Fittingly, they picked April Fools’ Day to announce it: the Royal Canadian Air Farce is coming in for a landing.
In 1978, my parents took me to see the Farce’s original lineup – Luba Goy, Don Ferguson, Dave Broadfoot, the late John Morgan and Roger Abbott – performing at Camp Fortune, in the Gatineau Hills just north of Ottawa. I was crazy for the radio show, laughing at every joke whether I got it or not, and the live concert was absolute heaven. As the night dimmed into darkness, the light on the stage only got brighter – and there, right there, were the people who hosted those voices, who delivered those hilarious lines, who did that magical thing of making me laugh.
I can’t say that’s where my drive to become a comedian began – I’d been a smartass for years – but it sure helped to kick it into a higher gear. What helped even more was just how generous they all were with their fans. I still have the Air Farce album they all signed for me that night.
A few months later, Air Farce performed again, this time right in Ottawa. And again, they were delighted to meet their fans afterward – and Don Ferguson, probably my favourite cast member at the time, was tremendously gracious when this 15-year-old pressed a typewritten, heavily-Liquid-Papered radio script into his hands. He promised to look at it, and I went home in a state of utter bliss.
You know how these stories end: a form letter, maybe a nice little note wishing me luck?
What I got back was a long, long letter filled with notes for punching up the script, tightening the story, making it funnier and faster. And if the story ended there, Don and Roger, who I seem to remember also contributed some notes, would be mere saints.
But it didn’t. Here’s what lifted these people into the status of gods to me: Don connected me with Gord Holtam and Rick Olsen, the two writers who’d joined the show a year before that concert under the Gatineau stars. And they invited me to pitch – even though the show didn’t use outside writers (something I didn’t know at the time).
That began a process of rewrites and intensive assistance on their part that ultimately saw two of my ideas combined into one tight sketch. I got a cheque for a little over a hundred dollars, and saw it performed and recorded at the CBC’s Cabbagetown studios.
My words. Performed by the biggest stars I knew. Making an audience laugh. And all in front of my extended family – after I’d been taken backstage and introduced to the cast as one of the writers for that night’s episode. And if memory serves me, I hadn’t had my 16th birthday yet.
Think about what that would mean to a kid. Set aside what it meant for my confidence as a comedian (it was huge) – just imagine the inner resilience that kind of experience builds. Imagine how long the echoes from the audience’s laughter and applause would have lasted in my mind.
Whatever time using my ideas might have saved them was easily eaten up by the time Rick and Gord spent working with me to make them usable. This wasn’t a business proposition; it wasn’t developing a potential supplier (remember, they didn’t actually use outside writers); this was sheer good-heartedness.
And the experience lasted a lifetime. I’m a writer. I’m back in comedy. And during those times when I doubt my skill at the funny, I can still conjure up the echoes from Cabbagetown.
Thank you, Don, Roger, Rick and Gord – and Luba, Dave and John.