Memories Of A Royal Canadian Air Farce Intern (Part Three)

Between February 26th and March 22nd, 1996, The Royal Canadian Air Farce produced four original shows for CBC Television.  For the record, these were episodes 16, 17, 18 and 19 of the third season.  Let’s begin with episode 16 which debuted on Friday, March 1st at 7:30 p.m.
On Monday, February 26th, there were ten proposed sketches in the original script.  By Tuesday the 27th, there were nine.  (Sadly, I don’t remember what was cut.)  Of the remaining sketches still in contention, eight required varying degrees of revision.  In fact, even more changes were made for the third draft.
One sketch would be filmed in front of two live audiences on Thursday the 29th (Leap Day) but was ultimately deleted from the episode.  It was called The Separatists Antiques Road Show, a goof on the original British series.  John Morgan was cast as Tarquin Snavelly (what a name), a “know-it-all” antiques expert who’s terribly clumsy.  Early on, there’s a gag involving an extremely valuable vase that “the King of France presented to Samuel de Champlain before his historic voyage to establish a colony in the New World”.  Unsurprisingly, but humourously, he drops the damn thing while explaining its importance.  During an on-set rehearsal on Wednesday, February 28th, I learned that the cheap prop that John was planning to drop wouldn’t break.  That was on purpose.  All that was needed was a well-timed effect to re-create the sound of breaking glass.  It didn’t take long to get the timing right for taping day.  I wonder if anyone in the audience noticed that it didn’t actually break.
Immediately afterwards, John announces a commercial break.  What followed was quite brilliant.
Around that time, McDonald’s had this ad involving a baby rocking in a swing of some sort by a window.  One moment, the kid would be giggling and smiling, the next, there would be tears.  What’s the problem?  Those damn Golden Arches which the baby can only see briefly.  Seeing them brings out those joyful feelings.  The tag line at the end was “You deserve a break today.”, a famous slogan that’s long since been discarded.
For the parody that was inserted into the Road Show sketch, Luba Goy was cast as the baby.  (Luba really does have a babyface so it was inspired casting.  The outfit she wore for the bit was too much.) An adult size swing was made as well as a set that resembled the one in the real commercial.  I remember walking into the boardroom as Director Perry Rosemond and some of his crew were going through the McDonald’s ad that had been taped on VHS.  They were concerned about getting the look and the camera angles just right.  They would go back and forth watching the ad until they were satisfied.  (By the way, in the second draft of the script, there was an alternate idea to superimpose Luba’s face onto “existing footage” of a real baby but that was never attempted.)
The fake ad was filmed on Wednesday, February 28th for one important reason.  Luba was actually playing another character in the Road Show portion of the skit.  Plus, because it can take several minutes to change sets before taping resumes on show day, the comic momentum would be instantaneously lost.  Not good.
Instead of crying over not seeing the Golden Arches in the distance outside her window, Luba was crying about seeing then-Bloc Quebecois Leader Lucien Bouchard’s head on a stick.  (It was the real guy’s face, probably cut out from a magazine, not Don Ferguson’s.  He imitated him quite frequently on the show.)  In the second draft of the script, Don was going to sing this tag line at the end:  “Canada, don’t you have your break today.”, which wasn’t the original joke.  That was later scrapped in favour of Roger Abbott saying simply, “Canada, you don’t deserve a break today.”.  Get it?
Why was The Separatists Antiques Road Show sketch dropped from episode 16?  The show was running long and it was cut purely for time.  (More on this later.)
One of the more popular recurring skits on the show is News From Away with Jimmy & Seamus O’Toole, featuring Roger and Don as two Newfie anchormen in rain gear.  At the end of every sketch they would do a song based on their last news item.  They would always sing the same tune but with different lyrics each time, naturally.  On the March 1st show, they did a riff on the declining sperm count of Scottish men:
“Ohhhhhh, the…Scots’ sperm count is dropping right some good.  The Scots’ sperm count is dropping right some good.  There’s trouble way down there/’Cause they’s gots tight underwear-r-r-r-r.  Oh, the Scots’ sperm count is dropping right some good.”
Lines three and four were a second draft revision.
Other memorable sketches included a goof on Sally Struthers (“There’s nothing sadder than an inspector who is denied the right to inspect his meat.”), John Morgan’s Scottish ranter, Jock McBile, sounding off on the government screwing around with pensions (“Och, get stuffed!”) and Saddam Hussein (Roger) holding a press conference denying his culpability regarding the assassinations of two of his sons-in-law (“As for the way they were gunned down – we intend to search for their killers and we have invited O.J. Simpson to come and help us.”).
And there was also this.  Preston Manning’s Reform Party and Michel Gauthier’s Bloc Quebecois both had 52 seats in the House of Commons in 1996.  (The latter had initially won 54 in the 1993 election.)  The writers came up with a bit where Manning (Don doing one of his best characters) tries to take the seat of Gauthier (Roger), The Leader Of The Opposition.  It was the only sketch that week that didn’t require any changes.  Incredible.
During the first rehearsal in Studio 42 on Wednesday the 28th, where the show is taped, I was sitting in the bleachers admiring the Parliament set when I was suddenly asked to be an extra.  Two visitors to the set, a guy and a gal, also sat in while Don and Roger did their thing.  We were told to just pretend we were MPs quietly observing the shenangians between Manning and Gauthier.  This gave Director Perry Richmond a sense of how the scene was going to play during the taping.  (Real extras were hired for show night.)
At some point, Don did something very cool.  He got someone to take Polaroids of all five of us sitting there on the set.  If memory serves, three pics were snapped, one for each of the visitors (who I never saw again) and one for me.  As you can see, both Don and I have the exact same expression on our faces.  I like to think of it as two comedic geniuses sharing a moment of synchronicity.  It’s one of my treasured possessions from my internship.
The day episode 16 aired (Friday, March 1st), Gord Holtam, Rick Olsen and John Morgan were already busy working on the next batch of sketches for episode 17.  Over a million people watched the first airing, a routine occurrence during my internship.  Everything went fairly smoothly for that program.  Despite the constant tinkering, the show was funny. 
Coming up, the mistake that haunts me to this day.
(Special thanks to Rob Kerr.)
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, November 3, 2008
7:31 p.m.
Published in: on November 3, 2008 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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