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

At the start of my second week interning for The Royal Canadian Air Farce TV show at CBC, Line Producer Laura Buchanan handed me two sheets of paper.  One laid out my daily duties, and the other, my general tasks for the rest of my placement.  Besides continuing to recycle everybody’s blue boxes, keeping the two Xerox machines and the printer well stocked with paper, labelling and organizing photos, dubbing past shows onto VHS, handing CBC employees VIP tickets for taping days on Wednesdays, wheeling in and out all those chairs for Tuesday’s production meeting, and getting drinks and lunches for the people in the edit suite on Fridays, there was even more for me to do.
There was a tiny refrigerator in the boardroom which always needed to be filled with drinks.  In the supply room, there were tons of fruit juice, bottled water and Diet Coke just waiting to get cool.  It was a fairly straightforward job.  Grab what you need, move the cold stuff already in the fridge to the front, and put the new stuff at the back.  Gord Holtam & Rick Olsen, two of the writers, complained about their precious Diet Coke being moved to the boardroom fridge but nobody told me beforehand that it was theirs.  After they griped, I never touched their stuff again.
On Thursdays, Program Assistant Rob Lindsay (who looked like Jay Sherman and sounded like Michael Andretti) asked me to help him out with a couple of things.  First, we needed to set up a “ticket pick-up” area in CBC’s atrium where the audience could receive their free, reserved tickets for the tapings.  There was this Air Farce sign on wheels that we simply moved to an appropriate spot.  (This was the first thing I saw upon my arrival at the CBC building back on February 26th.)  On Fridays, we moved it back to its normal location.
Finally, there was Sheila the caterer.  Rob and I would help her wheel in all the food that the cast and crew were going to eat during taping days.  There were about two or three of these carts that were just loaded with food.  We used the service elevator since there was a lot more room.
I’ll never forget what happened on one such Thursday.  Rob and I were at the service elevator when we both realized that it wasn’t turned on.  You needed to use a special key to get it to run.  Rob told me to wait right there while he went to grab a security guy.  As I waited, Daniel Richler walked by me.  If you ever watched The New Music, which aired on CITY-TV in the old days, you’ll remember that he used to be a journalist on the show.  (He’s also the son of the late, celebrated author Mordecai Richler.)  At some point during my college days, I discovered that I could do a silly trumpet impression.  It just so happened that the original theme for The New Music was a song called Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag by this band Pigbag.  (They were a one-hit wonder.)  Anyway, that song is an instrumental that features, you guessed it, trumpets.  So, as he passes me by, I start trumpeting Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag.  He didn’t stop, he didn’t look at me, he didn’t say a word.  He just kept walking.  Either he couldn’t hear what I was doing (I wasn’t trumpeting softly) or he did hear and simply chose to ignore me.  How I would love to know what he was thinking in that moment.
It was during that second week that the cast and crew were busy preparing the sketches for episode 17.  I don’t remember how many there were in the first draft.  But what I do remember is that there were fewer taped for this show than for the previous one.  One such sketch features a mistake that has bothered me for over a decade.
In 1996, CBC Newsworld’s technical workers walked off the job which meant CBC talent wouldn’t cross the picket line.  That inspired a very funny sketch entitled “Screwed Up Newsworld”.  John Morgan was cast as a very nervous Newsworld executive trying to conduct interviews with three guests simultaneously.  The running gag of the bit was very simple.  He would ask a question that would be directed to the wrong person.  Roger Abbott played Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Don Ferguson was Prince Charles and Luba Goy portrayed Nora Frumley, “a leading authority in the field of the dissemination of sperm”, according to the second draft of the script.  This was the second week in a row that an Air Farce sketch featured a sperm gag, by the way.
At some point during that week I got a call from Wayne Testori, one of the Program Co-ordinators.  The writers wanted to make a joke about the recent settlement Princess Diana received from her soon-to-be-ex-husband Prince Charles.  (They announced their separation in 1992 and would be officially divorced later that August.) Wayne told me that they weren’t sure what the actual amount was so he asked me to make a trip to the print library, find out the right number and call him back.
Shortly thereafter, I found the answer in a Globe & Mail article:  $50 million American dollars.  I dutifully gave Wayne the answer over the phone and went back to my regular duties.
Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication.  He thought I said 15 million.  (At least, that’s what I think happened.)  According to my copy of the second draft of that sketch, however, that number was already in there.  I’m not certain now what day it was that I was asked to look up the settlement number.  All I remember is that when I saw the show air on CBC on Friday, March 8, I was mortified.  (I must not have noticed the error on taping day.)  Whether I misspoke and said 15 by accident or they mistook 50 for 15, who knows.  What I do know is that every time I see the sketch, I’m reminded of the mistake and it bothers me.
That being said, it did inspire one of the biggest laughs of that episode.  John is asking Prince Charles about the settlement.  When he tells him how much she got, John replies, “Fifteen million.  That is quite a load isn’t it?”  Unfortunately, Charles doesn’t get a chance to answer.  It’s Nora the sperm scientist who responds, “Well no.  That’s below average.  It’s usually about 30 million.”
Gilbert Smythe Bite-Me was Roger at his most acerbic.  Because the Juno Awards were coming up, his Critic-At-Large character offered his picks and pans for the upcoming ceremony.  At the time, the actual Juno Award wasn’t all that glamourous.  Gilbert quipped that it was a “big plastic spike”.  (It really was.)  I wonder now if this had any bearing on the trophy eventually being changed.  That would be hilarious if that were the case.
Particularly amusing was this comedic dart:  “This year, the awards are being hosted in the one city that epitomizes the artistic and creative brilliance of this country, Hamilton, Ontario.  They were going to hold it in Guelph, but they didn’t want to conflict with the annual Cow Show.”  It still makes me laugh.
In between Gilbert’s harsh but funny criticisms were quick cameo appearances by Luba (Margaret Atwood and Rita MacNeil), Roger (Blind Willy Feldman) and Don (Neil Young).  All of them had to be taped on Wednesday, March 7th (that meant lots of tricky cutting between Gilbert on set and all those pre-tape segments on show day), including another cameo featuring the Three Tenors.
In the original script, Luciano Pavarotti (Roger) and Placido Domingo (Don), in that order, sing “Hallelujah Hallelujah” one at a time from the Hallelujah chorus.  As soon as Don finishes singing, John Morgan says, “I’m Mike from Canmore.”  Before they taped the segment on the 7th, Director Perry Rosemond came out to the set to witness a rehearsal before they rolled tape.  During the singing part of the bit, Roger does his line, then Don.  Then, without warning, John decided to sing “I’m Mike from Canmore!”.  Perry cracked up over it (as did I; I was sitting in the bleachers watching at the time) and insisted John do it like that again for the real take.  Because it was so unexpected, it was never funnier than in that moment.  When I watched the finished show on CBC, it just wasn’t the same.  It was neat seeing an ad-lib like that live and in person the first time.
Also on that show was Dave Broadfoot, one of the founding members of The Farce who came back from time to time to do some stand-up.  (He was the only guest star who appeared on the show during my internship.)  I didn’t get much of a chance to speak with him but he seemed like a nice man.  No one ever spoke ill of him or anything.
During a rehearsal for a skit featuring the recurring character, Roy Earle, The Inept Carpenter, I learned that acting with a patch over your eye can be tricky.  Don Ferguson complained that it was messing with his depth perception.  He was a trooper, though.  He managed not to hurt himself during the sketch.
In Part Three of this series I talked about The Separatists Antiques Road Show sketch which was rejected for the March 1st episode.  Within the sketch was a parody of a McDonald’s ad that featured Luba Goy as a baby freaking out whenever she sees Lucian Bouchard’s head on a stick just outside her window.  It was decided that the bit was strong enough on its own to get aired on March 8th.  It would not be the only time it aired, either.
Coming up, a look at episodes 18 and 19 of the third season.  Plus, how not to respond to email and how I annoyed one of the Program Co-ordinators.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
7:54 p.m.
Published in: on November 4, 2008 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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