Yuk Yuk's head comes to defence of controversial comedy act accused of using anti-Indigenous racism, misogyny to get laughs

The CEO of Canada’s largest comedy club chain says he believes that comedy and comedians should never be censored no matter how low they go, even if they go so low as to make light of the actions of an infamous serial killer, who committed some of the more heinous acts this county has ever seen.

“I have no morals,” Mark Breslin, the co-founder and CEO of Yuk Yuk’s said. “If I did I couldn’t do my job.”

On Thursday, Breslin spoke to the Winnipeg Sun about recent controversy surrounding Alberta-based touring comedy act the Danger Cats, a three piece act made up of, according to their website, Sam Walker, Brett Forte and ‘Uncle Hack.’

The group is being accused of using anti-Indigenous racism and misogyny to get laughs, and recently had a slate of shows cancelled at the Yuk Yuk’s Winnipeg location at the Fort Garry Hotel after strong backlash from many, including those in Winnipeg’s Indigenous community.

Breslin said despite calls for show cancellations and boycotts, specifically from members of the Indigenous community in Winnipeg and in other parts of Canada, he has no plans to stop booking the Danger Cats at any of his clubs, as long as people’s safety is not threatened, and he said it was safety concerns and not any “moral decisions” that forced the cancellations in Winnipeg.

The Danger Cats in the past have made jokes in their shows regarding suspected graves of Indigenous children at former residential schools, but have also recently been selling a shirt on their website depicting Robert Pickton, who is believed to have killed as many as 49 women at his B.C. pig farm, many of them vulnerable and Indigenous.

The shirt features a cartoon-style image of what looks like Pickton and another man seemingly clinking pieces of bacon in celebration, along with the phrase ‘Pickton Farms, 50 flavors of Hookery Smoked Bacon.’

Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years, after remains and DNA of 33 women were found on his pig farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C. He once boasted to an undercover police officer that he believed he killed 49 women.

A Danger Cats show was also recently cancelled at Rick Bronson's House of Comedy in B.C., a venue not associated with Yuk Yuk’s, after the shirt sparked outrage, and that venue said in a social media post that was later deleted that the cancellation was "in light of recent concerns."

Breslin said he took issue with anyone referring to the Danger Cats act or other similar acts as “low brow.”

“If you’re saying low brow, well then you're being classist, because that would be associated with groups that are uneducated, or blue collar, and why should they not be able to laugh at what they want to laugh at?”

Breslin was also asked if he believes comedy acts can be dangerous if they perpetuate long-running stereotypes against certain groups or individuals, including Indigenous women.

“No,” he said. “Because for a long time comedians were acting like what they said was very important, but the more I watch now I see that their words don’t carry weight once people leave the club, it doesn’t affect the way people live, or vote, or behave.

“It carries no weight.”

But Peter Ives, a professor of political science at the University of Winnipeg who has spent years studying issues of freedom of speech, said he disagrees, and thinks that comedy acts like the Danger Cats could actually be putting Indigenous women’s lives in danger, by attempting to turn their pain and their deaths into punch lines.

“It perpetuates colonialism and white supremacy, and its dehumanizing,” Ives said. “And it could lead some to believe its ok to be hurting or killing Indigenous women, because they are saying they are not a group that should be taken seriously.

“But it’s also punching down so far that I just don’t even know why anyone would want to be associated with it. I am no expert on comedy, but this is just too easy, and it’s not funny.

“It’s adolescent.”

Ives said if any comedy club did chose to cancel shows on moral or ethical grounds that they would have every right to do that, and those decisions have nothing to do with taking away anyone’s freedom of speech or rights.

“Freedom of speech is something written into the constitution so it’s a political concept and a government concept, and these are private businesses that would be making their own decisions, so we really need to stop conflating those two things,” Ives said.

“Anyone who doesn’t want to be associated with this has every right to say no.”

The Danger Cats didn’t reply to a request for comment.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun