“It’s my favourite age” — Comedian Tom Green on turning 50 and moving back to Ottawa
People & Places

“It’s my favourite age” — Comedian Tom Green on turning 50 and moving back to Ottawa

Tom Green is in a much different place. Feeling homesick during the pandemic, the actor and comedian sold his L.A. house and moved back to the Ottawa area. Having just turned 50, and 20 years after his diagnosis of testicular cancer, Green talks about his new perspective on life and work — and a renewed fondness for his hometown.

What did you miss about Ottawa when you were away?
I’d never been away from the city for more than a year until COVID happened. I literally started to feel homesick. I spent 20 years living in the United States, and I felt very isolated down there in Los Angeles at times. It was during COVID that I realized how far away I was. When I’m in Ottawa, I definitely feel a sense of being home. When I was in Los Angeles, it was always exciting and cool to be there, but it never really felt like home.

What do you like about the lifestyle in Ottawa?
We’ve got all the things you’d want in a big city — lots of good restaurants and shopping and concerts and sports. But you’ve also got a lot of the comforts of a small town. There’s a little bit more of a laid-back attitude, lots of green space and outdoor places to go walking without the congestion and some of the negative things that come with being in some huge cities.

What are your favourite places to visit in Ottawa?
I always love going to the ByWard Market because I’ve got a lot of memories of starting The Tom Green Show there — our pranks and stuff like that. I like Elgin Street a lot as well. I really like the restaurant Town on Elgin. My friend Marc Doiron — we used to skateboard together — is a chef, and he started that. I love going to Yuk Yuk’s because that’s where I started as a comedian. 

What changes do you want to see in Ottawa?
I always thought it would be amazing to have the Senators play in LeBreton Flats, but I don’t know if that’s even possible anymore. The excitement of having a major sporting event downtown — Lansdowne Park is a perfect example — it’s just so good for the local economy.

What do you want to preserve about the city?
I think it’s important to recognize the beauty of the city … and to be careful that we protect it. I did speak out a couple of years ago, which I rarely do, about the Château Laurier. I’m happy to see that they reconsidered. We have the benefit of really looking like a classic, architecturally beautiful city. It can be easily ruined with development.

Photography by Tom Green

You turned 50 in July. How did that feel?
I love being 50. It’s my favourite age that I’ve been so far. I spent a lot of time in my younger years really struggling to make it. I used to have a lot of fear in me. I was very fear-driven — what am I going to do when I grow up? Now I am grown up, so I don’t have to worry about it anymore. And it’s all worked out. I’ve been successful. It’s a really nice place to be for me, personally.

Does that put you in a place where you can do what you want creatively and professionally?
I’m much more able to be creatively relaxed with what I do. I’ve been developing a lot of new technical and creative skills with my photography and with music. I’m recording an album now. I’m also going to be putting together a photography exhibit, as well, of some of my work that I’ve done as I’ve travelled around in my van. I did a lot of black-and-white film photography out in the desert and in the southwestern U.S. last year. 

You were good friends with Norm Macdonald, another comedian raised in Ottawa. What are some of your memories of Norm?
I definitely owe a lot to Norm’s legacy. He was the first guy that came along who was a local guy, who wasn’t American, who wasn’t even from Toronto. And he was on stage at Yuk Yuk’s in front of me, making me laugh harder than I’d ever laughed before. To see a guy go from being on that club stage in Yuk Yuk’s to being on Saturday Night Live, it really flipped a light switch in my head where it was like, oh wow, if I work hard at this, I can go do this. I really thank him a lot for the inspiration and also for the fact that he did it all on his own terms and was so original and hilarious and didn’t kowtow to the conventional way of doing things.

It’s been more than 20 years since you were diagnosed with cancer. How do you reflect on that now?
It’s ancient history now. It was a life lesson. Getting cancer at an early age showed me that you’ve got to be careful about your health and reflective about life and grateful about the time that we have here. It’s helped me at times with my mood or with my happiness. When I’m feeling down or feeling hard done by or sorry for myself for whatever reason, I stop and I think back and go, Hey, I’m not in the hospital right now. I’m recovered from cancer. This is a good day.