For Dave Broadfoot, the fact that at 82 he hadn’t yet been torpedoed by the Grim Reaper was reason enough to make the most of his time on the York convocation stage. Broadfoot, an icon of Canadian comedy and political satire, was at York to receive an honorary doctor of letters degree, an honour bestowed during Saturday’s fall convocation ceremonies for graduates of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Fine Arts and Glendon College.
Left: Dave Broadfoot
"When I was young and should have been in school avoiding delinquency, I was instead in the merchant navy avoiding torpedoes. I said to a shipmate, ‘I don’t think you or I will live to see the age of 21’," said Broadfoot. "And to still be alive at 82, isn’t just lucky, it’s ridiculous. In December I will be 83 and I haven’t been torpedoed yet!"
Perhaps it was that observation that led the comedian to avoid direct messages and to concentrate on delivering a comedic performance. Broadfoot – who is best-known for such characters as Sergeant Renfrew of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who never gets his man; Big Bobby Clobber, the dim-witted and gregarious hockey player who suffered a few too many bodychecks to the head; and David J. Broadfoot, MP representing the New Apathetic Party for the riding of Kicking Horse Pass – was in fine form as he delivered one-liner after one-liner during an energetic speech that belied his octogenarian status.
"What a wonderful way to start a day to have a call on the phone from Mamdouh Shoukri, president of York University, to tell me that I was about to become an honorary doctor of letters," said Broadfoot. "When I regained consciousness, I realized what a special occasion this would be to receive this honour from York University."
He paid tribute to his friend and mentor the late Mavor Moore, professor emeritus and former playwright in residence at York. Moore, who died on Dec. 18, 2006, was the creator of the annual satirical revue Spring Thaw, which ran from 1948 to 1971 and launched Broadfoot’s career as a writer and performer. Broadfoot also paid tribute to the late Oscar Peterson, jazz great and the former chancellor of York University, and to Roy McMurtry, York’s current chancellor, whom he described as a creative hero.
Right: Dave Broadfoot (left) is congratulated by York Chancellor Roy McMurtry (centre) and York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (right)
Broadfoot then turned his focus to his career and offered a number of observations on making a living as a comedian in Canada. "To be able to make my living as a professional comedian for 55 years here in Canada is miraculous and to do it here in the City of Toronto is even more miraculous. Mind you, Toronto is a city with a sense of humour. Twenty-five years ago, Torontonians were asked to vote for an animal which could become the city’s mascot," said Broadfoot. "The vast majority of votes went to the squirrel and the rest is history – Toronto became a hiding place for nuts.
"Many years ago, when I took the plunge into professional comedy, I knew there would always be people who wouldn’t like Dave Broadfoot, but on the other hand, there would be others who couldn’t care less, so it was balanced," he chortled.
"I never stopped working on trying to become the best English-speaking comedian in the country and I had a lot of help." Broadfoot paid tribute to the many comedians he worked with throughout his career. He singled out the members of a comedy troupe who would later become the Royal Canadian Air Farce and highlighted to those present that Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson, two key members of the Air Farce, were in the convocation audience.
Giving a brief synopsis of his career and the dizzying myriad of countries where he had given performances, he urged graduates to remember what they had learned and to put it to good use. "Remember that in some places in the world there are governments that torture their comedians… but here in Canada the comedians torture the government!"