Mike MacDonald, a pioneer of the Canadian standup comedy scene, has died.
The longtime comedian died on Saturday afternoon from heart complications at the Ottawa Heart Institute, his brother J.P. MacDonald said on Sunday.
He was 62.
MacDonald was a regular on the Just for Laughs stage and also appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and Arsenio Hall, and starred in multiple CBC and Showtime specials.
His brother said MacDonald loved nothing more than to make people laugh — something he discovered in high school.
“Obviously it’s easier in high school to make friends if you can make people laugh. But there was more to it than that. He was just really good at it, he was brilliant at it. It always just stuck wit him and that’s what he wanted to do,” said J.P. MacDonald, who is also known by his stage name Johnny Vegas.
MacDonald, who was also a gifted drummer, got his comedy start at an Ottawa punk rock club called the Rotters Club in the 1970s. He prepared a mountain of material: Three 45-minute comedy sets, which J.P. MacDonald noted may be standard for a music gig, but not a comedy one.
“If you try to tell that to young up-and-coming comedian today, I don’t think they’d be able to wrap their head around it, because most young comedians are working on their first five-minute routine,” he said.
“He was that creative, it just flowed from him. Over the years, he wrote hours upon hours of comedy routines and movie scripts and TV scripts. He was very proficient and gifted at his art,” J.P. MacDonald said.
Mike MacDonald kicked a drug-use problem in the late-1980s or early-1990s and had been clean ever since, his brother said. He received a liver transplant about five years ago and became an advocate for organ donations, weaving mention of it into as many sets as he could thereafter, J.P. MacDonald said.
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 & 90s to enter comedy. For most of us, sharing the stage with him for the first time was a really big deal,” writer and comedian Kliph Nesteroff tweeted.
“Respect must be paid. Thank you for the laughs, Mike. Thank you for the work ethic and being a real deal comic influencer,” 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 & laughing ourselves sick. And fighting. Then laughing more,” he wrote.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press
Hundreds of tributes to the Ottawa-born comic poured out across social media:
So sad to hear about Mike MacDonald. I had the pleasure of performing with Canadian comedy legend a couple times. Once at a @justforlaughs gala and recently when I performed in Ottawa(his hometown). On both occasions he was pure class and funny as hell. RIP https://t.co/SopbUQEugo
— Jim Gaffigan (@JimGaffigan) March 18, 2018
Mike MacDonald has passed away. I can't wrap my head around it. Part of me wants to yell IT'S NOT TRUE!!! The rest of me is numb. Spent so many nights (late80s/early90s) into the morning, playing cards & laughing ourselves sick. And fighting. Then laughing more.
— Brent Butt (@BrentButt) March 17, 2018
We are so saddened to hear of the passing of comedy legend Mike MacDonald. He was a dear friend and influence on comics new and old will not be forgotten. Much love to his family and friends. Thanks for the laughs Mike, you will be missed greatly. pic.twitter.com/9uT8iqXsE3
— Yuk Yuk's (@yukyuks) March 18, 2018
I remember watching Mike MacDonald on Just for Laughs and how hard he made my mom laugh talking about his cat and a can opener. Every Canadian comedian watched him growing up. He was a sweet man with an amazing wit. I’m heart broken. You will be missed RIP Mike 💔 pic.twitter.com/CjXBe9AXWa
— Kathleen _ McGee (@Kathleen_McGee) March 18, 2018
More to come.