Q&A: The Debaters’ Steve Patterson

By Kathleen Charlebois

Funnyman Steve Patterson is best known to avid radio listeners as the host of CBC Radio’s The Debaters. The show is coming to the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium on June 16. Here he talks about how the show works, and intentional and unintentional comedy.

The Walleye: Can you describe how The Debaters show works for someone who hasn’t heard it before?

Steve Patterson: It’s basically like a political leaders’ debate without the pesky politicians getting involved. I’ve done stand-up for a long time and pretty much everyone on the show has been doing stand-up for a while, so it’s a unique format because they’ve taken a little bit of time to write about something that they probably wouldn’t have done if we hadn’t assigned it to them, but they take it very seriously even though we literally award nothing to people. No one wants to lose any sort of competition on national radio. It goes off the rails all the time, so that’s the part that I like. There’s a little bit of improv to it that we don’t see in a lot of stand-up.

TW: Do you have a group of comics travelling with you for the show, or do you have local comics depending where you are?

SP: We try to use at least one or two people local to the area who might not even tour much, and do a regional debate on a topic that people in the region would be concerned about. The rest are comedians from across Canada. We’ll be bringing some from Ontario and some from other provinces as well, so it’ll be a nice mix.

TW: How are the debate topics decided on?

SP: We definitely try to base it off location. We do want to include whatever topics that are important to the region when we’re taping there and introduce the region to people that might not be familiar with it. It would be nice to do something based on the election, but we try to play these things as much as possible once they’re recorded, so it’s tough to be really current. I’m hoping in three years we don’t remember who Stephen Harper was.

TW: Why do you think the show has been so successful?

It’s stand-up comics writing about topics that you probably wouldn’t hear being talked about in a comedy club. Most of the topics we choose are certainly things that affect Canadians. We definitely take shots where others might not take shots.
Honestly, we pay all the attention to the debating format that should be paid attention to, but we just happen to have comedians doing it. They’re people that have chosen to make a living out of being funny, but they’re still very smart people and and they incorporate facts into the debates.

I’ve been approached about moderating actual political debates, but politicians don’t seem to want to be funny or are just incapable of doing that. I think they’re just shooting themselves in the foot because no matter what you’re saying, if you don’t make it entertaining people aren’t going to listen. Obviously, these people are listening to our show because we’ve made it funny and any information we can pass on in the format and make people think about things is a nice bonus.

Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson