Pam Pardy speaks with the legendary Mark Critch about his new book, Son of A Critch
Mark Critch is what many would consider a big deal. Days before our Herald get together Critch (imitating Donald Trump) appeared on CNN. But then Critch has been famous – or infamous – for his portrayals (still love him as Danny Williams) and his pissin’ around with politicians – like going shirtless on Signal Hill with this country’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. This Hour has 22 Minutes has long been a platform for one of this province’s most loved comedians to strut his very funny stuff.
Now, Critch has written a tell-all book titled Son of a Critch: A Childish Newfoundland Memoir, so if you’ve ever wondered what made the comedian tick, here’s your chance to find out.
When asked how the idea of the book – which touches on the Critch family’s very tragic family tree and takes reader’s through to his first stage performance (no spoilers, but it involves nudity, and his parents were in the audience) and a very interesting performance at (where else?) Her Majesty’s Penitentiary – Critch takes a moment to reflect on the writing process and his approach to the book itself.
“I was a little bit self discovery,” he begins as he mugs it up – Critch style – with the camera.
Some go into therapy, he wrote a book, he continues.
“When you are writing a book about growing up, memories start to come up and bubble to the surface. Well, as I was writing this I’d remember something and go; oh my God THAT! And oh my God, THAT! As I was writing it I got so into it; remembering how I actually thought and how I actually reacted to things as opposed to putting the lens of time on it.”
A Unique Narrative
Paying attention to every detail, for instance, retelling a tale the way a child would remember – misunderstandings and all – went into this very unique narrative.
“I wanted to take the reader along with me. It is a rooms-in-the-basement-of-my-mind and you get to look around and poke through book. Kind of like a garage sale of the head.”
Mostly, this book is one very special thing above all others, he shares.
“In many ways this is a tribute to my family and I tried to be as honest about who they were as possible, so if people can read this book and think in their mind that they now know Mike and Mary Critch then that would be an ultimate goal for me. That’s fantastic.”
Is there comedy in this book? You bet cha! Like the time his Nan dropped dead in front of him. OK, maybe that’s not really funny, but in this book it is.
“Don’t say Nan’s dead, she’ll hear you, right? Not yet in kindergarten and at that age what you don’t know can’t hurt ya and as a little kid I just hadn’t been around death. I honestly thought that if you died, you had to have been shot by a guy in a black hat. So I thought, gee, I got to let people know someone is in the house killing people. Poor Nan. That’s fine. You are almost too ignorant to grieve. I didn’t think about the death, all I knew was; someone is killing people in my house and I have to tell my parents!”
It’s a crazy memory, he admits. “I guess your flight or fight reflex kicks in when you’re a kid and I remember wanting someone to listen to me so clearly. My memory is like one of those old film reels and the tape comes off the reel and starts to flicker, flicker, flicker because the reel is over.”
Critch’s mom, a delightful character in the book naturally, died before he had the book finished.
He thinks about the timing often, he says. “Everyone was always really shady about the family history growing up. They just didn’t want to talk about it, Dad especially. Growing up without a father in the depression and all that stuff. They were very, very, very hard times, so I guess he didn’t want to reflect on it that much. And also because of that they didn’t really have that family connection.”
Critch hunted down the family tree back to 1762 for the book and shares all the drama and tragedy in the early chapters. Interestingly enough, the name Critch came about because someone wrote their actual last name down incorrectly a few generations back. Go figure.
Critch said he spoke to his mom regularly though she didn’t – or couldn’t – share too much. He had hoped his mother would read the first draft of the book, but that wasn’t to be.
“That was strange, having it mostly finished and then having to go back and address that (she had died). I was kind of happy I had started it. I don’t think I would have written a book about growing up after she passed, it would have felt wrong. I could write about her and kind of make her a character and confront her a little bit while she was alive because I expected her to read it, but not when she had died. She knew I was writing it and I had her blessing.”
The book opens with Critch painting a picture of this place and its people –highlighting the hardships many – especially those in his family – endured.
“I wanted to write a book that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would enjoy and get but realizing that someone from Vancouver also needed to understand this place and its people. Having just found out some of my family history, well everything is tragedy. Everybody dies horribly on dad’s side of the family. Every. Single. Person. And that goes all the way back. Kids are split up and my grandfather goes to New York to build skyscrapers and comes back, falls off a house, gets TB. It’s just doom, doom, doom!”
But that fits, he says.
“I wanted to show Newfoundland as the place it is; you know, times are tough, why do people stay there? Well, they kind of earned their place here. They are there on the water and on the rocks and it’s very, very tough to make a go of it here. You want to play some of that up, and give people a sense of where that is, who the people are and what they are battling, my family included.”
For Critch, this place is the setting, but the characters are the people – his family. “I realize that dad and mom gave us a good life and kind of set us up and so I wanted to honour them and make sure their names were in print. I wanted to be able to go, there! Your name is there! It’s in print, now this is our history. I was proud of these people even though I really just found out about some of them.”
There’s so much touching honesty in this book that it’s, at times, an emotional read. Critch is proud of that fact.
“I just tried to write honestly and in life, we all have things that touch us. It’s easy just to write a goofy, funny book but I wanted to root it in reality and truth because I find that to be a lot more relatable to folks and certainly more interesting to write.”
Critch wishes he could have shared much of what he found out about his family with his late father, famed VOCM broadcaster Mike Critch.
“Dad passed away and I don’t think he ever knew there was a news article about his father and I thought, I wish I would have been able to show him that. He never had much of a connection with his dad. His last memory of his dad was telling him; you have to take care of your mother now, and that’s quite sad.”
Critch recalls discovering a stool his father’s father had made with his own two hands. “I remember dad going over and getting that and holding that and he was too polite to ask; can I have that, but I knew it meant the world to him to hold something that his father had made. Just seeing that connection to the past. I realized that too since mom and dad have passed away. That tactile need to hold on to something can mean so much. It’s a sentimental thing and it reminds you of the person. A lot of my memories in this book is like dad holding that stool. I wanted to get them all into there as a connection to the past that I could pass down to other people in the family and go, you want to know about the family? Here ya go. It’s all in here, wrapped up nicely with my smug face on the front.”
Growing up next to his father’s work, VOCM, isolated from other children, is almost a character itself in this memoir. In fact, it probably made him the comedian he is.
“You kind of had to keep yourself occupied and play with yourself. Imagination becomes a big thing. When I first went to school I was observing things and other kids because I had never seen a bunch of kids play tag before. I observed things by watching, and then I’d try to fit in by doing what they did.”
And what is comedy? He continues, if not observing people and their lives and their reactions. “That helps with doing impressions, I think. I had a heightened sense of that; of seeing things and watching things other people might not notice and then commenting on it and that’s from growing up alone by the highway.”
This book, by the way, is not filled with 22 Minutes memories. That’s intentional. “I wanted to write a stand alone thing. All childhood stories are pretty much the same thing; wanting to be accepted, finding out who you are all that kind of stuff. What makes each one unique is where the story is set and what the circumstances are. My journey didn’t begin with me becoming an actor and doing a play but maybe that was where the book should end. That allowed me to have those sincere, truthful moments that I had in the book.”
And taking a trip down memory lane was pretty incredible. Critch reflects on a conversation he had with his dad before he died.
“Dad was 90 or something and I was talking to him about getting older and I asked him what was the downside of being his age was and I thought he’d say health. But he said; there’s nobody else who remembers the good times.”
His father shared he was about to tell his son a story about a man on Water Street who used to give local kids odd jobs. “He said; as I was about to tell you I realized that I’m probably the only person alive who remembers what that man looked like. So what’s the point of telling the story? The fun part of telling a story is to have someone go; yeah! I remember that and they also did this.. but it gets to a certain point where there’s no one else to remember what you remember. And I realized then how precious memories are, but only if you tell them and share them. Memories are meant to be shared, so here’s a bunch of mine in this book.”
‘Naked on the Stage’
Some experiences are harder to forget than others; like taking the stage in his birthday suit.
“I remember that moment of stepping on stage naked and then snapping out of it and going; what the hell am I doing? I’m not even making much money at this, I could have my clothes on and be working at Irving. What am I doing this for?! And you go onstage and the light hits you, and your parents are in the audience and you go, well. Here I am. It’s somewhat like being born again; you are thrown out to the world naked on the stage.”
How did his mom react? Read the book, but let’s just say she took strong offence not to her son, but to the reaction of others.
Critch smiles at the memory. Another reflection, the last in the book, is more heartbreaking. It’s the moment he realized his mother was gone.
“Remembering that moment was tough but the idea of following my mother’s footsteps and it being the last time I would do that before they disappeared as she took flight; it just hit me and made me realize something. When you lose your parents there’s clearly a before time and an after time. Something changes. You are no longer anyone’s baby. I was 44, but I was still mom’s baby. Then you’re 44 and all you are is 100 per cent your own kid’s parent. And then this realization of; yeah. That’s who I am. It’s like the cord is cut and you feel it. It’s a celebration of sorts too.”
Speaking of celebrations, Critch plans to marry his fiancée Melissa Royle in August of 2019 in Trinity. Did his mother approve? Oh yes, he shares. “The night before mom passed away she said, ‘Are you going to marry Melissa?’ And I said, ‘I think so,’ and she said, ‘Good. I’d like that’.”
Writing the book, reliving all the past, and then having his mother die, was an interesting experience, he continues. The past was so fresh, yet he was facing this new future. “I was so aware of our relationship. Reliving all those memories reminds you to pay attention to that person and reminds you how important they are to you. I was grateful that I did the book when I did because it reminds you how important people are.”