If You're Suffering from Canadian Comedy Withdrawal, Letterkenny Offers an Antidote

Wacky rural northerners on parade


'Letterkenny,' Hulu

Letterkenny. Available now on

Back in the early 1980s, when Canada's state television service began buying the sketch comedy show Second City Television from NBC, the local broadcasting commissars with too much time on their hands demanded it include a few minutes of "identifiably Canadian content."

The SCTV producers promptly took to mocking their masters with skits about about two drunken tundra louts, Bob and Doug McKenzie, who hosted a public-access TV show on which they did nothing but swill beer and back bacon, brood darkly about the lack of parking at donut shops, and call everybody they knew "hoser."

The skits were instantly and insanely popular, and before they burned out a few years later had yielded a hit movie as well as the most bizarre Christmas carol ever. (Well, the second-most bizarre.) (Okay, okay, the third-most bizarre.) The long reign of Sgt. Preston of the Yukon as Canada's most stalwart contribution to world culture was over.

My first reaction on viewing the hit Canadian TV series Letterkenny was that the Mountie television police were on another rampage. How else do you explain a show in which a bunch of—well, hosers—sit around nostalgically reminiscing about the good old days of their latraniphobic youth: "I haven't seen this sort of fuckin' bedlam since we fired Roman Candles at coyotes that night and caught one right in the butthole." Or where the local idea of a collegial greeting to a friend is, "Have you shit yourself?" (Alternatively: "You look like you've got an awkward boner.")

Letterkenny has been kicking around on the Canadian streaming service CraveTV—mostly a reservoir for U.S. premium cable shows like Game of Thrones—for a couple of years. A stapled-together series of talky sketches about some guys sitting their otherwise-deserted roadside produce stand somewhere in rural Ontario, it has no discernible plot, story, or production costs. Its sole purpose seems to be Canadian self-immolation

The characters chat about good Tinder come-on lines: "You just, you know, say something like, 'On a scale of one to America, how free are you right now?'" Although there are cautionary notes about Tinder having a worrisomely similar name to Grindr, the gay dating site: "That's a good way to get a finger in your bum."

Occasionally the action, such as it is, moves to anthropologically authentic Canadian sites like a row of bar urinals ("This must be where the dicks hang out, eh?") or a church youth-group dance, the latter apparently the Ontario version of a singles bar. "Hold your finger here, for as long as you can," says one flirty young thing as she brandishes her lighter at a potential hook-up. "Now, imagine your soul engulfed in that for all of eternity." I'm not going to deny I laughed at Letterkenny, a lot, but I haven't the faintest idea why.

"Letterkenny," if you're wondering, is the name of the dusty little town where this all takes place. It's fictional, but apparently bears a remarkable resemblance to the southwestern Ontario town Listowel, where series writer and star Jared Keeso grew up. My knowledge of Listowel culture is limited, but the fact that the town's Wikipedia entry makes notation of a fire that burned down the local dollar store in 2011 suggests comparisons are not unwarranted.

The guys of Letterkenny refer to themselves matter of factly as "hicks" and regard the provincial capital of Toronto as if it were unfathomably distant and exotic. (They very occasionally venture in that direction in the inevitably disappointed hope of a weekend of "sucking Big City titty."

There's a certain tone of doomed rural defiance of the creeping advance of chi-chi cosmopolitan culture in Letterkenny, which sometimes resembles a less pointedly political version of South Park. But lofty thoughts are not long sustainable in a conversation about Letterkenny; they're nearly impossible to reconcile with, say, the numerous conversations about which is worse, a torn scrotum or a ruptured vas deferens. Try that with an awkward boner.