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Opinion, Dave Dale: Unclench those teeth for a laugh

One quip is about how our mothers used to chastise us if we didn’t finish our plates, saying there were starving kids in Africa or China – and now they just point to the homeless in North Bay.
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There's therapy in letting humour, morbid or not, cast a bit of light on stark reality.

It’s getting harder to see the lighter side of things but that doesn’t mean we should give up trying.

Being serious all day and night is just as unhealthy as not caring about the future at all. Besides, sometimes humour helps get a message across in a way that inspires change.

Once in a while, you have to clench your teeth and endure what feels like the world’s combined weight of worries on your back. That’s not supposed to be the default program setting, though, our mortal souls are not made to function well that way.

Even if a joke is a little morbid, it’s better to process stress and let it escape like a screaming teapot than try to contain the emotions until you explode.

The story about the North Bay / French River Algonquins group meeting Tuesday evening gave me a chuckle, although it wasn’t really at them personally – more about the absurd situation they face.

I’m sure it’s frustrating for them to be sitting outside the treaty-making tent with all us commoners, especially for those who thought they had enough Indigenous lineage to escape their colonial and settler roots. Nobody seems to want to accept the responsibilities that go with the benefits of being Canadian. While I respect the value of heritage, I’ve always found it odd when someone embraces the smallest fraction of themselves instead of the sum of the parts.

About a month ago, my column was about stand-up comedy and the vagaries of social landmines that make it treacherous to joke around. I wrote about a bit that stems from my native affairs experience as a journalist and public relations staffer in the 1990s. The setup involves giving an Indigenous territory acknowledgment at a Powassan Voodoos game this fall. The first time I used it at an open mic at Lou Dawgs, the punchline was about the ice for the hockey game being made from the tears of “racist hunters who didn’t get a moose tag this fall.”

Last week, at another open mic, I switched the punchline around to get away from the “racist” thing that gets thrown around a bit much. The new punchline said the ice was made from the tears of “Metis” who lost their status cards, and it got a lot of laughs. Of course, once again, that’s not really a perfect line either. For one thing, Metis are a separate classification of people and too often conflated with groups like the new North Bay / French River Algonquins who are claiming a different kind of status.

Comedy, like news stories, is imperfect and should always be taken with a grain of salt and three sips of reflection.

By the way, I got so excited about an epiphany during my last open mic set that I totally forgot to deliver the joke I wrote about in the Nov. 10 column. I was reworking my F-word joke, the one that dances all over the line about terminology and epitaphs no longer acceptable in polite company. It starts off about an F-word, D-word and A-word walk into a bar. Funny how things go sometimes. After three years of intermittent stand-up efforts, it was last week that I finally found a voice that feels right and it came to me out of the blue. Before taking the stage, I changed my approach slightly, slowed the delivery down a smidgen and it felt better than many previous attempts. It wasn’t a great set but it was a breakthrough for me that should help moving forward.

I found a way to joke about local food insecurity, addiction education, and how methadone clinics are likely an impediment to long-term solutions. One quip is about how our mothers used to chastise us if we didn’t finish our plates, saying there were starving kids in Africa or China – and now they just point to the homeless in North Bay.

I also dipped into the Chippewa high school situation and how they missed the teaching opportunity when an addict recently overdosed in front of students one morning (after leaving the overnight emergency housing shelter across the street.) They got it all wrong, I quipped, they should bring every student out to see first-hand what happens when society tries short-cuts to actually caring about those who fall through the cracks. I mentioned how I rented a room to an opioid addict at the hacienda when my little guy was a teenager. She was a wreck we nicknamed the ‘Death Wish’ being strangled with the red tape that wouldn’t allow her actual treatment.

That four-month exposure to the ugliness of drugs certainly left an impression on my boy, so much so that his biggest worry after shoulder surgery was not getting hooked on the pain killers they prescribed. I’m not saying it made him a perfectly adjusted human being, but so far he’s not curled up on the sidewalk with a meth pipe in hand.

Anyway, I got so excited I forgot to deliver the “walked into a bar” joke and we’ll have to try again at the next stand-up event on Jan. 12.

I’m working on another bit in the same vein. It’s about a worldwide pandemic and anti-vaxers who think there’s a global conspiracy … and it turns out to be half true. The so-called cure ends up making the majority of the population infertile and needing organ transplants … so they gather up the unvaccinated minority and farm them for eggs, sperm, and hearts.

See? There’s humour in everything if you unclench your teeth long enough.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses related to his work can be sent to To contact the writer directly, email: or check out his website