COMEDY: Brent Butt ALMOST a movie star
The great thing about being a stand-up comic who gets a TV series is that you have a pretty sweet gig to fall back on once the series – inevitably – ends. A lot of comedy actors who try to be comedians after their television careers end aren’t so lucky. Ask Michael Richards.
Brent Butt is famous as the star and co-creator of the long-running CTV sitcom Corner Gas – as beloved a slice of wholesome Canadiana as the Beachcombers, for sure. He’s recently made his first foray into motion pictures, producing and starring in No Clue, a comedy detective mystery in theatres March 7. Meanwhile, he’s live and in person at the Winspear Centre on Saturday March 1 for a show he calls “Almost a Movie Star.” Wishful thinking or cautious optimism? You be the judge.
Q: If you could be any celebrity, other than yourself, who would it be and why?
A: Letterman around the start his NBC late show. I’ve always loved the idea of doing a talk show. It’s a great forum to interact, to think off the cuff, but also do prepared comedy. I’ve always been a fan of the form, Carson, Letterman, I think it’s an ideal format for a comic.
Q: What’s your best heckler story?
A: There was one night down at the Urban Well in Vancouver, and I used to do stand up on Tuesday nights. It was a real regular crowd, familiar atmosphere, very comic friendly. And one night there was a guy who had never been there before, and he heckled me about being fat. There was a Christina Aguilera song that was popular at the time, so I just started singing to him, “I am beautiful no matter what you say,” and the whole crowd joined in, “Words won’t bring me down!” And the look on the guy’s face when he realized he was one out of 150 and he picked the wrong place to heckle – it was great.
Q: A musical heckle comeback! Usually these stories are pretty nasty – comics getting beer bottles thrown at them …
A: When I started in the late ‘80s, there were horrible road gigs. I had a non-verbal heckle. A guy came up to the stage, pulled a bowie knife out and dragged it across his throat. I was beyond being scared. I responded, “Really? You’re going to kill me because you don’t think I’m funny? That doesn’t seem like kind of an overreaction to you?” … the club manager was really upset – because we didn’t do our full time.
Q: Do you have an old bit you were sad to let go?
A: I never really abandon anything. The Fabio bit is dated, but there are times people holler out for it, and I’m not above pulling it out if people want to see it. I never say never to anything.
Q: Is there such a thing as “too soon?”
A: It you can put an incredibly creative twist to a horrible thing that happened that afternoon, my hat’s off to you. But it’s a very difficult thing to do. I feel that there are no taboos. I just feel that certain subjects are incredibly difficult to get the crowd to laugh at. The problem with being a comic is that you often think something funny about something horrible – that’s just the way the comic mind works – but you can stop and say sometimes maybe we don’t need to hear that right now. It’s up to you if you want to take the risk of losing your Aflac gig.
Q: Do you think stand-up comedy has become more honest than it used to be?
A: Being honest has always been the role of the comic – from the court jester who was the only one allowed to tell the king the truth, and the king would often only learn about the public’s discontent about him through the jester’s jokes. But of course there’s also comedy just for the sake of comedy.
Q: Do you have to be a pessimist to be a good comic?
A: I’m a very optimistic person. I get mocked for my optimism, but I know that will stop.
Q: Why is that?
A: I’m just being optimistic about it.
(ENCORE PRESENTATION: A version of this article was originally published in June 2012)