BY ISABELLA BOURQUE
I recently got to sit down (on the phone) with the star and creator of Corner Gas, Canadian comedian Brent Butt, to ask him a few questions before he comes on down to Camrose for his stand-up show March 19.
Butt is originally from Saskatchewan and, for those who may not know, he based his hit TV show on a fictional farming town in Saskatchewan, named Dog River. The show skyrocketed to the number one show in Canada and the United States, averaging one million views per episode, and still remains in the top 10 of the Greatest Canadian Television shows in history.
The first question I wanted answered was where Butt got his start to comedy.
“I started in comedy pretty [the] standard route, really. I started on an amateur night at a comedy club back in 1988. The comedy club [was] in Saskatoon and just kind of, you know, [I] started going there every week doing amateur night … it was going well and so then they invited me to do some spots on the weekend. [T]hen I got invited to do some shows out of town. Next thing you know, I was getting paid to be a working stand-up comedian. Although … technically the first time I did stand-up, I did it twice in high school like a variety night drama night kind of thing. And that went well, it encouraged me enough to take the next step and that was to try it at a club for strangers that I didn’t know.”
I then asked Butt how it was like going from rural Saskatchewan to the big screen.
“It was a very gradual build. I went from Tisdale, Saskatchewan to Calgary, Calgary to Toronto, then Toronto to Los Angeles for about six months. I’ve been living in Vancouver now for 25 years. So, for me it was a gradual step-by-step. When the opportunity came along to do Corner Gas, I had done an hour-long special on Comedy Now on The Comedy Network and I got nominated for a Gemini Award for best comedy performance and I think that kind of put me on the radar of the network to see if I had any TV show ideas.”
With that, I was curious as to how his recent project of turning the live-action Corner Gas series into an animated series.
“The response to season one was amazing; the biggest debut in Comedy Network history and highest rated show on the Comedy Network. So, the response from the people is great. None of us knew if it would be able to translate or if people would want to see it because you’re dealing with a product that people know, and in a lot of cases, people know it and love it. People have really strong feelings about Corner Gas[and] there’s always a risk that people are not going to want the new incarnation of it.”
Then I asked Butt if he had any other new and exciting projects he’d been working on recently, and where he gets his inspiration.
“Just writing scripts and writing a feature film right now that I want to try and get produced. Inspiration [is] all over the place that could really come from anywhere. You know, just as a stand-up you kind of train yourself; your eyes and ears pick up things that could become bits in your act. I always used to carry little pad and paper around with me. I use my phone more now to record thoughts and ideas, but that’s just kind of you know, you go throughout your day, you see something that twigs a thought or sometimes you just have a thought out of the blue. Sometimes you’re working on one thing and it triggers a whole different idea. You just kind of make note of those thoughts and then you have to find time to sit down and actually try and flush them out. And then if it’s stand-up material, I tend to go down to a club somewhere, and just go up on stage unannounced and see if I can work out five or seven minutes of new material.”
I was curious as to where Canadian comedies are headed or if it has changed much since Butt started in the industry.
“Yeah, I think there’s a lot more opportunities to create television now in the industry. You know, when I first started out, it was it was difficult to get any network executive interested in any Canadian project because it’s just, you know, it’s an expensive endeavor. It’s much easier and cheaper to buy American programs that are already made but they all have a mandate: they have to do some Canadian programming, thankfully. When I first started out, it was really hard to get the network’s attention, any network – they just weren’t interested. But I [talked to] Mark McKinney from the Kids in the Hall. He said Canadian television will always be divided between pre-Corner Gas and post-Corner Gas because Corner Gas is the number one comedy on TV, U.S. or Canadian. We grew higher than any of the U.S. shows so that kind of opened eyes from TV executives and the notion was, ‘Oh, maybe we can have homegrown shows that actually do well and draw an audience.’ It seems like there are a lot more executives [who] are much more open to hearing Canadian pitches and producing Canadian shows.”
Finally, I talked to Butt about his upcoming trip to Camrose to perform in the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre and what we can expect from that.
“Expect a balding guy talking. Yeah, I mean, it’s just me doing stand-up. One of the things that I love about stand-up is when I’m waiting in the wings ready to go on stage and you know, I kind of know the first couple of bits that I’m going to do, but from that point on it’s a feeling out process and you start adjusting your material based on how the crowd is responding to it. It changes show to show because I don’t always know what bits I’m going to do in what order and that makes it very fun for me.”
Butt will be in Camrose to perform a stand-up comedy show at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre March 19. Tickets are $48.50 and can be purchased from the Lougheed Performing Arts Centre at their Box Office or online at http://www.camroselive.ca.