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Leacock Medal should have been Golden - or Maybe Gordon

The Leacock Associates have changed their award-giving process this year (2016), anointing those on a shorter, short list of finalists with special profile

I think this is good.  But I wish they also took the opportunity of this change to also start using gold for the Leacock Medal for Humour instead of silver.

Emanuel Hahn, a sculptor of discs in precious metal, crafted the Leacock medallion in 1947. He had a fondness for silver, given that his fame had come from work on Canada’s canoe-bearing dollar and other silvery coins.

Me with Hahn's original Leacock Medal Cast 
If, however, the Leacock award givers had opted to honour champions with gold or titanium or even  tin, they could have recognized those left on the short list as “silver medalists” and, in effect, as  winners.  As it is, I hear too many outstanding writers cited as someone “who didn’t win” or worse.

My approach would, for example, lighten the male-heavy list of Leacock Medalists with the names of women writers like recent nominees Jane Christmas, Zarqa Nawaz, Patricia Pearson, Susan Juby, Robin Michele Levy, Rupinder Gill, Shari Lapeña, Kathyrn Borel, and Lynn Coady  and other greats like Sandra Shamas, Miriam Toews, Susan Musgrave, Christie Blatchford, Sheree Fitch, and yes, Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields.  

Throw in past also-ran males like Roy MacGregor and Douglas Coupland, you would elevate the Leacock Medal by association and, at the same time, show how rich our national humour writing base really is.

One of Charlie's Three Finalists
But if I had only one "Runner Up Silver Leacock Medal" to hand out, it would go to a writer who was shorted on the short list three (3) times. Charles Gordon.

Ok, I am partial to him, in part, because he devoted much of his humorous life to my town’s daily paper the Ottawa Citizen.  He also polished the pages of MacLean’s magazine and other renowned publications as well as producing that string of Leacock Medal short list books.

For over forty-years, Charley has been making Canadians smile, laugh, and think.

A Great Analysis of Sarah Binks
I think it’s the “think” part that impresses me most about Charles Gordon whose thoughtful writings include the Afterword to the New Canadian Edition of Sarah Binks.

“Man, if I could write like that about the other Leacock winners, my book would rock,” I thought.

About a year ago, Charley and I shared bacon and eggs under the pink sign at Kristy’s Restaurant on Richmond Road in Westboro. 

He was as just as funny, modest, and generous as his many admirers claim, and he struck me with his ability to turn the conversation away from his own works and onto those of others.  One of those others was his sister Alison, a two-time shortlisted and should-have been a silver medalist Leacock nominee and a pioneering woman sports reporter.   She passed away in 2015, and Charley had just returned from her memorial service when we made contact.

Of the winning Leacock Medalists, Charley said he liked fellow journalist George Bain.

“I first started following Bain when I was in university in the late 50s, and he was writing as Washington correspondent for the Globe and Mail,” Charles Gordon told me. “His political humour was informed by a real grasp of what was going on – not the unsual stuff about politicians being stupid or corrupt – and he had a playfulness in his use of words and a self-deprecating tone - like in his book I’ve been Around and Around and Around and Around.”

George Bain wrote lots of books and political columns, many humorous.  But he won the Leacock Medal for a parody of a children’s book of verses with instructions for their parents, Nursery Rhymes to be read aloud by Young Parents of Old Children.

“It was innovative, but others have done similar things,” Charley said. “I recall Allen Abel’s funny Christmas carols in the Globe were like that.”
 1986 - Finalist

In response to my probing on the humour-writing craft, Gordon said that you have to start by knowing yourself.

“You can’t write rough-edged satire if you are not rough-edged yourself,” he said. “And you shouldn’t be trying to suck up to your readers – the best joke is one the reader has to figure out for him or herself.”

Charley added that he believed you can only learn by doing, reading carefully, trying to figure out what makes you laugh and why, and then trying to copy it.

This insight left me cheered as it was kind of what I tried to do with my book.  

It also made me more convinced than ever that the Leacock Associates should have used gold not silver.
January 2016