Stand-up comedienne Elvira Kurt is out to resurrect the homegrown TV late night talk show in Canada.
It's a daring endeavor, considering our country's deplorable history with the format. The last major attempt at launching a Canadian talk show franchise was CTV's painful, yet long-running Open Mike with Mike Bullard — and the less said about CBC's ill-fated Friday Night with Ralph Benmergui, the better.
Unfortunately, like those aforementioned shows, Kurt's Popcultured, which airs on The Comedy Network, got off to a shaky start. However, within the first two weeks, the celebrity chat shed its early awkwardness and its Daily Show-esque pop culture satire got sharper.
Six months into its run, Popcultured has become the rare Canadian talk show that works.
The Toronto-born Kurt — who, in the interest of full disclosure, contributes a column for Popjournalism magazine — admits she wasn't always confident that her pop culture-oriented concept would click.
"When I started, I got the sense that nothing like this has been done on Canadian TV before," she says.
She's right. The jokes on Popcultured depend on the audience knowing Paris Hilton from Nicole Ritchie. So if you're not the type who peruses Entertainment Weekly and keeps an eye on the latest celebrity gossip, you're probably going to feel alienated during at least part of Popcultured.
"We presume that people are pop culture junkies," Kurt says. "But I think the jokes are strong enough to stand on their own.
[Our writers] watch the same shows everyone else does, except we have to pay more attention to write jokes about them."
But just because the show is Canadian, don't expect to be overloaded with Paul Gross jokes.
"We're not going to stop the show and say, ‘Now we're having our Canadian moment,'" Kurt says. "There's no need to elevate its importance, because then we're saying that Canadian entertainment needs to be given a leg up, when that's absolutely not true."
Before Popcultured, Kurt toured as a stand-up comedian, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and was voted best female comic at the Canadian Comedy Awards. As a writer, Kurt contributed to This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Ellen DeGeneres' HBO special Here and Now.
Like DeGeneres, Kurt is an out lesbian, but unlike DeGeneres, Kurt doesn't feel the need to hide her sexuality on her talk show.
"It's not important to me to talk about it all the time, but it comes up when it's relevant," Kurt says.
However, Kurt understands why DeGeneres keeps her personal life separate from her show.
"I totally understand what Ellen's doing, America is a totally different place than Canada. I mean, we allow gay marriage for one thing. It's a dream to get to do the show that I do in this country and not have who I am be a big deal."
But only time will tell if Popcultured has the potential to establish itself as a nightly viewing staple, so until then, Kurt keeps her eyes keenly on the present.
"It's hard to predict what's coming in the long-term," she says. "But I think the ultimate compliment would be having some celebrity scandal break and people wondering what we were going to say about it later that night."
Popcultured airs Monday to Thursday on The Comedy Network at 10 p.m. eastern
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert J.Ballantyne is a senior editor at Popjournalism and Creative Director at Artsculture.ca. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star.