Former ‘SCTV’ star Dave Thomas on how ‘comedy’s changed’

TORONTO — It’s not hard to track down many of the former stars of “SCTV” — Martin Short is a perennial favourite on the theatre and talk show circuits, Andrea Martin is a Broadway and network star, and Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara have found cross-border success with CBC-TV’s comedy “Schitt’s Creek.”

Dave Thomas, however, has been harder to find.

The wise-cracking hoser is still in show business, but primarily behind the scenes, most recently penning scripts for network dramas including “Bones” and “The Blacklist.”

It’s not such a left turn, he insists, after roles on “Grace Under Fire,” “Arrested Development” and “How I Met Your Mother.”

“The idea of moving onto drama was not like, ‘Oh man, that’s like such a shocker,’” says Thomas, who says he’s written both drama and comedy throughout his entertainment career.

“For me, the writing was always something that I enjoyed more than the performing. I get more satisfaction out of it.”

Still, Thomas remains best known as one half of “SCTV“‘s hoser brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie, whose uniquely Canuck insults and beer-fuelled passions inspired a generation of couch potatoes through their breakout fake talk show, “The Great White North.”

He’s reviving the character with co-star Rick Moranis — also less seen in recent years — for a benefit at Toronto’s Second City on Tuesday.

Hosted by Short, “Take Off, Eh” also features former “SCTV”ers Levy and O’Hara, past Second City star Dan Aykroyd, and several members of the Kids in the Hall.

Music will be provided by Paul Shaffer, Murray McLauchlan, and Thomas’s brother Ian Thomas. Proceeds will help support Ian Thomas’s son Jake, who was left paralyzed from the waist down by a snowmobiling accident in January. A portion of the funds will also go to Spinal Cord Injury Ontario.

Although the gang has kept in touch, Thomas says he expects an emotional reunion when they all gather at Second City. The storied improv stage, which also launched the careers of late “SCTV”ers John Candy and Harold Ramis, still holds a special place in his heart.

“We were all very loyal to that little theatre,” Thomas recalls.

So loyal that Thomas, Flaherty and O’Hara continued to moonlight for Second City when they started “SCTV” in 1976, uncertain where the TV series would take them.

“We would shoot (‘SCTV’) all day and then get in a car and race down to the theatre and do the stage show,” he says from his home in Los Angeles.

“I remember going into the makeup room one morning just dead tired, totally exhausted and Catherine was already sitting in the chair and she was just sobbing quietly. Just tears running down her cheeks because she was so tired…. And finally (‘SCTV’ producer and Second City head) Andrew Alexander said, ’OK, we’ve got to get your understudies up and ready to go and take over because you guys can’t keep doing this.’”

The success of “SCTV” would ultimately spoil Thomas as he pursued followup ventures.

While some cast members including Ramis, Short, Candy, Moranis and O’Hara found big-screen successes, others floundered a bit, he admits.

“Some people like myself just continued to do what I did on ‘SCTV,’ which is to try and produce my own thing. It’s really hard to do. To get people to finance things that you want to do, the way you want to do them, is difficult and so for me, I started writing drama five years ago,” he says.

“I couldn’t find a toehold for myself in comedy that I really related to. Comedy’s changed and in some ways it’s different and I think sometimes you have to just kind of yield to the younger generation and go, ‘OK. Well, you guys do it now.’”

Ongoing projects include a “weird dark comedy” pilot at TBS and an adaptation of a horror book for network television.

As for what to expect Tuesday, Thomas promises a show featuring familiar favourites and new material.

After all, he’s a fan of doing the unexpected.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some people turn up to perform that aren’t on the bill. It’s the kind of thing where it’s going to be kind of an impromptu night.”

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