"22 Minutes" cast members, from left to right, Mark Critch, Stacey McGunnigle, Trent McClellan and Aba Amuquandoh are seen in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Russell Baer, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

CBC comedy ‘22 Minutes’ touts bigger, younger, more diverse cast and writing staff

CBC comedy ‘22 Minutes’ touts bigger, younger, more diverse cast and writing staff

This Hour Has 22 Minutes is often billed as Canada’s longest-running scripted entertainment series, but this year it’s eager to tout everything that’s new — in particular a larger, younger and more diverse writing staff and cast than ever before.

Five of the CBC comedy’s seven performers have joined over the last two seasons and with the departure of Cathy Jones last spring, this will be the first without a founding cast member, notes executive producer Mike Allison.

“It does seem different in an exciting way,” says Allison.

“I think the show is staying true to what it has been while also adjusting to what it needs to be in the future.”

Premiering in 1993, the Halifax-based sketch comedy made stars out of brash Newfoundlanders Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones, Greg Thomey and Rick Mercer. Turnovers in the cast and writing talent have kept audiences laughing and prime ministers in check into a 29th season.

This year Allison says writers and cast members hail from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada. With an expanded 24-episode order, the extra hands are welcome.

Allison says he and others looked at more than 160 submissions before being won over by the latest addition of Stacey McGunnigle of Alliston, Ont.

The 35-year-old millennial threw everything she had into her audition and could not believe it when she, as they say in the business, “booked it off the tape.”

“I was like completely overwhelmed and excited and shocked,” McGunnigle says of joining the cast. “I’m a small-town gal. I didn’t know that this was a possibility for a career, you know?”

Previously, the York University graduate funnelled her comedy energy into improv stage work at The Second City, where she earned a best breakout artist accolade. The Regulars, a comedy podcast she co-hosted, has topped two million listeners. She’s also performed in Montreal at the Just for Laughs festival and was recently featured on Roast Battle Canada on the CTV Comedy Channel.

McGunnigle names Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s preening character Elaine Benes on Seinfeld as a considerable influence, as well as sketch performers Gilda Radner from Saturday Night Live and Catherine O’Hara from her SCTV days.

But she also grew up admiring 22 Minutes trailblazers Walsh and Jones, calling them each “the Swiss Army knife of comedy,” and praises past cast member Susan Kent as “an absolute powerhouse.”

Last season, 26-year-old Aba Amuquandoh got a similar call up after starting as a featured player. This year she’s one of the main deskers as well as a writer on the show.

She names Wanda Sykes, Whitney Cummings and Cedric the Entertainer as big influences.

“It’s important for people on TV to be contributing not only with their face being on screens but also with their opinions and talking about themselves and their cultures,” says Amuquandoh, who was born in Nigeria and raised in Brampton, Ont.

“I’m really happy to be here.”

Prior to 22 Minutes, Amuquandoh studied with Second City and performed with the award-winning troupe The Sketchersons in Toronto. Later this season she will host the upcoming CBC series Best in Miniature, a reality series where couples build tiny versions of their dream homes.