Big-screen and television movies may be Tim Progosh’s bread and butter, but comedy is his jam.
The Canadian actor, who graduated from Western in 1980 with a double degree in politics and drama, has played roles in the Oscar-winning Spotlight and on Schitt’s Creek, and is working on his eighth Hallmark movie.
His roots and first love, though, are on stage performing stand-up, sketch and improvisational comedy. As creator and original producer of the annual Canadian Comedy Awards, Progosh has long envisioned building a lasting tribute to the country’s funniest people.
This month, a new phase of that dream takes place comes to fruition, by introducing a vote-able list of 30 performer, creator and legacy nominees on a slate of potential inductees into the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame.
Nominees include legends such as the cast of the Wayne & Schuster, Yuk Yuks founder Mark Breslin, and stand-up comic Elvira Kurt.
“We are the world’s best comedians — we are a juggernaut,” he said. Launching a comedy hall of fame is a chance “to pause and look at that and honour that work.”
Johnny Wayne and Frank Schuster were trendsetters in funny-man variety shows. SCTV and Kids in the Hall vaulted Canadian comedic actors to international stardom around. And without Breslin, there wouldn’t have been a launchpad for a Howie Mandel, Brent Butt or Gerry Dee, Progosh said. “They might be playing clubs for 50 bucks a night.”
“We live in a world where the past is quickly forgotten in favour of what’s right in front of us, and we forget that what’s right in front of us is a direct result of what went before.”
In some ways, comedy tells the history of a nation. Canada’s story of comedy pre-dates Confederation, with Indigenous humour and, later, with political cartoons lampooning political leaders and world events.
Progosh believes the influence of many cultures and languages contributes to the strong tradition of Canadian humour. “And it’s cold and you have to stay inside six months of the year, so you might as well laugh.”
Lobbying to acting
He knew no one at Western when he arrived in 1976. He made his first friend here while they stood in line to grab some fast food at CentreSpot. “Western gave me a chance to reinvent myself. Life at Western opened so many doors and thoughts in my head. It was great to be in an atmosphere where my intellectual curiosity was pushed.
“There’s excellence everywhere. An excellent football program, an excellent drama program, an excellent music program.”
He ran for president of University Students’ Council (and lost) and performed drama at shows.
When he graduated, he worked as a political lobbyist in Ottawa, while taking screenwriting courses at Algonquin College, and acting studies at The Second City on the side.
His father persuaded him to ditch the lobbying, move to Toronto and pursue acting full-time.
Progosh’s stage roles have been mostly in comedy; his screen roles, mostly dramatic.
He was a regular on television show, The Adventures of Sinbad, and played principal Bill Kemeza in the award-winning 2015 movie Spotlight.
The comedic genius of Canadians Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara left Progosh roaring between scenes of guest appearances on the acclaimed television show Schitt’s Creek. “I was crying, I was laughing so hard.”
Progosh has produced numerous festivals and executive-produced hundreds of hours of television shows, in addition to touring as a comic for more than three decades.
A space for legends
In 2000, he founded the Canadian Comedy Awards to honour Canadian comedy in a range of media. Regina, Saint John, N.B., Ottawa, Toronto and London, Ont., have all been hosts to the award ceremonies, before the event took hiatus during the pandemic. The televised event itself has won numerous awards of excellence.
But a permanent hall of fame has almost always been part of the dream.
Business plans for a proposed building in north Toronto were created but didn’t come to fruition, and red tape ended a plan to build in Niagara Falls.
Last year, Progosh and his volunteer board of directors resurrected the hall of fame as a not-for-profit charity, residing in a virtual space.
The board chose its first inductees in 2021: John Candy, Rich Little, the Royal Canadian Air Farce, Wayne and Shuster, Dave Broadfoot and Don Harron.
Of the 30 nominees, five creators, two legacy members and 10 performers are inducted from the slate based on votes by industry members, the nomination committee and the board; members of the public who are not performers may vote, until June 15, only on the performer category,
The plan this year is to have a gala for the 2022 inductees and livestream the induction show and ceremony.
Legacy members of the hall of fame have already been chosen for this year: writer Stephen Leacock, who was once considered the best humourist in the world, and Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth, who invented the variety-show genre.