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Son of a Critch

A Childish Newfoundland Memoir

by (author) Mark Critch

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
May 2020
Entertainment & Performing Arts, Celebrity & Popular Culture, Personal Memoirs
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2018
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2020
    List Price

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A hilarious story of family, getting into trouble, and finding one's place in the world.

What could be better than growing up in the 1980s? How about growing up in 1980s Newfoundland, which—as Mark Critch will tell you—was more like the 1960s. Take a trip to where it all began in this funny and warm look back on his formative years.

Here we find a young Mark trick-or-treating at a used car lot, getting locked out of school on a fourth-floor window ledge, faking an asthma attack to avoid being arrested by military police, trying to buy beer from an untrustworthy cab driver, shocking his parents by appearing naked onstage—and much more.

Best known as the "roving reporter" for CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Mark Critch has photo-bombed Justin Trudeau, interviewed Great Big Sea's Alan Doyle (while impersonating Alan Doyle), offered Pamela Anderson a million dollars to stop acting, and crashed White House briefings. But, as we see in this playful debut, he's been causing trouble his whole life.

Son of a Critch captures the wonder and cluelessness of a kid trying to figure things out, but with the clever observations of an adult, and the combination is perfect.

About the author

From Prime Ministers and Premiers to movie stars and celebrities, Mark Critch proves that everyone has a funny side. 22 Minutes anchor and roving reporter, Mark is one of the hardest working comedians in show business, winning multiple awards for both writing and performance. Hitting the road every week, Mark brings the powerful and famous down to earth and into your living room.

In addition to 13 years starring on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Mark has appeared in CBC's Winnipeg Comedy Festival, is the host of CBC’s Halifax Comedy Festival and has written for and appeared in CBC's world-renowned Just for Laughs series.

Mark Critch's profile page


  • Long-listed, RBC Taylor Prize
  • Short-listed, Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
  • Short-listed, Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour
  • Winner, Atlantic Book Awards - Margaret and John Savage First Book Award

Excerpt: Son of a Critch: A Childish Newfoundland Memoir (by (author) Mark Critch)

The first thing I remember is drowning.

My mother had taken me swimming at what Newfoundlanders call “the beach.” This is not what the average person would imagine when they picture a beach. There is no golden sand. Emerald water does not dance along the shoreline. Bronzed and toned bodies do not lounge on beach blankets, hiding flirtatious glances under designer sunglasses.

This is not what the Beach Boys sang about. This is more like a beach in the “Allied troop carriers landed on the beaches of Normandy despite the poor weather conditions” sense. In fact, most of my childhood memories seem like black-and-white war footage. The sky is always grey. There’s a lot of shaking and someone is always yelling, “Move! Move! Move!”

When you’re walking on a Newfoundland beach you have to keep an eye out for any large rocks you might accidentally step on. It’s difficult because the large rocks are usually hidden under thousands of smaller, sharper rocks. If you’re lucky you can avoid them by hopping from broken beer bottles to broken pop bottles, tacking left and right around the dozens of pale white bodies lying back to sunbathe and rub their bleeding feet. A Newfoundland sunbather is a sight to behold. It’s best to use protective eyewear. Directly looking at a Newfoundland sunbather can result in snow blindness. I myself am so pale that my skin takes on an almost translucent appearance. It’s known that Newfoundlanders have big hearts. We know this because on the beach you can actually see them beating through our pale skin. Imagine a jellyfish that has somehow swallowed a large fish and chips.

Keep in mind that these people have chosen to swim in the North Atlantic. This is the water the Titanic sunk in. Remember the scene in the movie where Rose is floating on the door and Jack, his hair streaked with icicles, slips below the frigid water into the darkness? Same water. Consider that these are the same beaches that blue whales wash up onto as they die. This is where the largest creatures on earth decide to commit suicide. And yet wave after wave of doughy, cadaverous swimmers playfully dive in and say, “Water’s not so bad today! I can feel my legs!”

Now back to drowning. It actually wasn’t the cold water that almost got me. Nor was it the powerful Labrador current that drags icebergs down from the Arctic. No, it was something much more dangerous. It was that all-consuming, ever-present Newfoundland danger: conversation.
I was three years old and in awe of the sights and sounds. Up until this point, I had led a fairly sheltered life. I grew up about five kilometres from anything. My father was a newsman at VOCM radio in St. John’s. He tried valiantly to fill small-town news with big-city excitement. A typical Mike Critch news report would go:

Late last night, early this morning, a moose was struck on the Trans-Canada Highway. The sex of the moose has not yet been released. Two men were killed, one seriously. Mike Critch for the VOCM news service.

We lived next to the radio station, which was next to a four-lane highway that led into the Trans-Canada. My early childhood was like the first level of the video game Frogger. And there were no other children for miles. The closest thing to other kids for me to play with were the used car salesmen in their plaid suits at the lots down the road.

Halloween was a lonely time. I was a sad sight walking along the Trans-Canada in my plastic C-3PO costume from Woolco. Not that you’d know I even wore a costume under the snowsuit I had to wear to protect me from the snowdrifts along the highway.

Little Me: Trick or Treat.

Used Car Salesman: Hey, Mark, what are you supposed to be? A robot in a snowsuit?

Little Me: Something like that.

Used Car Salesman: You’re a weird kid. Look, I don’t got no candy. How about a pack of Halls and a handful of Rothman’s?

Little Me: Sounds good.

I once thought for a moment that I’d seen another child, but he turned out to be a midget wrestler who went by the name “Little Beaver.” He’d come to the station to promote a wrestling match. He had a Mohawk, wore a three-piece suit, and smoked a cigar that was almost as big as he was. I thought, “That is the toughest kid I have ever seen.” But now, here among the rocks of the beach, there were more kids than I’d ever seen before. Half of them seemed tough enough to last a round or two with Little Beaver, but even still, I was drawn to them. My mother, on the other hand, was drawn into a conversation. That was not hard to do. My father worked at a radio station. My mother was a radio station. She was a news-gathering machine who could spit out gossip at a machine-gun pace. To engage my mother in conversation was to face a barrage of gossip-loaded ammunition.

Stranger: How are you today, ma’am?

Mom: OhI’mGood. Yes,HowAreYouNow,MyDear? MyGodIHeard AllAboutYourMother. Shockin’Isn’tIt? You’reMarjorieChafe’sSon, Aren’tYa? Yes,MyGod. AndHerFullUpWithTheCancer. OfCourse SheSmokedAllHerLifeButSoDidYourFather. HardToSayIfItWasHer SmokeOrHisSmokeGotHerBut,Sure,YouSmokeTooSoCouldHave BeenYou,IS’pose. DiedOfAHatTrick. First,Second,AndThirdHand Smoke. MyGod,SomeShockin’.

Stranger: Do you want fries with that?

My mother had noticed someone she thought might look like someone she thought she knew, and that was enough for her to risk the death-defying journey over the jagged rocks in search of information. I was left to follow the siren call of the ocean and the children being tossed on the waves like seagulls waiting out a storm.

I started to walk directly into the water. The cold didn’t affect me. I was a husky child with a good layer of heat-protective blubber around me. I was made for this. The water came up to my knees and I walked on. It came up to my navel and forward I marched. Then I felt the strangest sensation. The rocks beneath my feet had given way to sand. It felt glorious. Smooth, soft, and grainy. It reminded me of the few moments of barefoot wonder I’d experienced standing in the cat’s litter box before my mother told me to “GetOutOfThatNowBeforeISkinsYa! ForGodSakes,B’y,TheCat’sArseWasInThat!”

I looked over at the children, watching them frolic, and wondered, “How can I be a part of that?” Surely they would notice me and ask me to play with them, like kids did on Sesame Street? We’d sing some song about “the letter C” or something. Maybe they’d like some Halls or some Rothman’s? All I had to do was wait.

I remember looking up at a cliff and seeing the Newfoundland flag. Not the red, blue, and gold flag designed by the famous artist Christopher Pratt. No, I mean the true Newfoundland flag: a plastic grocery bag caught in a tree. Then my gaze shifted to two kids, a boy and girl floating by in a tire. They sat on it, their feet dangling into the water through the centre. It looked like everything that childhood should be. I continued on. The water came up to my neck. The children on the tire laughed together as they spun lazily. I stepped closer, hypnotized by their joy.
The water slipped over my head. I didn’t realize that the ground was on a slope. I’d never been in deep water before and assumed I could just keep walking.

I’d never thought about breathing until that moment. I remember thinking, “Oh, right. I have to breathe.” Try as I might, I couldn’t get my head above the water. I looked back to shore and could just barely make out the image of my mother interrogating a couple about their exact lineage. Nobody knew I was there. I kept going.

With every step I took, I could feel a great weight pressing down inside me. I was walking farther but going deeper. I looked up, confused. I caught sight of the tire children. They were floating above me, still laughing. I reached for a pink Minnie Mouse sandal on the surface, just over my head. With the strength of a panicked child, I pulled her foot toward me with all my might. Next, I latched on to the Six Million Dollar Man sneaker of the boy. “He kept his sneakers on,” I thought. “He doesn’t even know there’s sand here. I should tell him to take them off and feel it squish between his toes. That’ll be a good ice-breaker.”

I pulled them down. I could feel the panic leave my body and transfer into theirs. I grabbed their tire, sending them splashing into the cold water. Exhausted, I lay on the improvised float like a walrus on a rock and sunned myself. It was nice to have friends my own age.

Editorial Reviews

“Not since the first one pulled his boat up, has there been a scribbler of such fine and unusual emanations pouring out of one man. Yes, [Mark Critch] says he’s from the big island, but where he was washed up, would be worth finding out. And I’d love to know where he gets his ink, I am such a fan.” —Gordon Pinsent, actor and playwright

Son of a Critch explains a lot. Mark’s wondrous imagination and unique vision of the world is almost completely explained by his young life. This book is a one of a kind adventure from one of my favourite people in the world. I had to read most sections twice as either I could not believe what I had just read, or my eyes were flooding with laughing tears. It is Wicked and Deadly.” —Alan Doyle, musician and lead singer of Great Big Sea
“Finally, a book that answers so many questions about Critch.... If you read only one book by a famous Newfoundlander who was raised next to the highway, it pretty much has to be this one. You’ll be amazed at how funny Mark is. Also, that he’s not dead.” —Barry Julien, Co-Executive Producer/Writer, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Son of a Critch is everything you would expect from the smart, urbane, and imaginative mind of Canada’s grooviest satirist.” —Greg Proops, comedian and actor

“Do not read this book on an airplane because you will be smiling and laughing like an idiot, which would be the most unCanadian thing to do while reading the most hilarious book by Canada’s most charming storyteller.” —Caroline Rhea, comedian and actor 
“Having done many shows in Newfoundland and being a devotee of Codco, I have long been captivated by Newfoundlanders—their warmth, grit, and forthrightness, but especially their humour. Mark captures all of that so cleverly. I laughed from start to finish, often uproariously.” —Anne Murray, singer
“There are so many strengths to [Critch's] writing but I’d note his flair with metaphor and simile … this is nimble, nuanced writing ... thoughtful and honed for laughs.” —The St. John’s Telegram

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