Sitting in his new office on the Fine Arts side o’ town (just across from his old haunts at the Phoenix Theatre), Mark Leiren-Young looks like the kind of professor you just wanna have. Well, you’re in luck: his alumnus status changed to Harvey Southam Lecturer and humour writing professor at UVic just this September.
About his return: “It’s wild! It’s a lot of fun!” Did he ever see himself in a teaching position? “No. But being back at UVic? I always liked being here.”
Much of Mark’s comedic career began here at the University of Victoria. His comedy duo, Local Anxiety, began at CFUV; the comedy reviews he wrote here are now published monologues; PHAT (PHoenix Alternate Theatre) began on campus with four other friends from the theatre program; Escape from Fantasy Gardens was the first live show at the Roxy.
Wearing a t-shirt that promises “Art Can’t Hurt You,” we sit down to talk about his upcoming lecture, “You Can’t Say That! Comedy, Censorship and Sensitivity”—ronically discussing what people are taking offense to or not being offended by in comedy today.
Considering that his work is mostly political, Leiren-Young is fascinated that, in his opinion, comedians today are more informative than journalists.
“Young people today are getting all of their news from comedy, which means they are more informed than their parents who are watching the ‘real’ news stations,” he says, punctuating the “real” with air-quotes.
Aside from Fox News, which is “it’s own world of parody and propaganda,” he mentioned names like Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and our beloved Canadian Rick Mercer as being the legitimate news anchors of our time, because he feels they are instilling in viewers the importance of context and reality in information delivery. “There is something really messed up about that,” says Leiren-Young.
So what can one expect from this upcoming lecture on comedy and boundaries?
“There’s always some reason you can’t get into some territory because someone’s going to be offended and that fascinates me,” he said, adding that “comedians are often the ones breaking new ground.”
“People are obsessed with where you draw the line,” he says, speaking particularly to our ‘free speech’ cousins south of the border. “But you get great comedy when things get repressive.”
With his mixed background of journalism, theatre, and humour, Leiren-Young believes in comedy that is well-researched. Going for cheap laughs through fart jokes or impersonating accents or quirks isn’t his style. “I’m more interested in Harper’s policies than the fact that he’s wooden in public.”
The satirical, political, go-for-the-stuff-not-many-people-have-the-cojones-for has always been his passion and modus operandi. “What’s the one button I’m not supposed to push? Oh! That one!”
Leiren-Young will be giving a free lecture on Wednesday, Oct. 15