It’s the kind of milestone you have to interrupt a conversation for. Shaun Majumder, on the phone from his home in L.A., breaks into his own train of thought about race and politics and parenting to share a moment from the world of the infant daughter he’s settling down for a nap.
“I held out a little toy and she reached out and picked it out of my hand,” he says, and you can practically see the beaming Dad smile through the phone line. “She’s never done that before.”
“She,” by the way, is Mattis Maple Majumder, who’s coming up on 12 weeks old and whose small baby squawks instruct her father to put the phone on speaker so he can pick her up. It’s clear she and her mother (actor Shelby Fenner, who’s been married to Majumder since 2012) are everything to the Canadian comedy star.
Majumder is just winding up a summer and fall hiatus, having interrupted the cross-country tour of his new show, HATE, to be at home for the birth of his daughter.
“I’m very, very thankful to be here. There’s no more important time in my life and in hers,” Majumder says.
For Majumder, becoming a father at 47 was perfect timing (and not just because, as he jokes, “My prostate’s amazing.”)
“I just feel like I’ve got a great foundation right now,” he says. “I’m grounded. I feel good, my mind is really good; it’s perfect. I’m past all the bullshit.”
He’s about to hit the road again, with B.C. tour dates – including a Nov. 23 show at the Massey Theatre – coming up quickly. Yes, it will be his first time leaving wee Mattis behind (and yes, it’s killing him, thanks for asking).
For Majumder, the arrival of Mattis gives him all the more reason to take to the road with HATE. The show combines stand-up, multimedia, video and even song to start a conversation about intolerance and prejudice.
“I’ve been so focused on having a baby and taking care of this beautiful child, so she is not raised in a world that’s filled with hate,” he says.
For those who know Majumder best from his long stint on CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, he has a warning: This isn’t all benign, CBC-style humour.
“Oh no,” he says emphatically. “This is raw. This is me saying some things that’ll make people feel a little uncomfortable at times. I believe that’s the purpose of comedy. We’ve got to say the things that people don’t want to talk about.”
But no, he says, he’s not talking about the worst things humanity does to each other; this isn’t about violence or bloodshed or war.
“The minutiae that I get into in the show is more what I consider to be, it’s ridiculous, it really is,” he says. “When we talk about hate, it’s people who think they hate someone else. It’s not about hate, it’s about protection of their own tribe.
“What is hate? Hate is kind of spawned by a fear of the other, because they feel threatened by the other. They lash out in a way that would be perceived as hate: ‘You’re not welcome here.’ ‘Build a wall.’ ‘Immigration is bad.’ These kind of things, they’re loosely based on hate – they’re not genocidal,” he says.
He’s not talking about the worst of humanity – the tyrants who have justified the extermination of “others” – but rather, about the more everyday occurrences of racism in Canadian society.
“The stuff that I’m getting to is more ignorance,” he says, citing the example of an Abbotsford man caught in a racist tirade on a video that went viral in 2016. “These are the things I show and talk about.”
His show has evolved over its months of touring (though he admits he hasn’t been doing as much writing for the past few months, since he’s been focusing his time on Mattis). He frequently updates and reworks it to reflect the goings-on on both sides of the 49th parallel.
Majumder can’t help but laugh a little at the fact that, at the beginning of his show’s run, he made fun of Canadian politics for being so devoid of material.
“I make fun of the fact that our scandals in Canada are so lame compared to Trump’s scandals, that Trudeau can’t even buy himself a scandal, a real, juicy scandal,” he says.
Majumder poked fun at the "scandal” surrounding Trudeau when he “dressed up like Aladdin” – words that, in that moment, were referencing Trudeau’s 2018 trip to India, when he took heat for overdoing it with traditional Indian outfits.
Then the federal election campaign happened.
“The joke became reality,” Majumder says, laughing.
His show covers a lot of ground – from the rise of neo-Nazism in the U.S. and the #MeToo movement, to his own upbringing as the sole “beige” kid in Burlington, Newfoundland, population 350.
And no, Majumder doesn’t have any sad tales about racism in small-town Newfoundland.
“I thought I was lily-white,” says Majumder, the son of an Indian father and white mother. “I had no idea I was any different. It was amazing; looking back, there were some things said to me that I now realize were somewhat racist-slash-ignorant. … I laugh because, In Newfoundland, even when people say things that are racist, they’re still coming from a place of love.”
He tells the story of a woman he met while taking his show back home to Newfoundland. As he speaks, the faintly Celtic lilt that remains in his speaking voice broadens into a full-on Newfoundland brogue.
The woman in question was a fan, and she couldn’t wait to compliment Majumder on his skill with accents. So, in finest Newfoundland style, she told him: “We love you, Shaun, we do; you do the best Paki.”
Majumder laughs with genuine warmth at the memory.
“I was like, ‘That’s so racistly sweet.’”
It’s that kind of good-natured acceptance of humanity, with all its foibles, that Majumder brings with him on the road.
“The way that I’m doing it is, ‘Come into my house and let’s talk about stuff that we will all collectively think is ridiculous,’” he says. “It’s a safe way of doing it. I’m having fun with the ridiculousness of hate. In the end, it’s a very positive message.”
Because, he says, humans are a pretty good species as a lot.
“Ultimately, we all want to love each other; there’s no doubt about it. The fear that gets in the way of people connecting and seeing another person? That’s a problem. People are most definitely fearful.”
But, he says, we don’t start out that way.
“Like, look at Mattis right now. She is completely open to everything in the world,” he says, and his voice is gentle.
“Now that I stare down at my beautiful child, I think I have to write a LOVE show.”
CHECK IT OUT
WHAT: HATE, a show by Shaun Majumder
WHERE: Massey Theatre, 735 Eighth Ave.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 23, 8 p.m.