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Canadian standup comedian Mike MacDonald with ties to Pictou County, dead at 62

Mike MacDonald
Mike MacDonald - Submitted

Mike MacDonald, a pioneer of the Canadian standup comedy scene, has died.

The longtime comedian, who had family connections to Pictou County and came back to perform in the area numerous times, died on Saturday afternoon from heart complications at the Ottawa Heart Institute, his family confirmed.

MacDonald was a regular on the Just for Laughs stage and also appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Arsenio Hall Show,” and starred in multiple CBC and Showtime specials.

MacDonald’s death comes exactly five years to the day he had a liver transplant said his uncle, Clyde Macdonald, who provided information to The News about the comedian’s connections to the region as well as details of his career.

Mike’s grandparents were Finlay and Mary MacDonald of Sunny Brae and his father was Reggie MacDonald, who was born in the same village and became a member of the Canadian Air Force.

Mike was born in Metz, France, in 1955 and was christened Michel Alain MacDonald. As he aged he wanted to be called Mike.

After returning to Canada he lived with his parents in Wilmot and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and later in Ottawa. When he first arrived he could only speak French and later in his career as a comedian had the ability to perform shows in either French or English.

“Mike always remembered Sunny Brae and Pictou County and often referred to his father’s Pictou County roots in his comedy routines,” Clyde stated.

He frequently performed in Pictou County venues in Westville, New Glasgow and in Pictou.

For a number of years he also entertained troops at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, usually on Canada Day. As well, for a number of years he travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland, where he participated in the Edinburgh Comedy Fest held at the same time as the Edinburgh Tatoo, Clyde said.

He travelled across North America and appeared in a number of movies.

In the 1989/1990 television season, he starred in Mosquito Lake, which was a Canadian television sitcom that aired on CBC television. He wrote and starred in three CBC specials on his own including Mike MacDonald’s On Target; My Home! My Rules! and Happy as I Can Be. He once co-hosted the Canadian Gemini Awards.

After receiving a liver transplant five years ago, he became a champion for the Canadian Liver Foundation and made a point every time he did a show to tell people to fill out their donor card. As well he supported the advocacy group, Stand Up for Mental Health.

Comedian Jeremy Hotz said Mike was considered the best in Canada. He took Hotz under his wing as a young performer. The two were regulars at Toronto's Yuk Yuks Comedy Club in the 1980s.

“He had a manic, completely original and unique way that set him apart from every other comic who was doing standup at the time,” Hotz said in an interview from Hollywood. “So when you saw him on stage, you always remembered him.”

As news of MacDonald's death spread in the comedy world, social media tributes came pouring in.

“Mike MacDonald probably did more to popularize stand-up in Canada than anyone else of his generation. He inspired many comics in the 1980s and ’90s to enter comedy,” writer and comedian Kliph Nesteroff tweeted. “For most of us, sharing the stage with him for the first time was a really big deal.”

“Respect must be paid. Thank you for the laughs, Mike. Thank you for the work ethic and being a real deal comic influencer,” American comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted.

Brent Butt, standup comedian and creator of “Corner Gas,” tweeted that the news left him numb.

“Spent so many nights (late80s/early90s) into the morning, playing cards and laughing ourselves sick. And fighting. Then laughing more,” he wrote.

Mike is survived in Ottawa by his mother Colette, his wife Bonnie, his brother David (Shannon) and his brother John Paul (Lyn). In New Glasgow he is survived by his uncles Gerald and Clyde Macdonald and in Halifax by his aunt Virginia MacDonald, as well as numerous cousins in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and New York.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

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