Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster were a Canadian comedy duo, known as Wayne and Shuster, who were active from the 1940s until the late ’80s. Among their many claims to fame was that they were the most frequent performers on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They appeared on Sullivan’s Sunday night broadcast 67 times.
Wayne and Shuster met as high school students at Harbord Collegiate Insistitute in Toronto. They both went on to the University of Toronto where they discovered their passion for performing. They made their radio debut on CFRB in Toronto in 1941 with their own show, “The Wife Preservers,” where they offered comedic household tips. The success of this show led to their first national comedy show on CBC radio as “Shuster and Wayne.”
Wayne and Shuster enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1942 and performed for troops in Europe during the Second World War. They returned to to Canada in 1946 and created “The Wayne and Shuster Show” for CBC radio. The show moved to CBC TV in 1955 and enjoyed a long run. They first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1958.
Throughout their career, the duo declined many offers to move to the United States, preferring to stay in Toronto. In 1965, Wayne and Shuster made a short documentary series that looked at the lives and careers of comedians such as W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, called “Wayne and Shuster Take an Affectionate Look At…”
After ending their weekly series, Wayne and Shuster continued making comedy specials for CBC TV until the 1980s.
Wayne and Shuster’s comedy style has been described as a combination of literate” comedy and slapstick. Many of their sketches included Shakespearean settings and characters, including “Blood Off My Toga,” which was a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Julius Casesar and a baseball-themed skit with characters from Hamlet and Macbeth. Other sketches were commentaries on contemporarty events and pop culture. They occasionally satirized Canadian politics. When the House of Commons was about to be televized in the 1970s, they created a segment called “Question Time” where they represented Question Period as a Las Vegas-style musical, with members of Parliament performing song-and-dance routines.
Johnny Wayne passed away in 1990. Following his death, the duo received a Gemini Award for their contributions to Canadian television and comedy and a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.
In 1996, Shuster was made a member of the Order of Canada. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 85. In 2012, Wayne and Shuster were recognized with a Heritage Toronto plaque.
Throughout 2017, in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is publishing a series of profiles spotlighting the contributions of historically important Jewish Canadians to our country. Previously in the series: