Former PM Kim Campbell tries hand at comedy on TV

Former prime minister Kim Campbell is searching for the right thing to say.

Tonya Lee Williams (from left)

Tonya Lee Williams (from left)

Former prime minister Kim Campbell is searching for the right thing to say.

Flanked by Canadian comic Colin Mochrie and soap star Tonya Lee Williams, the country’s first (and only) female PM is standing on the set of She’s the Mayor, taping promotional bumpers for the upcoming VisionTV sitcom.

“I was prime minister, but you’re watching She’s the Mayor,” says Campbell, smiling into the camera as the series regulars mug silently behind her.

“That wasn’t so great,” Campbell says immediately after delivering her line, drawing a bigger laugh from the crew with her suggestion she could ramp up the funny with another take.

A few tweaks later, everyone settles on a joint delivery in which Mochrie and Williams chime in when Campbell says, “She’s the Mayor.”

It’s a small change, but like others that a jovial Campbell suggests during a brief visit on set, recall her past life as a joke writer with a student-produced variety show at the University of British Columbia.

“If you talk to people who knew me at law school, most of them would remember me as the person who wrote and directed the Law Revue every year,” Campbell says.

“And some of them will say, ‘I think she went on and did something interesting after law school but I’m not sure what it was.”’

At the 1982 revue, Campbell’s claim to fame included writing a song called, How to Succeed in Law School Without Really Trying, to the tune of the Petula Clark song, Downtown.

Several years later she would find herself surrounded by the very titans of power she once skewered.

“One of my law school classmates … did wonderful impressions and he did a better Joe Clark than Joe Clark did and we used to do a lot of political satire,” says Campbell.

“When I was elected to Parliament and wound up sitting around the cabinet table with all these people that we’d sent up in the law revue I said, ‘Ooh, guilt, guilt,’ and it all came back to haunt me.”

Campbell’s latest stab at comedy comes by way of a seconds-long cameo in the upcoming comedy about a 60-something school principal who bumbles her way into the mayor’s chair.

Janet Laine-Green stars as political neophyte Iris Peters, Mochrie plays the tightly wound, germophobic city manager Scott Hawkins, while Williams is Iris’s self-involved communications director, Maxine.

Much of the humour comes from Iris’s lack of diplomacy.

When she accidentally insults an overweight person in one episode, she tries to apologize but ends up slighting the elderly.

And then she offends black journalists.

“Everytime she tries to apologize for something she accidentally insults a new group that ends up picketing outside city hall,” says Mochrie.

The show is the first original scripted series to come from the multi-faith channel VisionTV, which solicited pitches from across the country last year as it readied itself for sale to Moses Znaimer’s ZoomerMedia Ltd.

Green says the show offers a fresh perspective when much of the dial is dominated by youth-obsessed series.

“Lots of things have gone wrong for her in her life and you see somebody who is actually reblossoming into a new life where she thought she was at the end of one life — and things look pretty bad through her divorce and burning down her house and getting fired as the principal — she’s starting to come back to some of the things that actually maybe she had forgotten about as a young person, some of her joys.”

She’s the Mayor is expected to debut in early 2011.

Williams, best known as straitlaced doctor Olivia Winters on the soap “Young & the Restless,” says the show offered her a welcome opportunity to return to her comedic roots.

“The 15 years of my career before Y&R was only comedy,” says Williams. “Here in Toronto it was ’Check it Out!’ with Don Adams, and when I first arrived in L.A. it was ’What’s Happening Now,’ and ’Gimme a Break’ with Nell Carter. I only did comedy in my career. Y&R was the first dramatic (series)…. but now it’s fun to do comedy again.”

The show’s premise also lends itself well to more political cameos. Others expected to drop by the show include former Liberal MP Jean Augustine, who became Canada’s first black woman elected to Parliament in 1993.

Mochrie says he’s not surprised that Campbell was so adept at handling jokes.

“When I was with ’22 Minutes’ I would always do a lot of stuff with a lot of politicians and part of being a politician, I think, is being a little hammy and loving that attention,” says Mochrie. “They love to put things out there and she was great.”