Although Smith has been entertaining audiences for the past 20 years, The Red Green Show could easily be called his career’s biggest achievement.
By the time The Red Green Show called it a day in 2006, Canada’s favourite handyman and advocate of all things duct tape had filmed a remarkable 300 episodes and 15 seasons of The Red Green Show. Aired on PBS in the United States, the show has the distinction of being the longest running Canadian television show to air on American airwaves.
On the heels of selling out a number of shows in the United States, Smith is taking his one-man show across Canada for his first cross-country tour. Red Green’s Live Wit and Wisdom Tour takes the stage at Casino New Brunswick this Saturday night, with show time set for 7 p.m.
Asked whether a career in comedy was a deliberately chosen path, Smith laughs admitting he chose to pursue comedy only after he had failed at everything else.
“Even as a kid, I could make people laugh but it never crossed my mind that I could make a living from it,” he says.
Smith pursued a number of career options including engineering, teaching and becoming a mailman before eventually settling upon comedy. And even then, comedy arrived on his doorstep in a roundabout way.
“Around 1974, I was playing music in a cover band that was playing a lot of colleges in the United States. One night, Deep Purple’s manager came out to one of our shows and on that specific night, we ended up getting six encores. And while he was impressed with the band, he was bold enough to suggest that if were interested in deriving a living off entertaining others, we had to bring something new to the table. What he said really resonated with me and was kind of the epiphany that led me from music to comedy.”
In 1979, Smith began to write, produce and star in Smith and Smith, a sketch comedy program that featured him and his wife Morag. He went on to create the family sitcom Max & Me and the Comedy Mill series, the latter of which ran for four years.
In 1991, Smith launched The New Red Green Show, the title role for which he is arguably best known. The popular character also managed to be featured in a spin-off full-length movie, 2002’s Duct Tape Forever.
Asked whether he misses the hustle and bustle of the television world, Smith says that he has always thought they went off air at the right time.
“We did exactly 300 episodes of The Red Green Show, a bunch of specials and I have written five books now, so I do not necessarily have the sense that there has been some ambition not realized,” he says. “A big reason behind stopping the show was the fact that there was no way that we could make it better and so we figured it was better to go out on top.”
Proving that you can indeed teach old dogs new tricks, the very notion of performing a 90- to 120-minute stand-up show each night has been a completely different experience for Smith but has been one that he has enjoyed thoroughly. Although he maintains a repertoire of material that carries over from show to show, Smith appreciates the flexibility of adding new material to the show if he finds that it goes over well with audiences. He laughs that should a joke go over well in three different cities, he then adds it as a permanent fixture in his performances.
“It is very unusual for a man of my age to do something new that is not a medical procedure,” he laughs. “But I have really thrived upon the energy of being on stage. The prospect of me being up there alone certainly doesn’t make me nervous. The people that come to my shows have already bought their tickets so I can rest easy knowing that I have already filtered out people that might be ambivalent about me.
“Ultimately with every performance, I want to give people a two-hour escape from their lives where they can laugh. There is no agenda aside from that every evening I am on stage. I am out there to have fun and I think that at the end of the day, that is what really matters.”
Clearly, audiences are on board with having Smith make them laugh. Perhaps most interesting though is the fact that the demand for Smith’s one-man show has been bigger in the United States than it has been in Canada. Of the 42 American performances that Smith has given over the course of the past two years, all but 10 of those shows were performed before sold-out houses.
“I think that for the first time in the history of the entertainment business, the United States was used as a place to hone an act for Canadian audiences,” Smith laughs.
Article published in October 21, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript