Hot Doc of Emmy Award – Winning Comedy Writer/Director Rob Cohen, Seeks Mystery of Canadian DNA
Rob Cohen is – well – nice! On the phone from Toronto where his documentary, Being Canadian has its World Premiere at the Canadian International Documentary Festival, he even asks me politely “Is it a good time to talk? ”
The tall, lanky Calgarian, with the self-deprecating sense of humor (hmmm, how typically Canadian,) has written for The Ben Stiller Show (for which he won an Emmy,) The Big Bang Theory, The Wonder Years, Saturday Night Live, the Austin Power and Shrek films, as well as the iconic, The Simpsons. For the latter, Cohen’s face is immortalized as Bart Simpson’s nerdy best pal, Milhouse.
And although he has been living in LA for the past 27 years, his heart was always in Canada.
The idea for the tongue-in-cheek Being Canadian documentary started because he explains, “For as long as I can remember, as soon as it would come up that I was Canadian, people would suddenly look at me like I was an alien. It’s not that they thought ill of us- usually they didn’t think of us at all!” “On the other hand,” he admits, “there seemed to be all these misconceptions about Canadians – like we live in igloos, eat maple syrup all the time, have polar bears in our backyards and Mounties riding on horseback in the streets; snide comments about drinking beer all the time and playing hockey, and they weren’t joking. ”
With a huge Canadian contingent of actors and comedians living in LA, many of whom Cohen has been friends with for years like Mike Myers and Michael J. Fox, Cohen set out on his quest to discover what Being Canadian really meant. He began small, doing interviews with Eugene Levy, William Shatner, Catherine O’Hara, Seth Rogen to dispel the myths and the project just started to gain momentum with other celebrities clamoring to take part. Even some long-time American friends like Ben Stiller, Kathy Griffin and Conan O’Brien had their say. “ Conan grew up in Boston and admitted he was actually jealous of Canadians and wanted to be one,” says Cohen.
“Then we decided to go on this coast to coast road trip starting in the Maritimes and ending in Vancouver on Canada Day, so we could balance off the celebrities with comments from ‘real’ people, on Being Canadian, ” explains Cohen. In fact, the road trip really changed my ideas about being Canadian- we’re not just bland and polite and apologize all the time. I’m embarrassed to admit I had never been to the Maritimes before the documentary and the people there were just so lovely. It really re-kindled a genuine sense of pride in all of us. ”
I asked Cohen if he thinks U.S. audiences will have the same response to Being Canadian as Canadians who are already familiar with the stereotypes? Will they be laughing with us or at us?
“We did a test viewing in LA with Brits, Americans, Australians and two Greeks and deliberately didn’t invite any Canadians,” says Cohen. “They were really entertained, laughed in the right places and probably and most importantly, recognized themselves in the feelings of being a little homesick for their own countries.”
Canadian International Documentary Festival Hot Docs runs April 23 – May 3rd 2015, in Toronto Hot Docs
VIFF presents Being Canadian on National Canadian Film Day, April 29th Vancouver International Film Festival and Rob Cohen will do a Q&A Skype session following film hosted by CBC Radio’s Stephen Quinn.