Charges of racism follow special

A New Year's television tradition in Quebec grabs an impressive audience share - of not-so-impressed viewers.

Bye-Bye is an annual Quebec New Year’s television tradition that began in 1968. This year, over four million people tuned in to watch; 2.6 million on Dec. 31 and 1.4 million for the Jan. 1 rebroadcast – an astounding 83% audience share. However, Radio-Canada is on the defensive this week following criticisms that its Bye-Bye show – a satirical roundup of the past year’s current events – was vulgar, angry, racist and not very funny.

Produced and largely performed by the husband-and-wife team of actor Louis Morissette and TV host Veronique Cloutier, Bye-Bye 2008′s themes included Julie Couillard’s breasts and the sex drive of her boyfriend, Conservative MP Maxime Bernier. The program also took a shot at the troubled life of former child star Nathalie Simard, who received much media attention after her manager, media mogul Guy Cloutier, was sentenced in 2004 to 42 months in prison for raping her as a child.

Ridiculing Simard was panned by both the media and the public as Cloutier is the former impresario’s daughter and essentially grew up with Simard.

Stand-up comic and Les Bougons co-writer Jean-François Mercier’s routine was also widely criticized for its jabs at both English Canada and newly elected US president Barack Obama. Mercier blasted the rest of Canada for electing Stephen Harper – whom he described as a ‘lobotomy with two legs.’ Mercier told Montreal’s French language daily La Presse that he received death threats after his remark that a ‘negro in the White House was a good thing’ because ‘black on white makes an easier target.’ Mercier told La Presse that his jokes were misinterpreted and that his intention was to parody racism.

Radio-Canada this week released a statement defending the 2008 version of Bye-Bye. ‘Everyone who is familiar with the history of television knows that Bye-Bye is risky. It is one of the most popular shows of the year and certainly the most highly criticized. If it has certain weaknesses or controversial elements it will make waves, as we have seen both in the last few days and in past years,’ it said.

Cloutier and Morissette, as well as Mercier and writer François Avard (Les Bougons), released a statement denying they are racist. ‘We reject this accusation vociferously. Each racial reference was meant to reflect the ineptitude of the character featured in the sketch,’ they said.

Radio-Canada did not respond to interview requests.