Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s annual alumni reunion brings together honoured class years to reconnect with one another at the law school. This year’s reunion, held on November 6, celebrated class years ending in 0 and 5.

As with current U of T classes and other events, restrictions on in-person gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic required this year’s celebration to be moved entirely online. Yet the same buzz of laughter, camaraderie, and past connections occurred over 13 individual class socials on Zoom.

"Reunion is an important milestone for both our alumni and the law school,” says Jennifer Lancaster, Assistant Dean, Advancement. “While it was not the reunion we pictured, we were thrilled so many joined us to reconnect online.”

Before the class meetups, long-time friends Professor Arnie Weinrib (LLB 1965) and Hart Pomerantz (LLB 1965), hosted a comedic discussion – The Funny Side – reflecting on Pomerantz’s time as a law student and his career as lawyer, writer and comedian. Pomerantz not only appeared on Canadian television alongside Saturday Night Live producer and fellow U of T alumnus Lorne Michaels (BA 1966 UC), on The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour, Pomerantz also wrote comedy for popular sketch programs in Hollywood.

Among Weinrib’s first queries to Pomerantz was whether he was surprised he got into law school.

“I was surprised Arnie, really. I was shocked because I had applied to dentistry. They let me into law school, I suppose, because I helped the students with their teeth for free,” joked Pomerantz, who quipped he settled for law school and sat “amongst the geniuses in my class”.  

Pomerantz said he avoided being called upon in class by sitting behind a student much taller than him. When asked by a professor:

"What do you think of the egg marketing board case? How do you feel about it?"

Pomerantz – admitting to the online reunion audience he had never read the case – said he replied:

"Well, I feel hungry, how do you feel about it? I missed breakfast!”

He then lamented, “The idea of picking on people who didn't read the cases is unfair. I mean, I had to watch The Tonight Show.”

Weinrib expressed surprise at Pomerantz’s success at finding an articling position. (By Pomerantz’s own admission, he wasn’t a top student, but did well enough.)

“Well it shouldn't puzzle you,” Pomerantz teased Weinrib. “I just phoned up and told them I was you.”

After articling, Pomerantz was recruited by Canadian producer to Bernie Ornstein, whom he met while working at a hotel in Toronto’s downtown waterfront, to write for the Phyllis Diller Show. While in Hollywood, he joined the writer’s pool for Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the most popular television show in the U.S. at the time.

He later appeared with Michaels on CBC’s The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour, and also, This Is the Law, which taught Canadians legal concepts while making them laugh.

Pomerantz says he was asked by Michaels, born Lipowitz, to help him with his legal name change.

“A star was born – and I created a mogul,” said Pomerantz in his comedic retelling of bringing the request before a judge. Pomerantz also had a successful legal career in criminal law, and later employment law.

Weinrib points to a parody case, Regina v. Ojibway (8 Criminal Law Quarterly 137, 1965-66), written Pomerantz and classmate Steve Breslin (LLB 1965) – whereby a pony “with a bird on its back must be deemed for the purposes of the [Small Birds Act] to be a bird” – has been reprinted innumerable times, including the Harvard Law Record, the Yale Law Journal and is still taught in law schools as 'statutory interpretation'. Pomerantz’s parodies about the lives of Freud and Einstein have also appeared in The New Yorker.

On cue and ready to take the stage at the start of what Pomerantz deemed to be one of his last ‘comedy sketches’, he sang:

“There’s no business, like show business.”

Watch The Funny Side