SCTV: Cast List Of The Canadian 'Saturday Night Live'
Andrea Martin, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Martin Short, and Eugene Levy. Source: Toronto Star
The Canadian comedy show SCTV gave us John Candy, Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara Eugene Levy and others -- while it wasn't exactly Saturday Night Live, it was certainly an incubator for major comic talents. While SNL birthed comic comets like John Belushi and Bill Murray, our neighbors to the north were creating their own brand of off-the-wall laughs with quirky original characters that included Bob and Doug Mackenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) and Ed Grimley (Martin Short), as well as a host of impersonated celebrities, such as Julia Child (played by John Candy) and Elizabeth Taylor (Catherine O'Hara).
Believe it or not, the roots of comic genius run deep in Canada. In the country most known for maple syrup and hockey, sketch comedy icons like Super Dave Osborne and Mike Myers got some of their earliest breaks. SCTV, which stands for Second City Television, began in 1976, derived from the comedy and improv troupe Second City. Founded in Chicago in the '50s, Second City opened a Toronto branch in 1973. Second City's Chicago group became famous for grooming performers for Saturday Night Live (which premiered in 1975), while the Toronto theater fed SCTV.
When producer Andrew Alexander got the band of seminal comedy actors together, he pitched a show centered around the programming of the world’s smallest TV station. The idea allowed the group unlimited choices of characters, sketches, and funny concepts set in the fictional tiny town of Melonville. With a blank slate to which they could paint their endless imaginations, the hall of fame cast of funny people went to work.
"Don't touch that dial! Don't touch that one either! And stop touching yourself! SCTV is on the air!" Like many of the SCTV cast, John Candy went on to major movie stardom. From Uncle Buck to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, the burly Canadian turned in numerous hilarious performances before his untimely death in 1994 at the age of 43.
Some of his SCTV masterpieces include TV host “Johnny LaRue,” “Doctor Tongue,” and “Yosh Shmenge.” His numerous dead-on celebrity impersonations allowed for SCTV’s infamous celebrity skewerings. During an early writing retreat, Candy kept Chevy Chase in a headlock for 90 minutes. Now that’s comedy!
Famous for his roles as the quirky dad from American Pie, various characters in Christopher Guest movies, and the patriarch of Schitt's Creek, Eugene Levy built his comic foundation at SCTV. “The ground rules we learned in Second City were the kind you carry with you throughout your career," he explained. "Rules like, always work at the top of your intelligence level. Am I writing this as smart as I can write it? Never think you’re smarter than your audience. There was no better education in the world when it came to that kind of comedy.”
Despite being a stage actor with zero improv experience, Martin fit right in with the SCTV cast. Her most famous character from the show was the leopard-print-wearing station manager, Edith Prickley. That outrageous character netted her and the show a pair of Emmys. She also fired off amazing impersonations of Barbra Streisand, Patti Smith, and Mother Teresa.
Moranis was the only member of SCTV who hadn’t been a part of the Second City comedy group. Nevertheless, his contributions to the show were outsized. From Woody Allen to John McEnroe, Moranis owned the widest variety of celebrity spoofs. Whether it was Dick Cavett or Brent Musburger, there wasn’t a celebrity Moranis couldn’t flip on their head. However, perhaps his most well-known bit, the Mackenzie Brothers, came as a response to producers’ continual demand for Canadian content.
As O’Hara would put it, “When in doubt, play insane. Because you didn’t have to excuse anything that came out of your mouth. It didn’t have to make sense.” Funnily enough, when O’Hara first auditioned for Second City, she got a job as a waitress in the theatre. Eventually, she got to know the group and even briefly dated Eugene Levy before becoming an integral part of the cast. Like Levy, O'Hara became a fixture in Christopher Guest's mockumentary comedies, and won praise for her performance on Schitt's Creek.
The late Harold Ramis was one of the architects of the new movie comedy that grew from SCTV and Saturday Night Live. Ramis co-wrote Animal House, Stripes, Meatballs, Caddyshack, and Ghostbusters, directing those last two as well. Ramis got his start as a writer and actor on SCTV, where one of his most famous recurring bits was “Dialing for Dollars,” hosted by Moe Green. In it, Ramis played a TV game host who will do anything to avoid giving away any money. Ramis also created yoga instruction with Swami Bananananda, who said "If my brain was connected to my body, I’d be in great pain right now…fortunately, it’s not." Seems timely today.
Short’s run on SCTV only lasted a few episodes between ‘82 and ‘83, but his comedy has persisted for decades. That’s probably because many of his beloved characters from his SNL days actually started in Canada like Jiminy Glick or Jackie Rogers Jr. The ever-popular “half-wits” skit, which features the dumbest game show contestants in history, was an even more stupid version of SCTV’s “High Q” sketch. Short’s considered one of the great SNL cast members of the mid-'80s, but that may never have happened without SCTV.
The yin to Moranis’ yang, Thomas was instrumental in creating the Mackenzie brothers, calling it “A mean-spirited joke to mock the incessant demands for Canadian content programming.”
His use of “hoser” set the template for creating the classic Canuck stereotype. Of course, like most great creations, it was mostly by accident. “You can never really predict what the audience is going to embrace, If we had tried to create something that we thought the audience was going to love, we probably would have failed miserably."
Thomas also believes Canadian geography lends itself to comedy. "I always thought of it metaphorically that it is a fact that 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border. And I always pictured it in my mind like bleachers lined up along the US border, eating popcorn and watching the crazy show that goes on down south. I think that gives Canadians a kind of objectivity of humor that lends itself particularly well to satire."
Like Martin Short, Rosato started on SCTV but made the transition to SNL. As he put it, “I was proud to be in both camps. Wow! What an education.” As a youth, he was labeled the next “John Belushi.” He even played Belushi in an SCTV spoof of SNL. While Rosato never quite reached those heights, the Italian-born comedian created unforgettable characters like Marcello, the worst TV chef in history. He also took a circuitous route to fame, “I'd done five TV series, and I still wanted to be a better actor, so I took every bit role in every Canadian movie I saw. You know what a rich path to stardom that is.”
Joe Flaherty might not be a household name today, but he was a major presence on SCTV. Fans of the show will never forget his Count Floyd, occasionally disabled station owner Guy Caballero, and talk show host Sammy Maudlin. Echoing the sentiment of Levy, Flaherty saw SCTV as a smarter sketch show: “That was sort of the 'Second City' approach, which was to try to be intelligent and assume your audience is intelligent. We were influenced by Monty Python, too, which would have philosophers in a wrestling match.”
Still, Flaherty didn’t let smart get in the way of funny, “The Count wasn't a real stretch. I was doing pretty generic Bela Lugosi bad vampire on purpose. It was supposed to be lame. I didn't put fangs on; it was a guy who was just going through the motions. I drew on the widow's peak with eyebrow pencil and wore a turtleneck, not a tux.
Duke was another of the SCTV cast members who went on to do SNL. She joined SCTV with O’Hara and actually replaced her on SNL when O’Hara returned to SCTV at the last minute. She’s most known for Wendy Whiner, who along with Joe Piscopo created the most annoying couple in history. She has also continued working with O’Hara and Levy on the hit show, Schitt’s Creek.
Tags: Andrea Martin | Canada | Catherine OHara | Dave Thomas | Eugene Levy | Harold Ramis | Joe Flaherty | John Candy | Rick Moranis | Robin Duke | SCTV
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