats and Republicans, the left and right, MSNBC versus Fox.

“Our other neighbours on the other side, in Mexico, well, it’s much more politically troubled – how one portrays, treats or imitates the people there,” adds Thompson.

“I think there’s a sense that you can say and make fun of the sibling you get along with really well – because you get along with them really well. That’s Canada.

“The stereotype that most often pops up when people here are referring to Canadians is that they’re nice. And that’s not a bad stereotype to be associated with.”

Presenting a Canadian perspective is Dawn Johnston, a communication and culture professor at the University of Calgary.

“As others have suggested, Canada really feels like a ‘safe’ cultural group to make fun of because we are a country that takes pride in our ethnic and cultural diversity, embracing a ‘mosaic’ rather than a ‘melting pot’ view of ourselves and our nation. Poking fun at us doesn’t have the same sting as poking fun at a particular ethnic group.

“And we certainly play into the stereotypes from time to time, too. When you think of the image of Canada presented in major events such as the Vancouver 2010 Olympics or the 2011 Royal Tour, we have certainly courted the image of Canadians as kind, polite and friendly to a fault. I think a lot of us take pride in the world’s stereotypes of us.

“Many of the best-known comedians in the world are Canadian,” adds Johnston. “I think, too, the fact that we have always been so good at making fun of ourselves makes a difference.”

Americans love razzing Canadians, but nothing is funnier than a bona fide Canuck on a comedy bender. Check out these best bits – as pure as maple syrup – to see how the Great White North pokes wicked fun at itself.

Corner Gas Who would have thought a hick-town petrol station in Saskatchewan could be so explosive? In Face Off, the national sport, hockey, takes a slapshot. Watch it on YouTube

Kenny vs Spenny In a brutal, insane spirit of competitive one-upmanship, these two Canadian goofballs try stuff like who can stay awake the longest? Watch it on YouTube

Trailer Park Boys Life can’t get any trashier than it does for the miscreants Ricky, Bubbles and Julian as they score concert tickets to see Rush in Closer to the Heart. Watch it on YouTube

Slings & Arrows Behind-the-curtain intrigue rules at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, notable for Paul Gross and Don McKellar pondering antidepressants. Watch it on YouTube

The Red Green Show “If women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy,” says the host as he builds a backhoe with a Cadillac and duct tape. Watch it on YouTube

The Rick Mercer Report An alumnus of 22 Minutes, the pungent satirist Mercer answers everything you wanted to know about Canada but were afraid to ask. Watch it on YouTube

SCTV In the early 1980s, Second City TV fed and bred comedy legends. Check out John Candy and Eugene Levy in Monster Chiller Horror Theatre: Dr Tongue’s #D House of Stewardesses. Watch it on YouTube

Wayne & Shuster Before Canada gave the world Jim Carrey and Mike Myers, this duo set a high bar with the Ides of March-inspired comedy Rinse the Blood Off My Toga. Watch it on YouTube

The Kids in the Hall If you think French fur trappers in a canoe hunting for designer suits – not beaver pelts – in a business skyscraper is funny, check this out. Watch it on YouTube

Updated: July 1, 2012 04:00 AM

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