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BEHIND THE SCENES: How a funny Saultite became head writer for iconic comedy series

SooToday's Alex Flood takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on SooToday's Alex Flood, whose story 'How a funny Saultite became head writer for iconic comedy series' was published on Nov. 19.

Here is the original story if you need to catch up:

Jordan Foisy was just six years old when This Hour Has 22 Minutes premiered on television screens across the country.

Growing up in small-town Sault Ste. Marie with a giant passion for comedy, Foisy couldn’t have imagined that he would one day be writing for the iconic sketch series that has featured the likes of Rick Mercer, Greg Thomey, Cathy Jones, and Colin Mochrie.

“I was always a big standup fan and loved comedy, but I never really thought of it as being a thing someone could do,” he told SooToday. “The idea of working in television while growing up in the Sault during that time wasn’t realistic. But once you find the ladder to get into it – it’s there. You have to work really hard, but you can pull it off.”

As a teenager, Foisy discovered his passion for performing when he entered the local theatre scene. There, he participated in a number of plays with Sault Theatre Workshop.

“I kept it incredibly secret; I barely told anyone I was performing, so it was a bit of a double life. But spending that time on stage is when I found out I loved attention,” he laughed.

After graduating from Sir James Dunn in 2006, Foisy moved to southern Ontario with the hopes of becoming a teacher. After finishing up his history and cultural studies programs at Trent University, he wasn’t exactly sure what to do next.

“I didn’t know how to do anything but school,” he said. “I was such a school-based kid, so I thought as long as I kept taking university courses, I’d eventually have a job.”

With no leads in sight, Foisy stayed in the post-secondary arena and discovered the School of Comedy at Humber College in Toronto. Although he didn’t graduate, his foot was officially in the comedy door.

“That kind of got the ball rolling, but I would advise people not to do it because it’s pretty unnecessary,” he said. “I wouldn’t have known you could just start doing it without needing to go to that program.”

By 2010, Foisy dropped out of the program to pursue his own career in comedy. He began performing standup around Toronto with open mic nights in various pubs, clubs, and intimate settings.

But to suggest it was a challenging start would be heavily understated according to the comedian.

“The first shows were awful,” he said. “You’re broke as hell, you bomb all the time, and people you don’t think deserve it move ahead way faster than you. You really don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s not always fair. It’s really hard and there’s no guarantee.”

But as he kept grinding out shows and building a name for himself, Foisy was eventually approached by someone who works for Vice Canada, a national print magazine and website focused on news and pop culture.

Foisy signed on with the company as a freelancer and wrote dozens of articles where he could share his creative and comedic sides on a much larger scale.

“I wrote one about cleaning my fridge,” he laughed. “I also wrote one after I watched a bunch of episodes of Murdoch Mysteries to find out why it was Stephen Harper’s favourite television show.”

But one of his most impactful stories centered on an emotional and fortuitous experience he had with his father, an addict, during a visit to the Sault several years ago.

“I wrote one about my dad – he has drug problems,” Foisy said. “I hadn’t seen him in years, but I ran into him on the streets when I was visiting, and he didn’t recognize me at first. We ended up talking and having lunch. I wrote an article about that whole experience, and it got nominated for several online writing awards.”

Describing the complexities of their relationship throughout the piece, Foisy told SooToday that a major part of his role as a comedian is to pull laughter and comedy from some of the darker times in his life.

“It’s not true for everyone, but comedy for a lot of people starts off as a self-defense mechanism,” he said. “How you protect yourself from the world; how you navigate the world. For me, because of a volatile household, comedy was a way to keep everything okay.”

“That’s definitely how I do standup,” he added. “A lot of the time, my favourite jokes to tell are to create a lightly uncomfortable situation and then disarm it.”

In 2017, Foisy was noticed by This Hour Has 22 Minutes for his work with Vice Canada, and he was hired as one of the writers for the show – a dream more than two decades in the making.

“I’m pretty adjusted to it now, but it used to be very surreal,” he said. “I can still remember the first time I got something on the show; it almost gave me vertigo. There was just something really disorientating about my writing being on television.”

On the air for 31 years, the CBC’s long-running show currently reaches upwards of 500,000 cable viewers every Tuesday, combining news parodies and comedy sketches with a focus on Canadian politics. This Hour Has 22 Minutes is often compared to other like-minded shows in the U.S., including The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.

Now in his sixth season, second as head writer, Foisy helps oversee and decide which pieces of content and jokes will make the final cut before they go to air each week, which includes every sketch, one-liner, and extended hit.

One joke had the country, particularly Saultites, belly laughing earlier this month when the show found an opportunity to acknowledge Brent Rouble’s pumpkin paddling accomplishment while also poking fun at Sault Ste. Marie.

“A man from Sault Ste. Marie has paddled a giant pumpkin 23 kilometres down a river,” said cast member Mark Critch. “It's an inspiring story of the lengths people will go to, to escape from Sault Ste. Marie.”

Perhaps the funniest part of the joke? The show’s head writer from the Sault didn’t even write it.

“Yeah, it wasn’t my joke,” Foisy admitted. “We have a team of about 11 writers. But that’s the way to get the Sault talking for sure. You guys have to get more people in pumpkins going down the river, that’s all I'll say.”

While the workload can be intense at times, Foisy says working on the show is truly “a dream come true.”

“I literally write jokes for money – that’s insane,” he said. “It’s like I had a cheat code for life. I got into comedy because I loved The Daily Show so much, and now I kind of have that job. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Despite a busy work schedule, Foisy still finds time to live out his passion for standup by performing around Toronto three times a week.

For locals who may have dreams of following a similar career path, the 37-year-old comic suggests using social media to your advantage, practice often, and be comfortable with leaving the Sault.

“If you want to do standup, start an open mic night in the Sault or somewhere else with a bigger scene,” Foisy said. “If you want to do sketches, start writing them, start filming them, and put them on TikTok. You have to be okay with being bad at it. Because being bad at it is the only way you’re going to get good at it.”

“And to anyone who comments on the show’s Facebook, the prime minister does not message us to say, ‘don’t do this sketch.’ We make fun of him as much as we make fun of anyone else.”