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This week has forty jokes

Albert Howell 5.jpg

As head writer on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Albert Howell, BA ’86, encourages his audiences to form their own opinion on politics.

Albert Howell, BA’86, writes 40 jokes every week. As head writer for CBC’s comedy news program This Hour Has 22 Minutes, it’s his job to capture the week’s news, both serious and lighthearted, in jokes for 22 minutes of prime-time Canadian television.

Howell graduated from political science and envisioned law school would be his next stop. After trying to answer the question, “why do I want to be a lawyer?” in his 1,000-word entrance essay and coming up short, he realized that an impressive LSAT score alone wasn’t enough.

After determining that law school wasn’t right for him, Howell discovered improvisational theatre at Calgary’s Loose Moose Theatre, which started off as a place to hang out. After conquering his quivering knees, Howell went on to become a regular performer at Loose Moose, thus launching his foray into improv acting.

After Loose Moose, Howell joined Jester’s Wild, an improv group, before moving to Toronto where he performed at the famous Second City Theatre for four years. Stints at the Comedy Network and on CTV’s Comedy Inc. followed and then he landed at This Hour Has 22 Minutes in 2006.

Howell’s job at 22 Minutes blends his education and experience so perfectly that some may call it a dream job. “I feel lucky to have a job like mine because I get paid to do what I like to do,” he says. “I spend my time with interesting and creative people and when I do a good job people applaud.”

Howell didn’t go to school to write jokes, that part just comes naturally, but he uses his political science education every day. “The great thing about a social science education is that I learned to read and think for myself.”

He reads numerous newspapers and magazines and watches various newscasts in search of content for his next joke while carefully balancing humour, editorial and a deeper message that encourages audiences to form their own opinion on politics and think for themselves. “My hope is to get people to pay attention and be aware of what’s happening around them. And we use humour to help us.”

After four years with the show and one year as head writer, Howell has seen cast members move on, new personalities join the team and the show adapt to a changing Canada. He says his job has changed, too. “The amount of information we have now makes it easier to write but we also look at stories to determine whether they’ll be big news or fizzle.”

Segments of 22 Minutes are taped with an audience and Howell says it’s easy to determine whether your material is connecting 
with your viewers because “in comedy, it’s not just the content, 
it’s the delivery, too.”

“People who laugh are healthier and it’s good for your heart and lungs,” says Howell. And helping viewers laugh makes it easy for him to write the first of his 40 jokes each week.

Howell, who calls Toronto home, has headed to Halifax for the fall to start work on 22 Minutes’ upcoming season. He’s also working on a script for a sitcom and has a small part in Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley’s next movie.