Those hosers the McKenzie bothers had their two-fours and toques to keep them warm. Mike from Canmore had his Flames hat and his loyal companion Norm. And Red Green, well he still has his duct tape… for just about everything.
As far as iconic Canadian fictional characters go, Red Green is definitely up there with those fellow flannel-shirted fellas. His catchphrase, “Keep your stick on the ice,” has been repeated by many a Canuck, almost as much as those Molson ads professing the love for country and, of course, beer.
But more than that, Red Green (aka comic and scribe Steve Smith) is a character that goes beyond those staid Canadianisms.
Heck, even blue and red state Americans, or anyone who has picked up a hammer, fished for trout, or grown up steeped in rural roots, can relate to him.
That’s just one of the reasons Smith has carried on with his alter ego, who is about to visit Vernon Sept. 15, even though his popular TV series, The Red Green Show, has been off the air (except for in syndication) since 2006.
Red Green basically speaks to the lovable doofus –– that sweet Canadian-like optimism that we all still yearn for, but may have lost on the hardened road of high taxes and tough times. Just look at the cost of beer these days.
“Red Green takes us back to simpler times, where a roll of duct tape and a fishing pole is all you need to be happy,” said Smith, speaking on the phone from his home in Toronto before embarking on the cross-country Wit and Wisdom tour that started in Surrey Thursday.
“When I created the character I was making fun of Red Fisher and his gravelly voice. I know lots of guys with that voice. They’re rough. They’ve yelled at a lot of wildlife over the years. My character comes when I put on the clothes and voice… It’s not hard,” he said.
Not fond of travelling as much as he once did, Smith does embrace meeting his fans live, hence this latest tour across the nation.
He’s flattered by the reception he continues to receive from Canadians, and our friends down south.
“I like to keep in touch with people. I’m meeting kids now that weren’t alive when the show started,” said Smith, who grew up in Hamilton and Toronto, and has lived from place to place in between.
“I recently did 47 shows in the U.S., from Daytona to Anchorage to Albuquerque. People are the same wherever, in that they ask the same questions. I have always gravitated to people who are more than they seem, and see the exact opposite of that in that they lower their expectations in their demeanour.”
Although he doesn’t like to generalize, Smith recognizes there are people from small towns who live in the city, and people from big cities that live in small towns, however, “small town people seem to have a grasp of who they are, whereas, city people are pretending to be who they are not,” he said.
And Red Green definitely fits in the former category.
“Red Green is very comfortable in his own skin, but that confidence comes from a lack of information. The basic feeling he has is ‘I can handle what comes along even if I break something. I know I can fix it,’” said Smith, adding, “There’s all of me in Red Green, but just parts of Red Green in me. If something breaks, I’m not on the phone or reaching for my cheque book, I fix it with my own tools. It makes me feel empowered.”
Maybe Red Green/Smith should run for Prime Minister.
Smith laughs at the thought, saying he has no political ambitions, even though he did study economics and political science at Hamilton’s McMaster University before entering show business. And he was recently bestowed with an honorary degree from the institution.
“I thought there had to be a better way to get a degree,” he laughed. “It was hard to give an address to the students and their families. There were over 2,600 of them, I thought ‘holy cow; this is a big deal.’”
Smith has blurred the lines between reality and fiction before.
Besides writing for numerous Canadian television shows, he and his wife, Morag, starred on the comedy skit show, Smith & Smith, in the 1980s. Then came The Red Green Show in 1991 that ran on various channels, eventually finding its home on the CBC.
“The show was not all planned out like Air Farce. Sometimes we didn’t know what we going to do. We basically would fly by the seat of our pants,” said Smith.
Now with the show off the air, Smith continues to write, although he recently retired his long-running syndicated column.
“It was a grinder, I was expected to be funny every time,” said Smith, who instead has focussed his attention on writing a new book.
“It starts with the ability to have a creative outlet… I was OK with just writing for a year after the show stopped. Back then I was tired of making friends laugh at parties, I wanted to write something, to expose it and express myself.”
Smith has also been working on web casting classic bits from The Red Green Show from his own Web site.
“I want to go into my catalogue, such as how to turn a dryer into a popcorn machine,” he said. “That’s fascinating to me taking live shows to web casting, going from old to new.”
Red Green will deliver more Wit and Wisdom when he visits the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $58.50, available at the Ticket Seller box office. Call 250-549-7469, or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.