A little voice inside Cathal Kelly’s mind nagged at him as he wrote the winning speech he thought he would never speak aloud at the annual Leacock Medal for Humour Gala.
“Why are you even writing this, you idiot?” that voice said to him. “You’re never going to win.”
That tone of voice went from sarcasm to disbelief as Kelly’s name was announced Saturday night as winner of this year’s award at the 72nd annual event held to honour the legacy of Stephen Leacock.
“I honestly thought I had no chance, because I didn’t think I was good enough,” he said. “I just think it’s madness. I’m not sure how this happened, but it’s lovely.”
The medal means more than anyone could imagine, said the sports writer for the Globe and Mail.
He arrived in Orillia to join in the author’s dinner on Friday and had ventured around town Saturday before joining about 150 others for the dinner and ceremony held at Best Western Plus Mariposa Inn & Conference Centre.
“The best part about his experience has been meeting Ali (Bryan) and Mark (Critch),” Kelly said, talking about the other authors short-listed for the coveted award, which comes with a $15,000 prize for the winner.
“The medal means so much to me,” he said. “It puts me outside and inside the stream of very funny writers.”
The runners-up, Ali Bryan for The Figgs (Freehand Books) and Mark Critch for Son of a Critch, (Penguin Random House Canada/Viking Canada), each received $3,000 for achieving the short-list.
The winning book, Boy Wonders, published by Doubleday Canada, is Kelly’s memoir. It was praised by past winner Joseph Kertes as being a collection of loosely connected chapters of Kelly’s life that give a portrait of him.
“They’re engaging memories and there isn’t a dull moment,” said Kertes. “It’s simple and beautiful.”
This year, the short list included two memoirs and a work of fiction. That’s the beauty of the selections every year, said Nathan Taylor, president of the Leacock Associates.
“I don’t envy the job of the judges,” he said. “I don’t judge, but I’m grateful for what they do.”
And with Kelly, they have selected a very deserving winner, added Taylor.
This was a year of change for the award that has been given out since 1947. Drew Hayden Taylor, a former Leacock Medal finalist, succeeded Dan Needles, who was honourary mayor of Mariposa until last year.
“It’s an honour and delight and an amazing opportunity to be a part of this event,” said Taylor, an Indigenous playwright. “I’ll go anywhere for cooked chicken.”
He went on to give a land acknowledgement: “You’re all on my land — or our land. Or if you go by my half heritage, every other metre is mine.”
Drew Hayden Taylor then proceeded to change his title from the Mayor of Mariposa to the Grand Chief of Mariposa.
Known for his works, such as Me Artsy, Sweetgrass and Motorcycles, and Cottagers and Indians, the Grand Chief of Mariposa said he has always embraced, celebrated, and researched Indigenous humour.
“It comes from a conversation with an elder in Alberta,” he said. “He said, ‘Humour is the WD-40 of healing.’ And I firmly believe that for all peoples.”
And that’s why he was honoured to be joining everyone who had gathered to celebrate contemporary humour and being funny.
“We’re here to celebrate the three amazing writers,” he added. “I cannot spend a better evening than celebrating Canadian humour.”
Another change for the historic award was the change in venue from Geneva Park in Rama to the hotel on Memorial Avenue.
“It was mostly convenience,” said Nathan Taylor. “We’ve had a long and good history with Geneva Park, but it’s nice to have the authors and their guests staying on site.
“Geneva Park had some accommodations,” he explained, “But this is in Orillia, where the medal originated.”
The third change was the temporary suspension of the student awards.
“We’re looking to revamp the student award,” said Nathan Taylor. “We want to reach more students. It was quite an undertaking to reach all students in all the school boards. So we’re trying to find an effective way of doing that.”
Whether that returns next year or not, Aaron Freeman said he certainly will be coming back.
“This was my first year and I didn’t expect much, but it was all great,” said the Orillia resident who was attending the event for the first time. “Everybody was great: the speakers and the authors. It was all beyond my expectations.”