Catherine O’Hara wins Canadian Screen Award, talks ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ sexism in comedy

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Catherine O’Hara

Catherine O’Hara earned Sunday night the best comedy actress prize at the Canadian Screen Awards for her consistently uproarious turn as a former soap opera actress struggling to cope when her wealthy family loses all of its riches on the CBC sitcom “Schitt’s Creek.”

“Schitt’s Creek,” which streams on Netflix and airs on the cable network Pop in the United States., also was named best TV comedy. The comedy went into the awards show with 15 nominations, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“I am so proud to be involved in a show that laughs at the ridiculousness of all that we are without malice or homophobia or racism or ageism,” O’Hara said while accepting her award.

Known for her film roles in “Home Alone,” “Beetlejuice” and in several collabortions with Christopher Guest and her “Schitt’s Creek” co-star Eugene Levy  – including “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind” and “For Your Consideration” – O’Hara got her start in the 1970s with The Second City improv comedy troupe on its Toronto stage and later on its Canadian TV sketch comedy spin-off, “SCTV.” O’Hara recently talked to Vulture about the sexism she faced on “SCTV,” which aired between 1976 and 1984.

“At the very beginning I’d whisper my ideas to Dave Thomas and he’d say them out loud, but he wouldn’t say, ‘Catherine said …’ He’d say the idea out loud, and if it didn’t get a laugh I’d stay quiet. That’s what an insecure weasel I was. If it didn’t get a laugh I wouldn’t say anything, but if it got a laugh I’d go, ‘I said that! I told him to say that!’ It was like I had to go through the test kitchen of Dave Thomas!” she told Vulture with a laugh.

“The sexism was still a holdover at that time. That generation of guys had been raised by an older generation, and depending on who raised them, they looked at women a certain way. But because they also did character work and not stand-up, I think they weren’t just working from their own ideas, so they were open-minded. I love those guys, and no one was ever cruel. It was just a case of numbers, and that was a product of the times. There would never be more than two women in a cast of Second City stage.

“Just this last year I asked [The Second City co-owner] Andrew [Alexander], ‘Tell me, have you ever had more women in a cast than men?’ and he said, ‘All the time.’ ‘Oh, thank God; that’s so great! What about anybody besides white people?’ ‘Oh yeah, a lot.’ ‘Anyone besides straight white people?’ ‘Oh yeah, a lot!’ So finally it’s opened up — like the world — but at that time it was two women.”

While she working with The Second City and “SCTV,” O’Hara said there were limits because of her gender on the kinds of characters she could creatively portray.

“We’re drawing on life. We were parodying the world; we could only parody women who were allowed to do things in the world, women who were allowed to achieve certain things and have a public life,” she said. “I think the reason comedy’s changed is because the world has changed. There are more women being allowed to reach for and achieve their potential now than then. It still hasn’t changed enough.”

“Schitt’s Creek” is in the midst of its fifth season. Last month, series co-creator Daniel Levy announced on Twitter that the sixth and final season of the show is slated to air in 2020.

-BAM

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