Harper Lee and her fictional character, Atticus Finch, have been in the literary headlines over the past few months. It made me think back on a Sketch-22 sketch I wrote for our 7th (and final) season – Stand Up, Canada. Atticus Finch Is Passing By. I had a couple of minutes today, so I went back and re-read it and had a bunch of chuckles and many great memories of performing in it. It’s one of my favourite sketches of mine, partly because it’s just such a weird concept.
I figured “why not post it here for anyone who might be interested”.
You’d be surprised at how many sketches I’ve written over the years that have come from (or have incorporated) something said during the many lunch-times spent with Dave Stewart. We often riff on all kinds of silliness, and this sketch eventually came from something said during one of those lunches.
I forget exactly how it came about, but I distinctly remember where we were when “Stand up Canada, Atticus Finch is passing by” was first uttered. We were on the corner of Kent and University (by the public phone). Maybe we were talking about titles for utterly lame Canadian game shows, and this concept popped up. We laughed at it and that was it.
But the name stuck with me, and so when I was scouring my brain for sketch ideas to write for Sketch-22 Season 7, I decided to try and make that weird concept into an actual sketch.
The goal was to parody those rather stuffy, stiff and often boring (especially to a child) Canadian game show slash current events shows, like Front Page Challenge, that showed up on Canadian television in the 1960s and 70s.
I’m pleased with how it turned out. I like how there really aren’t any jokes in it, and how it just kind of presents the weird idea without explaining it. I like how this fake-example of Canadiana oddly and prominently features an iconic American literary character, again without explanation. I like the formality of it all, the expectation of propriety, and the utter dullness of the topic of discussion.
I expect many audience members were puzzled by what they were watching. And that always thrills me too.
I love the characters we ended up with, and remember often having a hard time trying to keep from laughing during performances.
Stand Up Canada. Atticus Finch Is Passing By.
Perry James – Andrew Sprague
Gregson Oxbridge – Lennie MacPherson
Mary Abercrombie-Pettingcock – Graham Putnam
Pierre Cardigan – Rob MacDonald
Robert Clothier (as Atticus Finch) – Dennis Trainor
Music up – a not-very-exciting instrumental piece.
Lights up to reveal:
Perry James, behind a podium
Gregson, Mary & Pierre sitting in a row of chairs
2 small tables, one on either side of the stage, each strewn with various papers.
Perry James: Good evening, Canada, and welcome to “Stand Up Canada, Atticus Finch Is Passing By”. I’m your moderator, Perry James, and it truly is a treat to see so many fresh, young faces in the audience tonight. Hey, let’s get right to the discussion by introducing this week’s panelists.
He’s Philosophy Professor Emeritus at Kings College, and writes a weekly column in The Progressive Magazine, please welcome back Gregson Oxbridge.
Gregson (half-rises, bows and nods): Indeed.
Perry James: She’s a four-time consecutive winner of the Lady Jane Pleasantries Prize, and political writer for the Guelph Intelligencer , let’s appreciate Mary Abercrombie-Pettingcock.
Mary: Pleasures abound, Perry.
Perry James: And he’s a distinguished non-fictionalist and Canadian historian, who’s latest book “Appraising The Canadian Arctic” is receiving numerous academic accolades, it’s our Resident Panelist, Pierre Cardigan. Pierre, I think you know more about our country than any man alive.
Pierre: The more I see of the country, the less I feel I know about it. There is a saying that after five years in the north every man is an expert; after ten years, every man a novice.
Perry James: We all know how the evening unfolds. I’ll bring up a topic of discussion and our panelists will debate its merits, pausing at the appropriate times when Atticus Finch passes by. And it’s my great honour to announce that this week, Atticus Finch will be portrayed by Robert Clothier, who plays Relic on the CBC television series, The Beachcombers, now in its 9th season. Robert.
The panelists applaud politely. Robert Clothier comes out, dressed in a white flannel suit, like Atticus Finch in the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. Except he still has the toque that Relic always wears.
Robert: It is indeed a pleasure to be playing the esteemed Atticus Finch. I welcome the change of pace. Today, I’ll be in search of laws, instead of in search of logs.
They all laugh politely. Except Gregson, who does not understand the reference, it being pop culture.
Perry James: Alright, let’s get right into this week’s discussion. Robert, if you would, please become Atticus Finch.
Robert Clothier changes his demeanor and *becomes* Atticus Finch. He begins to sort papers on one of the desks. The panelists are impressed at his acting.
Perry James: Panelists, as you know, in May of this year, Canadians went to the polls, resulting in a Joe Clark led Progressive Conservative minority. Since then, the government has had immense difficulty accomplishing anything of import. Panelists, the question to you is this: Is this government doomed to fail? This will be a 15 minute discussion, and we’ll begin, as always, with our Lady of the Panel, Mary Abercrombie-Pettingcock.
Let’s play Stand Up Canada, Atticus Finch Is Passing By. Mary.
Mary: Quite bluntly, Perry, fellow panelists, audience… yes, this government is doomed to fail. Mr. Clark, while a promising young politician, does not have a majority, and we know all too well how difficult it is for even a seasoned politician to govern without the great political machine willing to back him up.
Gregson: I am effusively in agreement with Miss Abercrombie-Pettingcock. The only question remaining in my mind, is… when.
Atticus Finch finishes sorting papers, and crosses, solemnly to the table on the other side of the stage. All panelists stop their discussion, stand up and, Perry James included, silently pay their respects to Atticus Finch.
By the time Atticus Finch reaches his other table and resumes sorting papers, the panelists and moderator have noticed that the audience – our audience – hasn’t stood up. They don’t know how to respond.
They recover somewhat, sit down and continue the debate.
Perry James: That’s okay, panelists. That’s fine. Please continue. Pierre?
Pierre: In this country, as you all no doubt know, three times has the government been felled by a vote of non-confidence. Arthur Meighen in 1926, Diefenbaker in ’63, and most recently, Trudeau just 5 years ago in 1974. I prophesy that the lovely Mr. Joe Clark is about to join that not-so-illustrious grouping.
Atticus Finch again crosses the stage. Again, the discussion is suspended as everyone rises to pay respects. The panelists give the non-rising audience members looks of indignation. Only after Finch has passed to the other table do they voice their displeasure.
Mary: The manners of a chickadee!! Do you not see Atticus Finch is passing by!!
Gregson: This is indeed a counfoundability!
Pierre: Vacuus Ordo!!
Mary: Perry, mayn’t you intercede on decency’s behalf?
Perry James (clears his throat): I might just add at this juncture, ladies and gentlemen of the audience, please be mindful and courteous to Atticus Finch. Thank you. Panelists, you may continue the discourse.
Mary: Thank you, Perry.
The panelists sit back down.
Gregson: Let me be clear. Joe Clark has pulled off an astounding feat. He’s the only person to ever defeat Pierre Trudeau in an federal election. No small feat, that!
Pierre: Come, Gregson, you make it sound like a magic trick! Truth of the matter is, someone was to eventually defeat Mr. Trudeau. Joe Clark was simply the fortunate person to be in the right place, right time.
Atticus Finch again crosses. Again the panelists and Perry pay their respects. Their outrage at the audience is palpable, though, and can barely contain their fury until Atticus Finch has completed his pass. When he reaches the table, the panelists let loose:
Pierre: What has become of this society? Has a mob of buffoons infiltrated the studio tonight?
Gregson: A gaggle of poppinstocks would be more accurate.
Pierre: It’s the way this generation has been raised! A complete lack of moral compass.
Mary: Well I wo
n’t stand for it! Stand up, damn you!! Stand the hell up and pay your God Damned respects to Atticus Finch!!! Come on!! Stand!! I’m not joking around here!!
Pierre: The wild native Esquimaux have more sense about them!
Gregson: These young ones! It’s the beginning of the downfall of Canada!
Perry James: Okay, panelists, let us remain dignified and courteous and respectful to the proceedings. Let us continue with the debate.
The panelists sit.
Pierre: Despicable wretches!
Mary: They better all stand up next time Atticus Finch passes, that’s all I’ll say.
Gregson: Would that I had my shotgun!!
Atticus: Hush! Hush now!
Panelists are shocked that Atticus has spoken. Atticus walks to centre stage. The panelists and Perry all begin to rise. Atticus motions them to sit.
Atticus: No! Do not rise for me. For I am but a man. A man wont for nothing but decency. And it saddens me deeply to see decency evaporated through the emotional outbursts of the men and lady of the panel. The self-same people who demand decency from others. But not just any decency. It must be “their” decency.
I am reminded of an episode of Beachcombers from last season. Nick Adonidas became upset when Jesse introduced some new methods for retrieving logs. See, Nick was set in his ways. He didn’t like the way things were changing. He couldn’t see through his stubborn ways to see the benefits of Jesse’s methods. And in the end, it wasn’t Nick and Jesse and the Persephone who got the big log. It was your’s truly.
What are the benefits of not standing when Atticus Finch passes by? I don’t know. But I suspect they far outweigh the negative ramifications of not standing up for decency.
In conclusion, I say reserve your respect for men who have earned it. Not fictional characters. But Real Men. And, yes, Real Ladies too.
So, I say to you all… Stand up, Canada. Not because Atticus Finch is passing by. Rather, stand up for decency. Decency. Decency.