With the departure of Cathy Jones as the last original cast member of This Hour 22 Minutes, 2021 marked the end of an era for the Halifax-shot CBC comedy series.
However, it also marked the beginning of a new one with two new stars, Aba Amuquandoh and Stacey McGunnigle, who joined Mark Critch and Trent McClellan at the satirical news show’s anchor desk.
“I still have not been able to fathom that I’m part of the cast because I started literally peak pandemic,” says Amuquandoh.
Amuquandoh does have a leg up on McGunnigle, though, having started the year before as a featured player before being called to the anchor desk as one of four main cast members.
“I feel very blessed, especially to be working in the industry that I’ve trained for my entire life,” she continues. “But also to get to work with people who are very much like Canadian royalty.”
Despite now being the youngest 22 Minutes cast member, it isn’t as if the Toronto-based actor, writer and comedian hasn’t paid her dues.
Beginning her professional acting career as a student at the University of Toronto, Amuquandoh studied at the Second City Toronto and honed her skills in Toronto comedy clubs and as the co-host of the pop culture podcast Nostalgique. She will also play host to the upcoming CBC reality show Best in Miniature, in which contestants build their dream homes in miniature form.
Connections at 22 Minutes would help spark an invitation to audition, but it was her performance as Beyonce signing about the pandemic that would seal the deal. “I never thought they would ask me to join the cast,” says Amuquandoh. “It felt very, very lucky.”
The journey to 22 Minutes for award-winning comedian and writer McGunnigle began as a quest to be a writer for the show. Like Amuquandoh, it would be her own connections that would help lead to an audition.
“I made a tape doing silly impressions, and when I got the call to join, it was too good to be true,” she says.
As the newest cast member, McGunnigle likens it to “walking into the best creative experience” and credits Amuquandoh with helping make her immediately feel part of the team.
“Aba has just been a godsend taking me under her wing,” she says. “I walked into a really supportive, encouraging environment, so it was very easy to hit the ground running.”
There is a mutual admiration between the two newbies who have found a rhythm together on the show.
“And we’re very lucky to have Stacey,” adds Amuquandoh. “As the queen of impressions, when we ask if she can play a particular character by the end of the day, she’ll do it.”
Along with their on-air duties, both women are also writers in what has become an increasingly crowded writer’s room.
“The show is very much a machine, so Stacy and I are trying new things all the time,” says Amuquandoh. ” And because we’re on screen, it is a bit easier for us to get our voice heard because we have to do the things we like for the show to feel cohesive.”
As many of the writers this season are also new, McGunnigle says they are all finding their way. “We’re all getting to know each other’s voices and the room is supportive, encouraging and collaborative,” she says.
The two are also helping 22 Minutes reach a new and younger generation of viewers. Case in point is McGunnigle’s impression of Drew Barrymore in a parody of the film Scream that has amassed over 2.7 million views on Tik Tok.
As Amuquandoh and McGunnigle continue to find their voices, they are also finding their love for Halifax and its food scene while taping here a few months of the year.
“Halifax is a great food city,” says Amuquandoh. “The oysters are unbeatable.”
“That’s all we do is go to work, then we have dinner, adds McGunnigle. “It’s my greatest joy in life.”
You can catch Amuquandoh and McGunnigle at the This Hour Has 22 Minutes anchor desk when the show returns from its winter hiatus on January 4 on CBC television and online at CBC Gem. Check your local listings.
Next week: Mark Critch is now the longest-serving cast member of This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Between his duties as one of the show’s four anchors, he has written two books and his life as a kid growing up in Newfoundland is the subject of the new CBC comedy Son of a Critch. In part two of our interview, we find out more.