Remembering Alanis Morissette’s tween years on ‘You Can’t Do That On Television’

Before she was one of our greatest musical exports, Alanis starred in Canada's weirdest sketch comedy show for kids.

September 14, 2015

If there’s one CanCon personality whose star has grown in the 15 years since Y2K — lol — it’s Alanis Morissette.

It ain’t even debatable. MuchMusic VJs have settled into respectable careers as weather anchors. Below-the-surface mainstays like Eric’s Trip have settled into roles as Canadian cult godfathers, occasionally playing church shows to new generations of grease-haired Rick White clones. And Moxy Früvous? Let’s not go there.

But Alanis? She’s getting into some legacy-brand shit. Andrea Warner’s book about the Canadian women who dominated the ’90s — Sarah McLachlan, Morissette, Celine Dion, and Shania Twain are still among our top sellers, and they’ve influenced an entire generation of Canadians — borrowed its name from Alanis’ still-biggest single, “You Oughta Know.” Jagged Little Pill, her most cherished LP, turned 20 this year, and it’s still a remarkable album: It was a massive step away from her teen-pop past, and still her most essential collection to date. (Don’t listen to anyone who smugly states that “Ironic”‘s lyrics do, in fact, misconstrue irony. They’re punishers.)

But even before she hit the radar as a scrunchie-toting singer, Alanis starred on the then-hit, now-cult ’80s TV show You Can’t Do That On Television. Formed in Ottawa, the uber-bizarre show is even stranger in retrospect: It started in 1979 as a for-kids, starring-kids sketch comedy show; it still gets comparisons to Saturday Night Live. Canadians mostly remember it from its ’90s-rerun era on YTV (ayo, Tarzan Dan!), but it was a hit stateside on Nickelodeon, who made a show staple — covering children in slime after they uttered the words “I don’t know” (which The Onion famously spoofed) — a network trademark. And among its most beloved characters? A young Alanis.

There, show star Christine McGlade says, while Alanis was nurturing a music career, she performed as “a true professional.” There, Stereogum posits, she met the subject of “You Oughta Know” — the 15-years-her-senior Dave “Uncle Joey” Coulier. And there, she washed green goo from her hair. More than anything, it’s worth remembering that Alanis wasn’t only one of our greatest musical exports — she was funny as hell, too.

Alanis parties down

These weren’t the birthday parties we remembered. Alanis pukes over a disgusting birthday cake served up at the show’s resto, Barth’s Burgery; she plays the cool kid for attention; and You Can’t Do That On Television threw the parties we wish we had as kids (sans bouncy castles).

Parties, redux

Featuring, yes, more puking. And the time she got called the “most gorgeous girl in the world,” then proceeded to have two dudes fight over her as a date. Killin’ it, Alanis. Killin’ it. (Quite literally: In this clip, when Alasdair says that he’ll kill himself if she doesn’t go on a date with him, she deadpans, “I’ll go. I’ll go see if I can find my father’s gun.” You can’t do that on television, indeed.)

Alanis introduces commercials

This is an an excellent snapshot of You Can’t‘s irreverent, often self-reflective humour — here, Alanis deadpans that the show is interrupting everyone’s favourite commercials.

The Alanis digest


Morissette wasn’t a regular on the show quite like its other cast members. There were a lot of kids featured on You Can’t, and she’s best remembered for a run between 1986 and 1987. Here are some of her finest moments in one video.

Alanis gets slimed

This may be the real reason Alanis never chose a band name.

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