Jay Baruchel has always had a distinct voice, both literally and metaphorically, but he also has a booming laugh that cuts through the walls of any set — just ask his co-star Andrew Phung. His latest gig as host of Amazon Studios’ original series LOL: Last One Laughing Canada sees the Ottawa-born, Montreal-raised actor and comedian discipline a group of Canada’s most iconic comedians as they compete to make everyone laugh while trying not to laugh themselves.
Baruchel admits he would never have survived as a contestant on the show, but he was more than happy to watch some of his favourite comedians resort to hilarious measures in the hopes of breaking the other contestants. The star-studded cast of Canadian comedic talent includes Caroline Rhea, Debra DiGiovanni, Dave Foley, Jon Lajoie, Tom Green, Mae Martin, Colin Mochrie, Brandon Ash-Mohammed, Andrew Phung, and K. Trevor Wilson. The first two episodes of the series dropped on Friday, February 18 on Prime Video, followed by two more episodes set to air on February 25, and the final two of the season on March 4.
The 39-year-old Canuck is a seasoned actor who has seen the comedy landscape evolve over the years. We were delighted to catch up with him to talk about his gig as host of LOL: Last One Laughing Canada, an update on Random Acts of Violence (his directorial debut), and how his style has evolved over the pandemic.
This is the wildest, craziest, and most absurd yet hilarious form of comedy I’ve ever seen. What did you love about the Last One Laughing concept when it was first pitched to you?
It was great! Having to not compete, and being able to have front row seats to watch absolute gods and goddesses of Canadian comedy — some of whom are deeply important to me, artistically — was incredible. Dave Foley made a movie called The Wrong Guy in the ‘90s and that’s like my favourite comedy of all time. I tell everybody it’s the funniest film ever made. So it’s not hyperbole to say that he created something that is at least part of why I ended up doing what I did. You can’t be a guy my age and not be massively influenced by Tom Green, either. In my family, we watched Whose Line Is It Anyway with Colin Mochrie every week — both the American and the British one. So just getting to be near them would be enough, right? And the fact that K. Trevor Wilson was one of my dearest friends and I’ve known him since I was a teenager and so just hanging out would have been fun. Just getting to watch them do their thing would have been special, but getting to watch them do their thing together — is next level. Basically watching my favourite rock stars jam and all I had to do is laugh and sometimes come in and discipline them. It was the greatest, one of the best gigs I’ve ever had.
Were you always going to play host, or did you think about being a participant?
Oh my gosh, nobody asked and I think it’s probably for the best. I’d have been just garbage at that. I have no poker face. This dumb quasi smirk is always there [smirks for effect].
Who was the one person who surprised you either with their comedic timing or their ability to keep a poker face?
Oh, that’s a great question. I’ll say this — the final “showdown” is exactly as I predicted it and, without giving anything away, I’ll say I’ve been a fan of Jon for 15-20 years and I was impressed at how cold-blooded he was — pretty sanguine and in control of his shit, so that was neat to see.
“What’s cool is to see somebody be funny alongside the person that made them want to be funny.”
What’s your comedy kryptonite, what will get you laughing no matter what?
Eye contact gets me; somebody falling no matter what — there’s never been a time where it wasn’t the funniest thing in the world to me. I don’t know why but when somebody comes up with a real crazy character and does a silly voice… silly voices really get me a lot too.
After watching this, I keep thinking about what my strategy would have been to get others to laugh. Did you think of a strategy for how to exploit another comedian’s weakness?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I kept watching and going, “What would I do if I was in there?” The best I could come up with was I would never stop moving and I would walk as hilariously as possible. I’d just stay on my feet and do a kind of little dance and walk the whole time, which, by the way, is just like how I walk around my house. So to answer your question, I have no strategy so it’s proof how shit I would have been as a contestant on the show.
What do you think makes something or someone funny?
What makes something funny? I don’t know that I can put words to it. I think you can make somebody funnier, but you can’t make somebody funny. But as I say that, there are a lot of people I find funny who might not mean to be or might not realize they’re funny. So I think it’s just one of these things where I can tell you what makes somebody scared. I think I can probably figure out how to scare them at least a little bit. I just wouldn’t necessarily know I could put a name on it. So yeah, I have no idea what makes people laugh. I just kind of know what makes me laugh. And I try to like start with that.
Where do your strengths lie as a comedian? Do you prefer physical comedy?
What I love doing and have never gotten sick of doing and will do forever is physical stuff. Pratfalls are my absolute favourite and it starts with Mr. Bean being my hero, when I was a kid, or Rowan Atkinson, actually… Mr. Bean is quite a dickhead. But I still watch that stuff… it’s still kind of religion for me. When I was in grade seven and eight, and didn’t get my growth spurt, and I was 90 pounds and less than five foot and everybody else got huge — perhaps that was keeping them from kicking the shit out of me. I would just beat the fuck out of myself and whatever kind of potential tension or interest in beating me up there might have been would just get dissipated because I’d throw my head into the locker for five minutes. It’s just stuff I adore and it’s still the stuff I find funny.
If LOL: Last One Laughing Canada were to get a season two, who would you like to see in a room together?
Oh, wow! I think I would love to see Jared Keeso from Letterkenny. I think Mark Critch would destroy in there. I have to say I think Gerry Dee would be amazing. There are a bunch of people of course. I’m going get off this call with you and I’m going to think of everybody but I’ll say this: I think that we have enough funny people in our country for this to run for 100 years.
With the other international versions of LOL, each one reflects what their own comedy scene looks like right now. So how would you say this group reflects the Canadian comedy scene?
I think what you see is a sort of generational thing because we have Brandon and Mae, they’re on the younger end and then you have Colin Mochrie and Dave Foley and what you see on our show is a mantle being passed. Mae would be the first to say that Tom Green was their favourite when they were a kid. So what’s cool is to see somebody be funny alongside the person that made them want to be funny. I think what you see is a great example of how different and particular and personal our comedy can be. But you also get a good example of what the landscape has looked like for the last 20 to 30 years.
You’ve been working in comedy for years now. Do you feel like the genre has evolved in recent years?
I think it’s the same as anything to be honest. I’ll use an analogy and just warning, all my analogies are hockey-related. There’s shit you could do in the ‘80s that you couldn’t do now. I don’t mean allowed but I mean like the game itself evolves, the game is way faster, and way harder, and the boys are more fit than they’ve ever been. So when I started watching hockey as a kid, there were still guys playing with no helmets on. So they were just allowed a freedom and a space that they just wouldn’t get now — you would get your ass kicked. There’s more fighting and stuff that’s worked its way out of hockey.
So I would argue that like anything, I think it keeps going and there are certain things that keep with it that are sort of essential and elemental. But there are certain kinds of things, sort of byproducts of it that there’s no place for anymore. I think there’s obviously certain things that we may have once upon a time found funny that if you go back and rewatch, you’d be like, “Holy shit. This didn’t seem weird to me at the time!” So I think comedy, just like sports, and like anything, evolves alongside the population that it’s a part of.
That was so well said. On another note, as a horror fan, I have to ask you: Will we get a Random Acts of Violence sequel?
I’m so happy you asked! How can I answer this? I’ll say this: there’s a script that we’ve gotten through multiple drafts of and if we got to do it, it would be a prequel not a sequel. There is very much a passion to do it and like I said, there’s an actual script, it’s not just a pipe dream. It’s something we are actively working towards. I’m so honoured and flattered that you asked, so in an absolutely perfect world, yeah there’s a Random Acts prequel coming.
Thank you for that! I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to pivot to your personal style. You seem like a very chill guy from the few times I’ve interviewed you so I’d like to know how would you define your sense of style?
Oh my god, I got to make sure my wife isn’t in earshot. One time I asked her to describe my style, and she said, “What style?” So I would say for the most part, like I’m wearing sweatpants… one of the big changes in my life since COVID is that I am now effectively living in a post-jeans world. Don’t know why I ever wore the fucking things before. It’s all sweatpants and trousers from here on out. (Laughs) I’m definitely equal parts both places I’m from. So I grew up in Montreal and I also grew up for five years in Oshawa outside of Toronto. So I would say my style is Oshawa meets Montreal — that’s the best way I can put it.
I know you’re a very patriotic Canadian, so what are some of your favourite Canadian brands?
Oh, I really, really like this company called Red Canoe. They, for whatever reason, got the rights to put Royal Canadian Air Force type branding on stuff and so they make a lot with that. They have a lot of nice sweaters and T-shirts. I have a lot of time [and love] for Red Canoe.
Baruchel is more than happy to settle in his sweats for now, but he’s already keeping busy. He’s doing another hosting gig as he works on a documentary series for Crave called We’re All Gonna Die that examines existential risks, one of which is the pandemic. He’s also directing a music video and he’ll be heading to Newfoundland to direct two episodes of the CBC comedy Son of a Critch. There’s clearly no stopping this guy.
Last One Laughing Canada, hosted by Baruchel, is now streaming on Prime Video.