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- Blackfly on Global TV
VIEW Magazine - May 2001
by Kerry Corrigan
Ron James’ latest list of accomplishments in the Canadian comedy scene reads like an over-achiever’s dream. 2000 Canadian Comedy Award for Comedian Of The Year; a Gemini Award for his writing contributions to This Hour Has 22 Minutes; and now creator & star of his own comedy series Blackfly on Global.
Add regular appearances at Just For Laughs, the Comedy Network and the Halifax Comedy Festival.
Yet with all that going on, he still makes time to tour Canada with his sidesplitting stand-up show that touches down this Sunday evening at the DuMaurier Theatre.
When I caught up with him by telephone, the 43-year old comedian was just in the throws of writing new episodes for the second season of Blackfly, a sitcom that pokes fun at Canadian history.
Asked if there was anything cosmic in the fact that the 13 new episodes were actually being written in blackfly season, James laughed and replied, "Last year we were shooting
in blackfly season, so I certainly hope so! I certainly hope that it means the planets are lined up."
Set in the 18th-century fur-trade era, with typical conflict between French and English, James plays Benny "Blackfly" Houghton, a jack-of-all-trades of colonial Canada. The fort is set north of Lake Superior but shooting takes place 45 minutes outside of Halifax in Nova Scotia, a little area called Mill Cove, on the south shore of James’ home province.
"We have about thirty or forty acres at our disposal and so we get to spend the summer back in Canada's ocean playground, which is a bonus. Those are the three best months to be in Nova Scotia. If you've ever spent a March there, then you'll understand!”
The rest of the time, James is firmly rooted in Toronto, his home for the last twenty years, "aside from the three I put in in Los Angeles".
Not wanting to be pigeon-holed so much as a Maritimer, he points out that "you don't have to be from there to be funny. No matter where you are, and where you're from, there are still funny people."
When I pressed James did concede that his Maritime upbringing, with limited TV and its American network influence, provided a “very fertile environment for funny people, that's for sure.”
“A verbal culture, a talking culture... we were a culture of doers, and listeners and talkers rather than watchers.”
It was his three year foray into the California jungle of acting that prompted Up & Down in Shakey Town: One Man's Journey Through the California Dream. Originally performed as a stage show, it was heard nationally on CBC radio, won Best of the Fest at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 97 and was broadcast as a 90 minute special on CTV.
James has a thinly veiled disdain for the American market, but his enthusiasm for Canadiana, particularly historical, extends beyond the TV show and into his stand-up. “In Shakytown, there were things in there about the juxtaposition of a contemporary perspective on history. It's something I've always sort of dabbled in.”
His interest in “trying to make the historical experience funny” goes way back.
"I mean, I have a history degree from Acadia University, but I wouldn't want to flaunt my b- average on the paying public!"
"I started in Second City in 1981, and I remember I had a solo piece in there called Canada - A Short History." He also parodied the CBC's Canadian Heritage minutes.
Most of the humour in the show that’s coming to Hamilton is of the contemporary variety. James feels that, “traveling across the country, whether it’s Saskatoon, Kingston or Red Deer, the discipline of stand-up comedy demands that you familiarize yourself with the region you're going in."
"I like Hamilton," James asserts. "Hamilton's great. A roomful of people laughing
is usually my criteria for whether a place is good or not!"
Although James has done his stand-up routine here at least twice in recent memory, he still promises that "there'll be lots of stuff you haven't heard. I cover everything from the mortgage woes of aging baby boomers to the torment of a Canadian camping trip."
There’s also the role of Tim Horton's donuts as an attractive icon in the Canadian identity, and the frustrations people have with how fast computer technology has taken over the world.
"Basically the theme of my show is the everyday Joe standing in one place running as fast as he can."
Ron James on T.O.:
“I live in Toronto now, by the crystal clear shores of beautiful Lake Ontario – a lot of good that does me, you can’t swim in it, mind you, but it’s great for developing your film.”
on financial security:
“Most people I know are just two missed mortgage payments away from shittin’ in a shoe box beneath the overpass. The only contribution I managed to make to my RRSP this year was when I cashed in my friggin’ empties, huh?”
on airplane food:
“a slice of ham so thin the pig never even felt it coming off its arse!”
// tie dye