TORONTO — Dressing in drag is just another day at the office for comic Howie Miller, who plays the female half of a couple on the new APTN comedy Delmer & Marta.
The characters are actually a decade old, says the 43-year-old Miller, who would often refer to a woman named Marta in his stand-up routines, while co-star Sheldon Elter based Delmer on a relative.
Miller didn’t want to play his leading lady role too over the top, noting he hoped the audience wouldn’t be consumed with seeing a man in a dress.
“I just want them to see this couple exists and there’s no question about it, there’s no tongue-in-cheek jokes about it,” he says from Edmonton, where they shoot the series.
His vision for playing Marta was subtle enough that co-star Kevin McDonald didn’t even realize the character would be played by a man until he showed up for the first table-read of the sitcom.
“I had no idea,” admits the Kids in the Hall star, who has donned a few dresses in his day for laughs.
“I was surprised when Howie walked in that he was playing Marta. I assumed a real woman was going to play Marta.”
Miller and Elter first brought the couple to the screen for their APTN sketch comedy series Caution: May Contain Nuts.
Miller says he saw big potential on the first day of filming.
“After I had my big blond wig on and my bra on and everything, I leaned in and before they said ‘action’ I said (to Elter), ‘You know, this is the one that’s going to get leg room. This is the one we’re going to be showing up at parades for. They’re going to make a movie out of this.’… And 10 years later we’re on the set of our own sitcom.”
Delmer & Marta picks up with the duo moving to the town of Morningside, where Marta is hired as a TV morning show personality. Her fun-loving partner Delmer helps out the morning show team as much as he can.
McDonald plays Marta’s boss Creston, “kind of a blowhard kind of guy,” he says from his home in Winnipeg.
The comic says he’s busier than ever with a resurgence in TV cameos and writing projects. That includes a romantic comedy about “a minor celebrity comedian who moves from Hollywood to Winnipeg when he falls in love with a dancer.”
“Which is my story,” says McDonald, adding that he’s lined up funding and hopes to direct.
“It’s sort of like Woody Allen’s Manhattan, only it’s Winnipeg.”
Miller gushes over having McDonald on set to draw advice and inspiration from, not to mention the pull to bring in a cameo from fellow Kids member Dave Foley, who appears later in the season as Creston’s boss.
And just as Miller is eager for viewers to see past the drag, he’s keen to position Delmer & Marta as more than just an aboriginal sitcom.
“I want to be generic and general enough to get out there for the masses,” he says.
Delmer & Marta premieres Wednesday on APTN.