"I remember having this thought to myself when I was 18: This is all just shit that I have to do because I can't just lay down and wait for a comedy club to open up. I have to do other things. But this is all just killing time till I can start doing standup."
– Brent Butt
Guy MacPherson: Exciting times for Brent Butt.
Brent Butt: It is. It’s some exciting times.
GM: The ‘Almost a Movie Star’ tour. Once you’re a movie star, we can’t be meeting in public places.
BB: Exactly. Once we determine what my net worth is… I can’t wait for that info to come out! Then we’ll go meet on a yacht or something.
GM: Did you watch the latest Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee?
BB: No. There’s a new batch now, eh?
GM: It’s fantastic. Louis C.K. And instead of going to a coffee shop, they go on Louis’ yacht.
BB: Now why the hell wouldn’t they go for coffee?
GM: He made coffee on the boat.
BB: I’m against that.
GM: And there was a cartoon!
BB: I’m against that. Why do you monkey around with something that’s working? Because somebody said we could get more people to watch this. I don’t know. The purity of it is what made it great. The whole idea is just two funny people talking. And that’s supposed to be enough. That’s the idea behind it.
GM: And big-name guests. Although this season they have Patton Oswalt and Todd Barry, who aren’t exactly household names.
BB: Todd Barry is one of the greats on Twitter. He busts me up on Twitter. Talking about how great he is and then participating in the trending topics in a glib, superficial way. And he usually twists them around to be about him.
GM: Back to you, though.
BB: Let’s talk more about how great Todd Barry is!
GM: Anyway, big tour coming up. Big movie. I saw the trailer. Loved it.
BB: Thank you. I’m very happy with the trailer. And I’m very happy with the response from the crowd when it had its premiere at the Whistler Film Festival. That was its World Premiere.
GM: So you were happy that the laughs came at the right places.
BB: Yeah, yeah. The laughs came early and often. I was happy with how it turned out but you don’t know really until it gets out in front of people. There were a couple scenes, even when I wrote the movie – because as you know I didn’t want to make a goofy, zany comedy; I wanted it to be realistic and I wanted it to be kinda dark and gritty like a real murder mystery, and it happens to be funny because of things my character says or he’s in over his head. But I didn’t want zany comedy. I didn’t want, like, the detective climbing up a ladder and it starts to go backwards. In my mind, that was the exact type of thing I could see in a detective comedy – and probably have seen in a detective comedy – and it was the perfect example of what I didn’t want my movie to be. So the result is I was happy throughout the scripting even, but there were a couple places where I thought the two are butting up against each other. Comedy and drama.
There were a couple situations where I wondered if one is going to kneecap the other. Like, is my character saying something funny in the middle of this serious situation going to take away the gravity of it? Or vice versa, is the gravity of the situation going to kneecap the joke so that one or neither works. Then when we shot it, I was happy with how it went. I thought it really worked. But again, you gotta get it up in front of people. You don’t know until it gets in front of people. They’re the ones who’ll tell you. One of the scenes specifically I was really waiting to see how it would work. And it was perfect. The scene was quiet because it was quite a tense scene, and everybody was hanging on it. My character says a funny thing, there’s a laugh, and then it stops and goes back to the seriousness of it. That was exactly what I’d hoped would happen. That was the exact response I wanted. So we were over the moon at the screening.
GM: Is a lot of it in editing and direction?
BB: It can always be ruined. Conversely, something that doesn’t seem that funny on the page can be made funnier. So yeah, it’s all got to sync up. In order for it to work really well, the best situations are when it’s there on the page, it gets shot well, it gets performed well, and gets edited properly.
GM: Were you in there for the editing process?
BB: It’s done in stages. The editor assembles it just as the editor sees it; no real input. I mean, there’s a few notes. When it’s being filmed, the director will say to the script supervisor after a take, “I like that take. Circle that take.” So the editor basically builds the movie as the editor thinks it should be, bearing in mind the notes from the director. But in terms of shots, you kind of let the editor do it. And that’s what you want from an editor. I generally find the best editors are editors. Directors are good at editing, and some producers and writers are good at editing, but editors are terrific editors. They’ve done it a lot. They have a real sense of flow. It’s not so much hands-off as you show me how you see it. We’ve given you all this material that we think is good and we think we’ve done our job so now we would love to see how you, a skilled editor, build the show.
And it’s really interesting because almost always the transitions are different than how you imagined. Often in your mind you imagine it in a very linear fashion. You imagine a wide establishing shot, a medium shot and then you go into some coverage. Especially if you’re writing it, you’re often just thinking in terms of what information do I have to get out. So when I do that I think of it in a very nuts and bolts kind of way. And then when you see the editor’s assembly, you go, ‘Oh, he started on the close-up of the hand! That’s great! If you’d given me ten years I wouldn’t have thought to start that way.’ So that’s what an editor brings to the table. So it’s done in stages. The editor assembles it. Then the director goes in and sits down with the editor and says, ‘Make the following changes. I think the scene is nice but needs to be faster. Or I really don’t like starting on the moving shot.’ So you make those changes. And then after that it’s my job to come in. Everybody has a different way of working and my thing is if you come in long, which you always do or always should, I don’t want anybody else taking material out of the project to make time. So let’s say we want the movie to be 100 minutes and it comes in at 130 minutes, at the editing stage and the directing stage, don’t remove any lines of dialogue to make it shorter. Make it as short as you can without removing material and then I’ll come in and decide.
GM: So they have those instructions.
BB: Yeah, I don’t want anybody pulling material. Outside of that, do whatever you can to make it as good as you can. I always love the editing process. And so much of it is built there. So much of the timing is built there. And if it’s not there on the day of the performance, that’s where you can tweak it and you can speed things up a little bit and find clever ways to remove information if a scene is dragging. So I don’t want people removing material but I’m happy with them offering suggestions. So they say, ‘I think this scene could possibly go.’ But I want to make that decision of what can and can’t go. So the editor does it, the director does it, then I do it. We all work with the editor because he runs the gear. He’s the guy working the machine.
GM: What are your titles? Star and executive producer?
BB: Generally speaking in the movie business, versus TV, you’re generally not an executive producer unless you’ve ponied up money. That’s the rule of thumb. And I didn’t pony up any money to do this. No actual cold, hard cash from me.
GM: So will it say anything else other than you as Leo?
BB: Yes. Producer. The producer in film is the person or people who get it done, make it happen; executive producers are kind of the money people.
GM: Through that whole post-production process, what did you learn that might have surprised you or was different from TV? How much different is being a movie star?
BB: The process is similar. The two TV shows, Corner Gas and Hiccups, that I did were single camera, so they were shot in a similar fashion. You gain information in a similar fashion. So the process is pretty similar. You can afford to take a bit more time with a movie. In our case, not a lot because we shot this thing in 20 days of filming. But the big difference for me was glaring. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. It didn’t feel right to me. The big difference to me was, in a TV series I wear a lot of hats: I write, I act, I edit, and sometimes I direct. So there is no break in the course of your day. For me, when you're in production, it's 17 hours from the time I get up. I'm eating while I'm working. There's no break. So you finish a take and now we're going to turn the camera around and you've got eight minutes. I run to my desk and I start working on the script that I have to finish that's coming up. Or I'll run to my desk and edit one that we did last week. There's never a time that I shouldn't be doing something. There's one episode then another is coming and another is finished. It's just on a chain, right? So in the movie, I wear the hats, but it's a one-off. All my writing has been done. Now I'm in the process of acting. And I'm not going to be editing until months after we finish filming. So to come to grips with the notion that when we're on a camera turn-around, I just sit here and...
BB: That's what I said: This is actually a Twitter break. This is what this is for. It took me three or four days.
GM: But you got used to that.
BB: I loved it. Having some time to kill, isn't that sweet?
GM: The movie's set in Vancouver. From TV and I guess standup, the general population knows you as a Saskatchewan guy. Is the movie your love letter to Vancouver?
BB: It is, in some ways. First of all because it's an awesome city. And so often it's not portrayed as itself. In fact, when the crew started asking what city it's supposed to be, and we said Vancouver, they said, 'Vancouver gets to be Vancouver?!' The crew was all excited about it because it doesn't happen that often. We don't hammer that home or anything. But you see the Vancouver skyline, you recognize it, you see the Lion's Gate Bridge.
GM: We might see that in other films but it's always supposed to be somewhere else.
BB: Yeah. It's just not hiding it as Vancouver, that's all. And there are little homages throughout. Like, you see a picture of a guy who's on his boat and the marina is the Urban Well. I had to come up with a name for a marina otherwise we'd have to get a licence from one of the existing marinas. I'd written it as False Creek Marina initially but then you gotta go through the process. And we didn't shoot in False Creek; we shot in another one. So it's easier to just make up a name. So Urban Well sounds like a good name.
GM: If you make more movies, this could be your Hitchcock thing: every movie would have an Urban Well in it.
BB: Yeah, exactly! That would be fun to do.
GM: Are your Saskatchewan peeps upset? I mean, I know you've been here 20 years.
BB: I don't think so. I mean, there are people in Saskatchewan who want me to just do everything all the time in Saskatchewan. But a) there's no tax credit systems and now there's no funding and lacking infrastructure because so many skilled people had to move where movies were being made. But other than that, Corner Gas took place in Saskatchewan, but that's why we shot it there – it was written to take place there. I don't have a desire to make every story in the same locale. Hiccups and No Clue were Vancouver-based because this is where my home is; it's very practical and handy. And it's beautiful. If you're working in a visual medium, it doesn't get any better than Vancouver. It's got everything you want. You see that a lot in No Clue, too. You see the beauty of Vancouver and then you see the gritty, back-alley, seedy... Because this is a film noir in a lot of ways. I mean, it's a film noir comedy and it's a contemporary movie. We're not trying to make an old movie, but those elements that make a film noir – less than pleasant people, dramatic lighting – those things are there.
GM: When does it open?
BB: March 6th in Vancouver and then March 7th in the rest of the country.
GM: What about the States?
BB: I don't know yet. We have a US distributor; we have an international distributor. The response at the Whistler Film Festival was strong enough that some things changed. We cut a 45-second teaser trailer to put in front of Anchor Man 2, so everywhere across Canada when you go see Anchor Man 2, you see a teaser trailer for No Clue, which is great because Koechner is in both. That was the thinking behind this. So the US distributor was up there and he came to me and said, "We should maybe talk about releasing this in northern States that get the TV bleed from Canada and who are familiar with your work on TV and maybe you could do some standup down in the northern States." He even thought maybe we should do something in March. But I don't know what's going to happen. That's up to them completely.
GM: Corner Gas was on the Super Station all over the States.
BB: Yeah, that's what I told him. And also a lot of people that have touched base with me from the States on Twitter are from southern States.
GM: Movies have changed. Now you've got Netflix and other means of getting it out there. Is the theatre still the preferred method?
BB: It's probably different for everybody, right? For me, I still love going to the theatre. It's an event. I don't think there's any better way to see it. If you have a great home theatre system, that could be pretty rocking. It's starting to compete with the theatre. But being in the theatre in the moment when the trailers start and all that stuff, to me that's still kind of exhilarating. And it's still different. It's still like I can't do this at home. I can do a smaller version of this at home but I can't do this at home. But for other people, they're like, "I don't like being in a room with other people. I don't like watching movies with a bunch of stupid people and somebody's got their phone out texting; their whole face is lit up." So there's people who prefer to watch it at home now. Shut-ins. Anti-social recluses. (laughs) But it's different for everybody. But the window of how long a movie's in the theatre before it's available on other platforms is shrinking all the time.
GM: That's why you've got to get them out on that first weekend?
GM: Even in Canada?
BB: Yeah, absolutely. Because the exhibitors book stuff in but they don't contract with Anchor Man 2 that they promise to have it in the theatre for three weeks because if the people don't come out... It's short-term and you adjust your schedule accordingly.
GM: So the standup tour you're doing, it'll get Brent Butt in people's minds. They'll OD on Brent Butt.
BB: Well, here's hoping they don't OD. The notion always was from the git-go, when I was pitching the idea of doing a movie, the fact that I'm also a live performer as a standup comic, I could go on tour to support the movie the way a band goes on tour to support an album. And that was something everybody could understand and wrap their head around. It's something you can't always do. A lot of your best actors in the world don't have any live performance experience. It's gotta be in a big theatre or something with a play. But to just go on the road by themselves with a microphone and a snappy tie and perform for an hour... So everybody got that. Everybody saw how that could potentially be something. So from the get-go, that was part of the machine.
GM: And it helps that you like doing it.
BB: Yeah. I don't necessarily like doing 20 different cities in a month. I haven't done that in a long time. That's a haul. I haven't done that since pre-Corner Gas days.
GM: Also, who booked this? Ontario, BC, Ontario, Nova Scotia, BC. Nova Scotia to BC in two days. Alberta-Manitoba-Alberta.
BB: Surely you've been around long enough to understand that the venues aren't sitting by the phone hoping Brent Butt calls. You say here's when I gotta do these shows, here's my window performing, what venues are available? So it doesn't make it easy. But there's always people, like yourself, who say, "But Edmonton's closer to Calgary than it is to Halifax, ya idiot." And you go, "Hey, I never thought of that! Geez!" So yeah, there's a ton of things that go into the logistics and the planning. And that's what the promoter does. That's their gig. They put it all together. They find venues in markets.
GM: Theatres all the way. I've seen you at the Vogue.
BB: Not for a long time. I was the very first live performer at the Vogue when it stopped being a movie house and became a live venue again. I opened for Kids in the Hall. So they were the first live act booked there. I was their opening act. It was 1993. I hadn't been in Vancouver very long. I'd just moved here. I used to do studio warm-up for them in Toronto when they taped when I lived there. So they were doing this tour and they were starting out west doing Victoria and Vancouver so they called me and said, "Hey, you're in Vancouver now, right? Would you open for us at the Vogue Theatre?"
GM: I moved to Vancouver in '93 and I saw that show. Who knew?
BB: I got a very nice write-up.
GM: It wasn't me.
BB: No. It was Dave Watson.
GM: Oh right. He passed away a few years ago.
BB: Geez, I didn't even know that! Good God.
GM: You've really rededicated yourself to standup. Is that accurate?
BB: I don't feel like there's been any time away from it for me.
GM: In a quantitative sense.
BB: I'm not a guy in the clubs every night like I used to be.
GM: But you're more so now than you were the last six or seven years.
BB: Yeah, because I'm here more now. And I don't have constant other duties. I'm going to be spending a lot of this month trying to pop up places, work on material for the tour and do five minutes here and there.
"I've had this little mantra: The enemy of comedy is conspicuous effort. You shouldn't see any effort. You know, a lot of things have to be done right but that effort shouldn't be conspicuous."
– Brent Butt
GM: When you started standup, it came so easily to you.
BB: Yeah, it felt like it came very naturally to me. I was able to get laughs early on.
GM: Coming back into it more now, is it as easy as it always was? Did it take a while to get your legs back?
BB: I don't get away from it that long that that much rust ever compiles. It's not like I'm hauling myself out of the basement after three years of having never done a show. It's never that. The longest it's ever gone in my life is maybe two months where I haven't done a standup show. There's a bit of ring rust in that time but it never takes long for it to bust off.
GM: Like within in the course of a performance?
BB: Yeah, usually. That's why it's nice to pop up and work on your material itself but also just being up in front of people with a mic in your hand, that's the gym, right?
GM: Sure. I've interviewed comics who say it's hard getting back after two weeks off. So when you started out, bam, you were in it all the time. Now you might do a show, take a couple months off.
BB: It was my whole life. It really was. From the time I decided to do standup when I was 12, I became fascinated with it.
GM: When you were what? Twelve?
BB: Twelve. Twelve is when I told mom I'm going to be a standup comedian. From that point on, I didn't have a lot of outlets but I searched for it whenever I could and watch it whenever I could. I started thinking about what my material would be. Even when I was out with buddies, I would be in my head formulating bits. If I said something funny that got a laugh, I would replay it in my head and be like, How could I get to that joke sooner? That was a long set-up. If I was going to perform what I just did with my buddies here, we can't have that big two-minute lead-up that got me to that joke. So how could I get to that joke quicker? I was workshopping in my head. I remember having this thought to myself when I was 18: This is all just killing time till I can do standup. I had other jobs and was doing other things but it was all like, This is all just shit that I have to do because I can't just lay down and wait for a comedy club to open up. I have to do other things. But this is all just killing time till I can start doing standup.
GM: So as you're formulating that in your head of how to get to the joke quicker, would you then go and try to bring the conversation around to a topic with other friends and get that joke in? Try it out?
BB: Yeah. I had a couple friends who knew that this is what I wanted to do so sometimes I would say to them, "Listen to this. What if I do this?" And they would listen and sometimes they'd laugh, sometimes they wouldn't. I'm sure for a lot of them there was kind of a notion that it's kind of a pipe dream you're chasing. It's like saying I'm going to be a rock star. Well, terrific. There's always that notion of, well who doesn't want to be a rock star? So for me, in this little rural community, to have this kind of... I think it was short of being an obsession but it was close to it. I mean, I thought about it all the time. I thought about standup, I told people. And I did it in high school at variety night, drama night.
GM: Did you do your own material?
BB: Yeah. For me, that just wouldn't have been any fun. Maybe it's why I write and create the TV and movie. Part of it is I'm more apt to hire myself than somebody else is. So it's partly out of necessity but for me I love to perform and I never want to get to a place where I'm not performing. But I get a big thrill out of seeing my idea come to fruition. I wrote a play in high school one time, too, that I wasn't in. I was in another play on variety night but I'd written this other one that other people put on. I remember going out that first night around to the back of the high school gym to watch it and it was such a thrill hearing someone doing the words that I came up with and hearing laughs. It was a thrill for me. But standup is those two things combines. It's the thrill of what you get from performing and the thrill of transferring your idea into the head of somebody else. It's a big thrill to me.
GM: Like giving somebody a tag, too.
BB: Yeah. So as far as standup goes, I've never had any interest in doing something that wasn't mine. I've had comics come up and give me a tag that's funny within the context of a bit that you've written. Proudlove or Beuhler or somebody will say, 'Hey, you know you can say such and such.' Give you an extra line. Fantastic. But I love that whole part of the creative community.
GM: Are you going to sneak into the back of the theatre when your movie's playing?
BB: Having gone through it in Whistler once – and I'm going to go see it here with people –
GM: And was it a little nerve-wracking? Because you didn't know how they'd react.
BB: Yeah, it was very nerve-wracking. The director, Carl Bessai, did an amazing job with this movie. I learned a lot watching this guy, who is a film maker, make this film. We were waiting in the wings. We were going to go out and speak and welcome everybody down and that kind of thing before the movie. We snuck down and were looking as people were coming into the theatre to see how it's filling up and stuff like that. He took this picture of me standing by the wings with the light coming in. To him, as a film maker, it was like, "What a great shot." So he just pulled out his phone and took it. You can see I'm concerned. Or I'm like, "How is this gonna go?" But also the sun's coming into the thing. When I saw it, it tells me a lot. It also tells me I gotta eat less and walk more. It's like a silhouette of Hitchcock. It's a horrible, physical condition. But you don't know how it's going to go. And you can't change anything. With standup, I can start doing a bit and it's not working, I can start changing something or I can go back even afterwards and go, okay, why didn't that work? Maybe I need to put this here. I can't fiddle around. The print is done. There's no changing anything now. If they hate it, it's just a thing that they hate out there in the world. There's no taking it back.
GM: Now you gotta think about – or maybe you don't – the goddamn critics.
BB: Yeah. Well, what are you gonna do, right? For me, you want the critics to like your stuff and you want them to say nice things and at the end of the day it strokes your ego and it also helps the business of making projects. So you want very much for the critics to like your stuff and say nice things about it. And it sounds kinda cliché-ish, but it's one of those things there's nothing you can do about it so there's not much sense worrying about it. The only thing you can do is really like what you've done. Then everything else is come what may. If what you wanted to make gets made, then come what may. That is what happened with No Clue. No Clue is better than I envisioned it. A big part of that is how Carl was able to do the things he did on not a huge budget. We had a good budget but it wasn't huge. And we were shooting in a small amount of time. And he was shooting with two cameras. I was calling him the Visual Aggregator. He has an ability to vacuum up all this amazing visual elements. When I watched the first set of dailies, that's when I was really impressed. I was like, I hope this doesn't look terrible. And because of the way Carl shoots, with the two cameras and it's real run-and-gun – he knows what he's doing – it's different from one camera in a controlled environment that you're very familiar with and you know the process: do this, do this, do this. And that's not what Carl was doing.
So for me, as the guy who was ultimately in charge of the final product, I've always been able to, no matter who was directing the thing, I knew what they were getting. So I could be on set in the scene and based on where the cameras were and what they were doing, I knew what they were getting. So in my head, I know what the options are going to be for editing. I would say to the director at the time that there's a shot I'm going to need in the edit that I don't have. We need to get this one thing. I've always been able to make an inventory as we're doing it. I know what the shots are: There's the two-shot; there's a single; there's a moving shot. We need a static of that, too, in case I need to cut from that to that. I can do the inventory in my head. But with Carl, I didn't know what he was getting. He was doing it in a different way than I've ever seen before.
GM: Is the two cameras something that's done with other directors?
BB: Yeah. More and more.
GM: Is that to get coverage?
BB: Yeah, you can get twice as much stuff in that time. Now and then on Corner Gas or Hiccups we would shoot with two cameras, but it was very rare. And even then it was such a big deal to do it we would sit down and go over everything: "Okay, what are you getting with the two cameras?" Well, Carl just knows what he's getting. We had many meetings ahead of shooting starting where we talked about tone and what we needed to get and specific gags that I felt had to be done this way. But I learned early on that what directors bring to the project is. You want that. You don't want just some guy standing there pretending to be a director and doing everything you say. You want a director who's going to make it better than you could imagine and come up with great stuff. And that's what Carl was doing.
The first day I looked at the dailies, I don't know if I actually squealed in the trailer by myself but I was so fucking over the moon I couldn't believe it. I was like pumping my fist in the trailer by myself because it looked like, just the raw footage untreated, looked as good as anything I'd ever seen anywhere. And the close-up coverage on people and the way Carl and our cinematographer, Jan Kiesser, worked the cool compositions and the dramatic lighting without being stark cartoony dramatic lighting. Very real but very dramatic. It looked so much better than the shit I had in my head, which was all very kind of static-y and it was all about the gag in my head. That's why I always knew we needed a film maker to make this movie not just somebody who says he's a director. We needed somebody who knew everything about making a movie. And Carl's one of those guys who's worked as a DP, he built stuff from scratch, he does other people's things. He's kind of done it all.
GM: Except for comedy, right?
BB: He hasn't done a lot of comedy but the great thing with No Clue was don't come in and make this a comedy movie. Make this a dramatic movie. And then there's this one guy that flows through who says funny things. But aside from a couple specific gags that have to be done a certain way, like when there's reveals or something, other than that forget that this is funny and make this dramatic murder mystery.
GM: That's what I thought was great about Corner Gas. You hired real actors and the writing took care of the funny.
BB: If the audience buys into the reality of what you're doing, anything that's incongruous is just so much funnier. So by hiring actors on Corner Gas, actors are able to make these people seem like real people. And they sell the situation and you buy it. You know people like this and it seems like a real thing. I've had this little mantra: The enemy of comedy is conspicuous effort. You shouldn't see any effort. You know, a lot of things have to be done right but that effort shouldn't be conspicuous.
GM: That's certainly your standup right there.
BB: Yeah. I mean, I try to make it seem as effortless and off-the-cuff and un-thought out as possible.
GM: Although there are other styles of comedy, like you mentioned Anchor Man, where it's not rooted in any kind of reality, or at least played a lot more obviously comedically and broad and over-the-top.
BB: Yeah, there's all kinds. There's Carry On movies... That's why I'm always fascinated with Rowan Atkinson because his two biggest were TV projects, Black Adder and Mr. Bean. Black Adder is all verbal language play. It's just a framework to have people say brilliantly crafted verbal jokes. That's all it is. And Mr. Bean, nobody says anything. It's all visual and physical. I was just fascinated that Rowan Atkinson could do these two extremes so well. One is a silent movie and one is a radio play, essentially.
GM: And there's Not the Nine O'Clock News, too, which he was really good in.
BB: Yeah, he's done a lot of things. A very talented dude. And I liked Johnny English a lot. Did you see the first Johnny English movie.
BB: I liked it a lot. I thought it was very funny. I remember Nancy saying one time, she likes it when a comedy says this is a comedy. It's kind of ballsy to go for it, to not hedge your bets with a dramedy. There's something that when somebody just goes for it and says this is either funny or it's nothing. I respect that.
GM: What did Nancy think of No Clue? I know she didn't read it ahead of time.
BB: Yeah, she went into it knowing nothing other than her minute-long scene that she's in.
GM: There's a mystery element to it. Was she able to figure it out?
BB: She said she didn't.
GM: But it all worked in her mind?
BB: Yeah. She seemed genuinely impressed in how it all came together. I sat beside her at the screening, which I thought about not doing but at the end of the day, what the hell.
GM: The optics wouldn't have been good. People would talk.
BB: But hearing her bust out laughing at some of the gags, there's nothing more gratifying. Because she doesn't laugh easily. Like most people who are gifted comedically, she doesn't laugh out loud that much because you often see it coming or you just kind of appreciate it as a craftsperson. And a couple of the gags that I really liked on paper and I thought we did well, I remember thinking, "I hope Nancy laughs at this." And hearing her laugh at it...
GM: In the trailer, there are drawings. Is that throughout the movie or just in the trailer and credits.
BB: No, just in the opening title sequence. Those are really lifted from the opening and closing title sequence. E1 liked those elements and they were trying to put a real kind of film noir trailer together so they put those elements in.
GM: You didn't draw them, did you?
GM: What are the differences in the acting between TV and movies?
BB: There were just things I've never had to deal with before: real emotions, fear, terror, sexual attraction. My character's legitimately in over his head in a real serious situation.
GM: Did you get help with the acting part?
BB: Not really. Sometimes the director'll come and we'll have a talk here or there. But I know who my character is and I know what the situation is. I did what I did and if it wasn't working, then the director would come and say maybe try this or that. But it was more of a stretch than I've ever had to do before.
GM: You compared your acting to Bob Hope's.
BB: I said with Bob Hope it didn't matter if he was an astronaut or a cowboy, you're getting that guy. And to some degree, that's kinda how I have been. Even with No Clue. But the thing is, that guy is put into much more dire, real situations with a lot more at stake. It's real and dire. There's real consequences if my character can't navigate the situation. There's real death and his could be one of them. And he's not good at this; he's not James Bond. He doesn't know what the situation is all the time. He's got to try and figure this out as he's in over his head. There's no learning curve for him. It's like, you've never had a moment's difficulty in your life and your life is on the line: go! That's kind of how it happens for him.
GM: He's a novelty salesman?
BB: Specialty advertising salesman. Basically his office is on the same floor as a private detective's office and a woman walks in the wrong place. And he knows the private detective is away and he wants to help. It's like, "I don't know where my brother is. Can you help me?" Alright. And before he realizes he's out of his depth, he's in over his head. So for him there's never that kind of 'hang on, this might be more than I can bite off.' I like to write with a question in mind and then you bring everything back to that whenever you can. And the question for this movie is, If you were thrown in the middle of the ocean, how far could you swim? You don't know how far you can swim until you have to find out. Like, if you're at Kits pool doing laps, you get tired and you quit. But I bet you get tired and you quit sooner than you would if you were in the ocean.
The notion behind the movie is you don't know how far you can swim until you get thrown in the ocean. In other words, you don't know what your abilities are until you get put into a situation where you have to find out. And that's kind of what happens with Leo. He's never done this kind of thing before. He's had a very safe, content, quiet, low-middle class/upper-lower class life. Safe. And within a matter of a small amount of time, he's just in it and there's no kind of 'I don't want to do this.' It doesn't matter; you're in. So how would a real-life person who wasn't Jason Bourne, somebody with no training, no background [react]? And kind of what we learned from this movie is he's maybe better at this than he would have given himself credit for.
GM: And therefore us, too?
BB: The notion is you might be better than you think you are at something if you've never tried it. It's kind of like that notion of all these people who went over to fight in World War II. Just farm kids and a guy from college who's studying to be an accountant, and the next thing you know they're in the shit, right? And some of them end up being incredible. Audie Murphy didn't know he could fly a plane better than anybody else and navigate the skies and shoot down the enemy better. He didn't know he was the best pilot in the world. He was just going about his business.
GM: And you named him Leo so you could get a Leo nomination?
BB: (chuckles) I just kinda liked the name Leo. You know, there's always a reason. My birth sign is Leo. It's also short. And it's a name that you're going to be typing a lot.
GM: Back to your standup. You're doing this theatre tour and working out at some clubs here and there. Just as there's a difference between TV and the movies, do you have to play it differently in the theatres than in clubs?
BB: The big change is the performance of it. I find you gear everything down a but just because you're filling a bigger space so you gotta take your time with it a bit more. So it's just like you gear down. There's club speed and there's theatre speed. The speed you go at performing for a thousand people is slower than 160 people.
GM: And that's something you just figured out by doing it?
BB: Yeah. The first time I played a really big room, and the first couple of gags didn't work that well, I knew right away why it was. I'm a little guy on a big stage in a huge room. It doesn't make sense for me to just be rattling this stuff off. It's a different pace. It's not 40 percent of what your club speed is. You just gotta take a little bit off. Partly because it's just got to travel. It's got to get out to them. Their laugh has to come back to you. It's a bigger space so just the physics of it mean gear down, take 10 percent off your performance speed.
GM: All things being equal, do you have a preference of venue?
BB: All things being equal, I think there's no better situation to do standup than a 200-seat club. Low ceiling, everybody's kind of tight to each other and it's dark. Anywhere between 150 and 250 in a tight room with a low ceiling is the best possible scenario. But having said that, I also love playing a theatre because it's a wash of laughs. It comes in like a giant wave. As a performer and as a standup, what you're doing is like what Seinfeld said: It's referred to as a monologue but it's very much a dialogue. It's just not words you're getting from the crowd but they're responding and they're reacting. You say something and they do something. And how they respond, it's like a conversation. Like, if I start talking politics and you drift off, if I have any sense of social capability, I'll be like, "Oh, he's not into politics." And we'll talk about something else. Or if I ask you how things are going in your marriage and you clam up, maybe we shouldn't talk about his marriage. So you get that with a crowd. So that's part of the fun of it, too.
In a theatre versus a club, that's when you can really start, because it's 10 percent or so sped down and it's coming in waves and everything's taking a bit more time and it becomes a bigger thing, you can really start playing with that time and start surfing it in a way. It kind of goes from boxing to surfing. Not that I've done either. I mean, I've been in a fistfight and almost drown by waves so I know when those things aren't going well!
GM: Who's opening for you?
BB: Different people in different regions. Ivan Decker's going to be opening my BC shows. Jamie Hutchinson will be opening the prairies, except Erica Sigurdson's coming to Regina. She'll play the casino shows with me. Graham Chittendon in Ontario and Nova Scotia.
GM: Did you get any good footage of your talk show you did in Victoria?
BB: Some great footage, yeah. We've actually hired a guy to piece it together. I'm going to be looking at it probably this week. It was kind of like take these five days and all this footage and build kind of a sizzle reel, basically. I'm not looking for five different shows, just great moments. It's one of the reasons I wore the same thing every night, so we could take great moments and make it look like one big show.
GM: A sizzle reel is kind of like a trailer to give to somebody who might want to produce it?
BB: Yeah. Make this look as exciting and appealing as possible. Partly for other people, partly for me, too. Make me want to watch this show, make me want to do this show.
GM: But it's not for public consumption.
BB: No. Probably not from those Victoria shows. Those were really for us to get this and see what it's like. You've known me long enough to know that I've always loved the idea of doing it.
GM: And Canada needs one.
BB: Yeah, we're ripe for it. There's no kind of late night entertainment show that's helmed by a funny guy. There's room for it, I think. But it's a helluva thing to do, especially if you're going to do it nightly, if it's not a once-a-week thing.
BB: Because you're doing an hour every day.
GM: But everybody does talk shows. In the States.
BB: No, not everybody does.
GM: It's doable.
BB: Oh, it's doable for sure. But here's my point: It's such a workload. Like, you don't see Letterman making movies. You don't see Jimmy Kimmel making movies. You don't see them doing other TV shows. They produce things but they have very little to do with it. They own the rights to it and make money from it. But if you're somebody like me who likes creating and doing, as much as I love the idea of doing a talk show – and I really, really do; for a long time it was the thing I wanted to do more than anything else. That was the end goal was to do a talk show.
But that was all pre-Corner Gas, pre-Hiccups, pre-No Clue. I love the process of doing all this stuff. So I don't want to get into a situation where I can't do this other stuff but I've been kicking around with some people who really know the logistics of production – because I don't; I know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to production logistics – so I'm talking with Laura, who works for my company, who knows everything there is to know about the logistics of putting a show together. Are there ways that we could do a talk show that would allow me to do other things. And it is potentially doable. It's a haul, though.
GM: I would imagine in Canada you wouldn't need to go year round. You could take three months off in the summer and put on repeats and you could do a movie or something like that.
BB: You would have to create a situation like that. But then you also have to seriously consider how much of you people want. You have to have a realistic sense of the appetite that people have for you. Do people want to see me every night on the show and then go see me do a movie, or is it going to be, "Jesus, shut up with this guy. Every time you turn around." I mean, if people started getting sick of Will Ferrell during the promos of Anchor Man 2, because he was everywhere doing everything. Like, I never thought I would ever hear anybody say, "Geez, I'm getting enough of this guy." And I heard it for Anchor Man 2.
GM: Oh did you? Good, because that's how I felt.
BB: Yeah. There's people who are big fans of his and think he's a genius: "Jesus, every time I turn around..."
GM: The way talk shows are now, it's more of a comedy show with the host as the star. When I was growing up, it was more of a talk show and you watched for the conversation. So there's that model to consider, how much to thrust yourself into it if you want to be doing other projects as well. But you should do it.
BB: I wouldn't mind taking a run at doing it. I still like the idea. I'm just more aware of the obligation now than I was before, having been in production for 15 years.
GM: And with Bullard, it seemed like nobody liked it, although I liked it. When you're on all the time, it's like anything, people are going to eventually start noticing what they don't like and start chipping away at it. I stumbled across it before I ever even heard about it. I'd never seen him before and I saw this ugly guy doing comedy in his monologue and thought, "Who's this? Canada has a talk show?" And I was sucked in. And then I excused the parts I didn't like because I came from a framework of liking it rather than immediately hating it.
BB: When you're out there that much all the time, any time you put yourself out there, you're volunteering to be critiqued. So if you're putting yourself out there all the time and every day, it's a lot of opportunity to say, "Hey, did you like this? What did you think of this?" It's a lot of that. And you're gonna screw up sometimes. You're going to do things that don't work that well. If you're asking people to find stuff about your show that they don't like, there's a lot of opportunity there. One of the things that makes it so amazing when people can do it consistently so well, like Letterman did and like Carson did and I think what like Jimmy Kimmel is doing now. It's very human and very real and there's a palpable sense of it could not work at any given time, and sometimes stuff doesn't work but the magic is making it work 90 percent of the time and those 10 percent failures will be charming in some capacity. That takes a special type of person.
GM: Those guys weren't needy, that may be it.
BB: Maybe. They're not begging for your approval all the time. They're like, "We're gonna do the best we can. We're gonna do this show but at the end of the day...". Yeah, I think that's a good point.
GM: I saw Wilmott in Victoria.
BB: Mike Wilmott.
GM: As he shuffled past me, I thought how is it possible that I'm older than that guy?
BB: (chuckles) There are times when he gives off an elder countenance, doesn't he? He lives large. He lives hard. He goes at it, man. Smoking, drinking, talking loud and eating bad food. He goes for it. And you can't not love the guy. From the time he was 20 he was kind of like your gruff drunken uncle. He's always had that kind of 'grab you and give you a noogy' kind of a big loveable, gruff... And it's so authentic with him, that's why it's worked for so long for him. As strong an act as he was at 25, at 45 he was stronger.
GM: He's grown into that guy. Was it harder to watch as a 20-year-old?
BB: No, it was never hard to watch. It always worked. Because it's authentic. It just keeps getting more and more authentic. The older he gets, the more authentic it becomes. I think when he's 65, he'll probably be right about at his peak, his zenith.
GM: Anything else we need to talk about?
BB: I don't know. Whatever we can do to get people down to the Vogue. It's a big room.
GM: How many does it hold?
BB: If you fill the balcony, I think it's over a thousand. The best live venues are ones that can be half full when you take the balcony away but it feels like a packed theatre. I think it's 700 on the main floor. Don't quote me on that. So it's a matter of getting a few hundred people out and having a good time. It's always the concern especially in big markets. There are options. And Patton Oswalt's going to be here [around that time]. So you start competing for comedy dollars, for that specific niche; not people who want music or people who want to see a play – people who want to see standup. Now you start fragmenting those people. And in some ways, if I'm Joe Guy you can see, or that you have seen... I mean, I was doing shows every Tuesday night, two shows, in town for six or seven years before going off to do Corner Gas.
So I was a guy you could come down and see for five bucks. You could watch him get drunk. What I'm hoping is that there's a translation from people who were in their 20s coming down to that show at the Urban Well are now in their 30s, have more disposable income and go, "We used to see that guy all the time down at the Well. Let's see the big theatre show." It's very different. You know what it was like in the old days. I would go up for two minutes in between acts. I'd be at least half in the bag.
GM: You've developed a lot of new material since then.
BB: Yeah. And I'm going to be out there for an hour, hour-and-fifteen. It's usually about an hour-and-fifteen that I do.
GM: Are you still taking questions from the audience?
BB: Sometimes. I think I will on this tour because it opens itself up to allow me to talk about the movie. But also it's always a lot of fun, that kind of Carol Burnett-y turn-the-houselights-up.
GM: At the Well, you weren't taking questions but there were lots of interactions.
BB: I was shooting the breeze with people, yeah. In that situation, where I'm doing two shows in front of the same crowd – so many of the people would be regulars – that there's no possible way you could churn out enough material for every show. So you have to rely on your ability to play around off the cuff and it's something that I've always been fairly adept at.
GM: And some aren't.
BB: Some are, some aren't.
GM: It's found material.
BB: Yeah. You're crafting on the fly.
GM: But there you were asking the questions; here you're getting asked the question.
BB: But it works well. I've always enjoyed doing it, as long as the questions come. Sometimes you say, "Okay, let's open up. Are there any questions?" and no questions. Then it's kind of weird. Okay, well let's shut the lights back down and I'll try and slide back into standup. That won't be too clunky! It's all very informal.
GM: You won't have a chance to relax before the movie opens.
BB: No, the tour ends March 4 and the movie opens here March 6. So what we're doing, all along this tour, anybody who comes to the live show venue, we're gonna do a draw. We're gonna fly two people from wherever to Vancouver for the red carpet screening.
GM: What if they're from here?
BB: One of the things I was thinking is maybe we can turn this into a positive, maybe we could open it up to the people of Vancouver and say in lieu of a flight to Vancouver, because you live here, what else could we do? I could come to your house and make you dinner. Or we could all go to the Keg. (laughs) Whatever the hell. Something else. We want to maybe get creative with it.
GM: So people from Vancouver are still eligible.
BB: Yes. It's still going to the red carpet premier and walk the red carpet and go to the party and all that kind of stuff. You will be invited.
GM: How do they enter?
BB: At the venue. When you're there, you enter your name. The way we're probably do it – and this still needs to be ironed out – that night we'll pick five from Edmonton, five from Lethbridge, five from Winnipeg. They go into one drum. We will let everybody know on that night. So if you're there at the Vancouver show or if you're there in Winnipeg or whatever, and we pull your name, you know if you're one of the people that's going in the final draw and be ready to get on a plane March 5th to come to Vancouver.
GM: So at your show, you will draw the five names.
BB: I believe I will be drawing the five names.
GM: So they know it's on the up-and-up.
BB: Yeah. It's happening right here and right now.
GM: This reminds me of when you told me about Corner Gas. It took years and then, there's that thing he was talking about. Then you were making the movie and there was a long wait for it to be released and now here it is.
BB: Now here it is, two months away and it'll be in theatres. It's exciting times. And hopefully it goes well enough they'll let me do another movie.
GM: Who's they?
BB: The people who decide who gets the money to make movies. You always gotta get money from sources.
GM: Don't you get three movies?
BB: I hope so. I like that idea.
GM: It says 'All Ages' for the tickets to your live show. I remember on my show you said one day you want to do a dirty show.
BB: Yeah, I don't know who decides that. That's never something that I put out there.
GM: They don't clear that with you?
BB: No, they just think he generally works clean. Somehow it comes down to that. And you want to sell as many tickets as you can. I said on Twitter the other day, somebody asked me about bringing their 7-year-old to my show. They basically said, "Should I bring my 7-year-old to your show or are you filthy?" There's a whole lot of reasons to not bring your 7-year-old to a show without filth. I tried to respond saying it's not about working blue, it's is your 7-year-old going to like politics or science or paying taxes? Is this going to entertain? They'll ask you if it's appropriate. I said I'm not Gwar but I'm not the Doodlebops.
Plus, I don't know your kid. Is your kid a moron? Is your kid super-smart? When you say 'family friendly', if you are an evangelical minister... I've had people come up to me upset because I said the word 'hell' and 'damn' in my act. Like, steamed! I got accused of blaspheming one time. I was like, blaspheming? What year is this that you expect to not hear somebody blaspheme? Where can I not hear any blaspheming? A live standup show! So I just never know what to tell people. I say I don't know. Are you going to be offended by what I do? I don't know. Maybe. I can't worry too much about it. What I think is safe is completely outrageous to somebody else and something that I'm on the fence about, I think Oh my God, is this maybe really on the borderline of filth, there's other people who think it's pablum. So I don't know. Answer your own goddamn questions! Take a leap.
I tried to say this to somebody else the other time: I said I doubt there's anything in my show that's going to scar your kid for life. It might make your kid ask you a couple questions. It's like that Louis C.K. bit about gay marriage. People are like, "What am I supposed to say to my kids?" We're not gonna pass laws because you don't want to talk to your fucking kid for two minutes. Sit down and talk to your goddamn kid for two minutes. "I don't know what to say to him." Scream it out. Tell him two people fell in love. Figure it out!
GM: You're the parent!
BB: Yeah, that's your job. Don't feel upset because something happened and now you gotta talk to your kid for two minutes. Your stupid fucking kid.