Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Biting The Hand That No Longer Feeds Me


I’m honored to hand over this space once again to a very special guest. Writer, comedian and comic troubadour Peter Wildman. A member of the legendary comedy group “The Frantics” a radio staple for years on CBC Radio before transferring to television with the series “4 On The Floor”.

In addition to bringing to life such comedy icons as Mr. Canoehead, infecting the country with the catch phrase “Boot to the Head” and songs like “Vagina Bound”, The Frantics Goon Show chaos spawned several comedy specials and mini-series.

Individually or in various combinations, working both before and behind the camera, “The Frantics” continue to find laughs on Canadian television through a long list of successful shows that include “Prisoners of Gravity”, “Puppets Who Kill” and “The Red Green Show”.

Peter continues to crack me up on a daily basis through the music and weirdness he contributes to Talk640 on the Corus radio network.

So what better guy to provide some insight into the current state of TV comedy in Canada.

Over to you, Peter:

With the TV season winding down, and production season firing back up, it’s time to pause and tend to the creative carnage around us and see what has survived and what didn’t. 

I don’t do a lot of drama.  I prefer comedy.  And at the risk of sounding  like an old comedy fart, I have to say It’s been a very disappointing year for TV comedy in Canada. 

It’s not for lack of effort.  There’s a lot of good people showing up to do a good job.  But I feel their struggle is in vain because of a larger issue not being addressed. 

This feels like about the right time to tell a story.  I have one, and it goes like this…

Many many years ago when “The Frantics” were in the midst of shooting “Four On The Floor”, I was hobnobbing with Don Ferguson of Air Farce.  I don’t know where I was hobnobbing, I just know I was hobnobbing and it felt good. 

There were a lot of people around, I was finely attired, as was Don (he always had a thing for Italian knits), the beer was free and there was food to be eaten.  While I was demolishing a chicken satay Don shared with me his theory on how to be successful in Canadian television.  

Of course at the time, I was a young comedy Turk, can’t say I appreciated what he was saying, but I can still remember it.  The gist of Don’s wisdom was this: “It’s got to play in Brandon”.  And as corny as that may sound there is a pantload of evidence to support it.  

“Corner Gas”, “Air Farce”, “The Beachcombers”, “Red Green”, “Tommy Hunter”, “Front Page Challenge”, these are not high concept shows.  I myself may have at some point in time even described some of them using the word “cheesy”.  Oh, I just remembered “Hymn Sing” and “Rita McNeil” too. 

Like it or not, these shows were watched and loved in smaller cities and towns from coast to coast.  Those numbers from Lethbridge, Maidstone and Peterborough add up. 

That’s where the Canadian audience is.  It’s not Queen Street West in Toronto, or Robson Ave in Vancouver.  It’s all them folks in the middle. Whether intentional or not, the latest crop of shows have made no attempt to play to them

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The numbers in for “Hiccups” would suggest that not many of the fine people in Yarmouth care about a life coach and an oddball children’s author.  And why would they?  It’s not something everyone can readily identify with. 

“Dan for Mayor” trips over itself trying to be clever.  It doesn’t need to be.  It’s a small town story, so play it as one.  I really want “Dan for Mayor” to work, but recently I was wondering if that bus from episode one might swing through town one more time and run over a couple more characters. 

And I know the horse is way out of the barn on this one, but I never could see the folks in 100 Mile House strapping themselves in for a weekly adventure of “Sophie”, the single Mom talent agent.  She’s a what?!?!?!

I’m not saying you have to spoon feed your audience, but you do need to know what’s going on in their world.  Comedy needs a certain amount of familiarity, and I’m just not seeing that in this year’s crop. 

The Kids in The Hall series “Death Comes to Town” I liked.  Unfortunately, the residents of Tweedsmuir didn’t agree with me.  The kids were at their outrageous best, going places that only the kids can go.  I especially liked the idea that there were only eight episodes. 

Which brings me to my second point. 

Is there a law somewhere that says we can have only one or two sitcoms at a time and these chosen few should carry the entire comedy burden of a nation?

I would much prefer to see more shows making fewer episodes.  We could cover the spectrum, from cheesy to edgy to kitsch.  And if a show does well, reward it with more episodes.  The ones that fail limp out of the room (along with the producers and executives), replaced by a fresh new idea. 

Of course, none of the above will change until we do something about the broadcasters…… but that’s a battle I’ll leave to the Legion of Decency. 

For now the comedy collective must regroup, retool, recast and recall the wise words of Don Ferguson.  I mean come on, how long was Air Farce around?  The guy knew what he was talking about. 

All comments on this post will be moderated by Peter Wildman.

1 comment:

The White Wolf said...

Oh God, you're right.

We have a middle America all over this bitch!

My father was a hard rock miner who's hobbies included drinking beer and smoking cigarettes and HE thought Air Farce was hilarious!

I loved him a lit bit less that day.

Have you checked out EAST BOUND AND DOWN yet?