Canada is fertile ground for infotainment television. The best-known show is This Hour Has 22 Minutes, a political satire program that was created in 1993 and continues to be a hit on the CBC, Canada’s English-language public broadcasting network. This program makes viewers laugh every Tuesday thanks to its well-crafted content. Its format resembles shows produced across the border (there are frequent comparisons with Jon Stewart). One of Canada’s top-rated French-language programs stands out for its originality in both form and substance, with a balanced dose of journalistic insight and plenty of humor: Quebec’s Infoman is serious fun.
The show’s star Jean-René Dufort, 55, studied biochemistry, but it didn’t take him long to show his talent as a communicator in magazines and on radio and television. In 1997, he began participating in La fin du monde est à sept heures (The End of the World Is at Seven O’clock), a newsreel parody broadcast on Quebec’s now-defunct TQS channel; on it, Dufort played the role of a jocular reporter (a character he created with Stéphane Laporte). When the fake news program came to an end, Dufort and Laporte proposed a show starring the sardonic journalist to the heads of Radio-Canada, the French-language public broadcaster. On October 13, 2000, Infoman premiered on television.
Every Thursday, the Zone 3-produced program includes a series of interviews, reports and colorful features on current affairs. In some segments, Jean-René Dufort is joined by two collaborators: comedians Chantal Lamarre and Mc Gilles, the show’s loyal “swashbucklers.” In addition, every December 31, Infoman presents a New Year’s Eve special, an event that has exceeded three million viewers (a considerable number, given that the province of Quebec has a population of 8.5 million inhabitants).
Jean-René Dufort’s interviews with public figures, especially politicians, are the most compelling part of the show. He has a surprising ability to formulate humorous questions with a critical bent. Similarly surprising is his ability to convince his interviewees to participate in flexible dynamics and activities. One well-remembered example was when he asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to rate the degree of overkill of the clothes he had worn during a controversial official visit to India. Trudeau gave those outfits an eight out of ten. Dufort also makes Quebec’s Prime Minister François Legault sweat on occasion, although he is happy to leave his comfort zone.
“Unlike my colleagues at This Hour Has 22 Minutes, who adhere very closely to the script, at Infoman we have the advantage of improvising. A lot of the time, we don’t know where we’re headed in what we’re doing. We have lots of room to maneuver,” Dufort told EL PAÍS. He believes that it is an advantage that he has known many of the politicians for years, as is living in a society with a high degree of freedom of expression.
Throughout the show’s many seasons, Infoman has brought up a number of issues that trouble the Quebecois while retaining a sense of humor. Such was the case with the show’s coverage of the poor state of several educational buildings in Montreal and the controversial project to build a tunnel for cars in Quebec City. The show’s content has even been evoked in the debates in the provincial parliament. “Maybe I have the ability to shine a light on an issue, but that’s it. I don’t claim any other accomplishments. Things speak for themselves,” says Dufort.
Dufort says that the political issues addressed on the show have led to the greatest praise he’s received. “Many young people tell me that they became interested in politics thanks to Infoman. Of course, we do it in a light and humorous way, mindful of the families who watch us. But it’s very comforting to hear that at a time when they say that young people have lost that interest,” he notes. The Quebecois program also features science segments peppered with good cheer. In one of them, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield explained what it’s like to travel aboard the Soyuz spacecraft.
A reflection of Quebecois culture
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Infoman is a powerful tool for immersing oneself in Quebec’s culture. Renowned writers and filmmakers appear frequently on the program, as do chefs, historians and comic book authors. The show covers a very broad range of topics, but it always retains its commitment to making people laugh. In addition, the broadcasting team also has a soft spot for the French-Canadian province’s kitsch: crazy architectural works, festivals for a very geeky audience, sui generis candidates in a certain municipality, among other examples. Dufort sometimes wears a suit that looks a lot like Superman’s, although an important difference is the “i” on his chest (the program’s logo) in place of the Man of Steel’s “S.”
“Immigrants have also given me a very touching compliment. They tell me that they have a better understanding of Quebecois society because of Infoman. They quote the popular vernacular and the jokes. Fortunately, this happens to me a lot,” says Dufort. Independence movements aside, two elements that reveal Quebec’s distinct character within Canada have to do with a greater tendency toward secularism and a weak attachment to the British monarchy. Both issues have been broached on Infoman. Dufort observes: “I don’t know if all my jokes would be well received in the rest of Canada. It seems to me that English-language television is more conservative. We have presented segments about papal visits and monarchical ceremonies, but we don’t do it just to be provocative. We think there are things that are funny in their own right. Let’s remember several moments from the coronation of Charles III.”
In addition to covering Quebec and other Canadian provinces, the Infoman team regularly travels to many different parts of the world: The United States, Sweden, Japan, Senegal, Iceland, Brazil, Scotland, Mexico, Israel... Jean-René Dufort vividly remembers his experience in Pamplona, Spain. “I thought all the bulls had already passed through and I started to walk, but I counted wrong. A good part of the herd had yet to come through. My cameraman got very upset with me,” he explains with a laugh.
Dufort says that when he travels abroad he likes to forge connections with comedians who have television shows similar to his own. He mentions, for example, Roman Vintoniv of Ukraine and France’s Yann Barthès. “It’s a way of taking the pulse of political freedom and freedom of expression in other countries,” he notes. Infoman will begin its 24th season in September. Dufort promises to continue to play a significant role on Quebecois television and more surprises.
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