Josh Freed is one of four winners of the 2019 Goldbloom Awards, presented to English-speaking Quebecers who have made a significant contribution to the community.
The Quebec Community Groups Network makes the awards annually, and this year, Freed is being honoured for his work as a humorist.
Freed has been trying to make people laugh since the days of the Quebec sovereignty debates, inventing a word to describe the frustration some people felt about having two referendums.
“I am actually in the Oxford dictionary of English as the father of ‘neverendum,'” Freed said, explaining that he coined the term in the ’90s in a column for the Gazette.
“I think in Montreal, people actually need to laugh.”
That’s what he says he tries to do with his weekly columns that he has been writing for the Gazette since 1988
“He’s written more than 1400 columns,” the newspaper’s editor-in-chief told Global News.
Freed also co-wrote a book after the separatist Parti Quebecois’ first election win in 1975, called The Anglo Guide to Survival in Quebec.
“The 1980s and ’90s were really a hard time,” he remembered.
“We lost hundreds of thousands of people. I felt a great responsibility, that the community was ready to fragment and I was part of making people smile and remember it was a good city.”
So he wrote in English and French and even acted in a play called the Four Anglos of the Apocalypse, with editorial cartoonist Terry “Aislin” Mosher and the comedy singing duo Bowser and Blue.
The play poked fun at Quebec and Canadian politics.
Chodan credits Freed’s success with his openness and style that she said helped to heal the city in the wake of the political tensions.
“He was somebody who really had an exemplary record of explaining Anglos to Francos, and Francos to Anglos while being funny, perceptive and very, very human,” she told Global News
His readers included politicians like former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard who made a mistake with Freed’s name.
“He called Josh Freed ‘Josh Fred,'” Mosher laughed. “I jumped on that as soon as I saw that, and drew a cartoon about it.”
Despite the current debate over the province’s Bill 21, forbidding the wearing of religious garb by some civil servants, and the fight over school boards, Freed thinks there’s much less political tension in Montreal and the province now.
“We used to complain about the fact that Quebec was going to separate from Canada,” he stressed. “Now we complain about the fact that there’s too much traffic, and there’s too much construction building new things.
“I mean, these are complaints we have now,” he laughed, shaking his head.
But whatever the situation, he insists humour will have a place in his work because, as he said, “he who laughs lasts, and in Montreal you need to laugh to last.”