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SCTV: the Rick Moranis years

“Back then, we were doing Bob and Doug McKenzie essentially as filler. We had no idea at all that anyone liked it.”

Strange Brew: Canuckleheads Bob (Rick Moranis) and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas).
Strange Brew: Canuckleheads Bob (Rick Moranis) and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas).

By the time a wave of big screen hits earned Rick Moranis household name status, he had already gained cult immortality in certain sectors of the USA and Canada for his participation in 25 episodes of SCTV, still the finest and funniest assembly of sketch comedy television has yet to produce.

— Scott Marks

SCTV (1976-1984)

Adored as it is by we fans, SCTV was never a ratings grabber, either in syndication or on NBC. (Before moving to its 90 minute slot on NBC, the show debuted in a half-hour format immediately following Saturday Night Live.) Rick Moranis joined the show in its third season, after it became apparent that castmates Tony Rosato and Robin Duke weren’t clicking.

In Dave Thomas’ "SCTV: Behind the Scenes," the show’s vade mecum of abtruse insight, Moranis remarked, “I was the only guy ever to join the show from outside the little Second City world.” Moranis initially sensed resistance coming from Joe Flaherty’s corner. “I think he resented me because I hadn’t, in his mind, paid my dues by coming up from the theatre. We never came to blows or anything, but if you look through the whole catalogue, there isn’t a lot of stuff that Joe and I did together.” Thomas met Moranis at a party where both took to the stage and jammed with the band. “He had a good reputation,” Thomas recalls, “and seemed sharp, smart and funny.” Prior to that fateful meeting, Moranis worked as a deejay in addition to appearing alongside John Candy on 90 Minutes Live, Canada’s answer to SNL.

Thomas, then in his second season of SCTV, was rocked by a chemistry “that was evident the moment we got up on stage and improvised together. I remember thinking, ‘This guy’s good. I want this guy in the show.’” A meeting was arranged, and series’ producer Andrew Alexander was taken aback by Moranis’ combination of business smarts and unbridled hubris. Alexander told Thomas, “He wants all this and all that and doesn’t have any of the experience that any of you have. Who does he think he is?” Years later, Alexander proclaimed Moranis a “savior,” adding, “It would have been tough to get through that third season had Rick not been there.”

Throughout the 1980-81 seasons, Moranis elevated the already top-shelf show with his dead-on impressions of Woody Allen, Dick Cavett, David Brinkley, Irwin Allen, Merv!, and Brooke’s mom, Teri Shields (the latter aided greatly by makeup and wardrobe). Over and above his uncanny flair for mimicry, Moranis added several original characters to his SCTV repertoire including vidiot Gerry Todd, hog-faced hog butcher Fred Scutz, Rabbi Karloff (the man with the removable payot), and Lieutonia’s favorite son, Linsk Menjuvic.

Easily his most recognizable achievement was Bob McKenzie, one-half of the beer-soaked, backbacon-eating team that brought us “Canadian Corner.” Along with brother Doug (Thomas), Bob would spend a few minutes each week scrounging for topics which ran the gamut from Star Wars to How To Get A Mouse In A Beer Bottle. The McKenzie Brothers were created in protest against government requirements that each domestically produced television show contain some type of “identifiable Canadian content.” Less commercial content meant the Canadian version of the show ran two minutes longer than its American counterpart. When the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asked for “two minutes of distinctive Canadian programming,” Thomas and Moranis decided to cram every negative Canadian stereotype imaginable into weekly 120-second installments.

Thomas remembers, “Back then, we were doing Bob and Doug McKenzie essentially as filler. We had no idea at all that anyone liked it.” Then their trademark dismissal of “take off” took off. “Canadian Corner” (aka: “The Great White North”) went on to become the show’s most popular skit, spawning scads of merchandising, including a million-selling LP that led to the big screen adaptation, Strange Brew. But I have never spoken with a true SCTV lover who had much use for Bob & Doug. There really weren’t a lot of places to go with the dim-witted siblings, and the segments quickly became dull and repetitive. The constant hammering of “hosebag” and “Good day, eh?” must have provided undemanding viewers, lost in the otherwise esoteric environs, something simple to grasp hold of.

Strange Brew: even Tex Avery, master of the one-joke cartoons, would have found it difficult to add enough gags to the McKenzie Brothers brew to pad a 90-minute running time. Written with Shakespeare in mind, Max Von Sydow puts the “ham” in Hamlet as a villainous brewmeister whose plan is to rule the world by adding a drop of mind controlling opiate to every can, bottle, and keg he untaps. Reasoning that the only ones capable of writing for and directing Bob & Doug were Dave & Rick, MGM assigned the two a $5 million budget and placed them in the care of executive producer Jack Grossberg (The Producers, Take the Money and Run). Rather than fade out on the MGM lion, the camera swerves around Leo to reveal the drunken duo about to film a segment of “Canadian Corner.” It would be impossible not to find something to amuse with Moranis and Thomas calling the shots, but did the film have to peak at the logo?

Throughout the ‘80s, Moranis appeared in a string of successes unrivaled by any of his SCTV cronies. Quality notwithstanding, Ghostbusters I & II, Little Shop of Horrors, Spaceballs, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Parenthood all performed well at the box office. His finest hour came under the direction of Walter Hill. As Billy Fish, the baby faced rock promoter in the cult “rock fable” Streets of Fire, Moranis achieved a perfect combination of intense hostility and slick, showbiz insincerity; Skip Bittman, only darker and minus the affectations and hair.

Almost instantly, his fellow SCTV cast members began embarrassing themselves by appearing in projects that just months before they had all broken their comedic bones satirizing. When it came to movies, Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin pretty much sat the decade out. Catherine O’Hara scored a juicy role in Scorsese’s After Hours and little else. Joe Flaherty was wasted in Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird, Club Paradise and Blue Monkey. Eugene “Never Turned Down a Script” Levy started strong in Splash, but before long, films like Armed and Dangerous and Speed Zone foreshadowed sad signs of what was to come. John Candy let his agent steer him in the direction of duds like Volunteers, The Great Outdoors, and Who’s Harry Crumb? Only Harold Ramis, who found more fame behind-the-scenes as a writer and later director, and Martin Short, brilliant in Joe Dante’s fantastic voyage through Inner-Space, managed to touch Moranis’ level of respectability.

Several SCTV cast mates were involved in Club Paradise, so I can’t single out Moranis. I called in sick the weeks Big Bully and Little Giants opened, for all too obvious reasons, though I did see Splitting Heirs, which could be his lowest moment. As bad as it was, My Blue Heaven is Tati compared to the lower depths of Levy and Flaherty. And kill me, but I found The Flintstones enjoyable. Goodman & Moranis as Flintstone & Rubble made the time pass with a smile.

Moranis’ life came crashing to a halt in February of 1991 when his wife Anne lost her battle to cancer. The widowed father of two began slowly receding from the spotlight, devoting what little time he did to cinema on strictly family fare. In 2000, Moranis told USA Today, “I’m a single parent and I just found that it was too difficult to manage to raise my kids and to do the traveling involved in making movies. So I took a little bit of a break. And the little bit of a break turned into a longer break, and then I found that I really didn’t miss it.”

In June 2008, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson agreed to re-team for the videogame version of Ghostbusters. Moranis and Sigourney Weaver were the only holdouts. The game’s producer told Wired Magazine, “He made so much money off of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids that he retired. He just doesn’t want to work anymore.” Well, that’s not 100% true. The few times that he agreed to leave his house in search of gainful employment as an actor found him voicing cartoons. Yes, it would be great if on just one of the rare occasions Mr. Moranis did agree to work, he would appear in a project that appeals to those over the age of seven.

After a 20-year absence from acting, Moranis emerged briefly last September to appear opposite Ryan Reynolds in a Mint Mobile commercial. In the final days of Trump, it was one of the few events that put a smile on the faces of Twitter users. There’s comfort in the fact that cellular subscribers looking to save a bundle and a new generation of kiddie cinephiles are taking delight in watered down doses of his wit and charm. The good news is, Moranis’ name is at long last attached to an upcoming live-action feature. Bad news: it’s a sequel to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Like I won’t see it.

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Strange Brew: Canuckleheads Bob (Rick Moranis) and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas).
Strange Brew: Canuckleheads Bob (Rick Moranis) and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas).

By the time a wave of big screen hits earned Rick Moranis household name status, he had already gained cult immortality in certain sectors of the USA and Canada for his participation in 25 episodes of SCTV, still the finest and funniest assembly of sketch comedy television has yet to produce.

— Scott Marks

SCTV (1976-1984)

Adored as it is by we fans, SCTV was never a ratings grabber, either in syndication or on NBC. (Before moving to its 90 minute slot on NBC, the show debuted in a half-hour format immediately following Saturday Night Live.) Rick Moranis joined the show in its third season, after it became apparent that castmates Tony Rosato and Robin Duke weren’t clicking.

In Dave Thomas’ "SCTV: Behind the Scenes," the show’s vade mecum of abtruse insight, Moranis remarked, “I was the only guy ever to join the show from outside the little Second City world.” Moranis initially sensed resistance coming from Joe Flaherty’s corner. “I think he resented me because I hadn’t, in his mind, paid my dues by coming up from the theatre. We never came to blows or anything, but if you look through the whole catalogue, there isn’t a lot of stuff that Joe and I did together.” Thomas met Moranis at a party where both took to the stage and jammed with the band. “He had a good reputation,” Thomas recalls, “and seemed sharp, smart and funny.” Prior to that fateful meeting, Moranis worked as a deejay in addition to appearing alongside John Candy on 90 Minutes Live, Canada’s answer to SNL.

Thomas, then in his second season of SCTV, was rocked by a chemistry “that was evident the moment we got up on stage and improvised together. I remember thinking, ‘This guy’s good. I want this guy in the show.’” A meeting was arranged, and series’ producer Andrew Alexander was taken aback by Moranis’ combination of business smarts and unbridled hubris. Alexander told Thomas, “He wants all this and all that and doesn’t have any of the experience that any of you have. Who does he think he is?” Years later, Alexander proclaimed Moranis a “savior,” adding, “It would have been tough to get through that third season had Rick not been there.”

Throughout the 1980-81 seasons, Moranis elevated the already top-shelf show with his dead-on impressions of Woody Allen, Dick Cavett, David Brinkley, Irwin Allen, Merv!, and Brooke’s mom, Teri Shields (the latter aided greatly by makeup and wardrobe). Over and above his uncanny flair for mimicry, Moranis added several original characters to his SCTV repertoire including vidiot Gerry Todd, hog-faced hog butcher Fred Scutz, Rabbi Karloff (the man with the removable payot), and Lieutonia’s favorite son, Linsk Menjuvic.

Easily his most recognizable achievement was Bob McKenzie, one-half of the beer-soaked, backbacon-eating team that brought us “Canadian Corner.” Along with brother Doug (Thomas), Bob would spend a few minutes each week scrounging for topics which ran the gamut from Star Wars to How To Get A Mouse In A Beer Bottle. The McKenzie Brothers were created in protest against government requirements that each domestically produced television show contain some type of “identifiable Canadian content.” Less commercial content meant the Canadian version of the show ran two minutes longer than its American counterpart. When the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asked for “two minutes of distinctive Canadian programming,” Thomas and Moranis decided to cram every negative Canadian stereotype imaginable into weekly 120-second installments.

Thomas remembers, “Back then, we were doing Bob and Doug McKenzie essentially as filler. We had no idea at all that anyone liked it.” Then their trademark dismissal of “take off” took off. “Canadian Corner” (aka: “The Great White North”) went on to become the show’s most popular skit, spawning scads of merchandising, including a million-selling LP that led to the big screen adaptation, Strange Brew. But I have never spoken with a true SCTV lover who had much use for Bob & Doug. There really weren’t a lot of places to go with the dim-witted siblings, and the segments quickly became dull and repetitive. The constant hammering of “hosebag” and “Good day, eh?” must have provided undemanding viewers, lost in the otherwise esoteric environs, something simple to grasp hold of.

Strange Brew: even Tex Avery, master of the one-joke cartoons, would have found it difficult to add enough gags to the McKenzie Brothers brew to pad a 90-minute running time. Written with Shakespeare in mind, Max Von Sydow puts the “ham” in Hamlet as a villainous brewmeister whose plan is to rule the world by adding a drop of mind controlling opiate to every can, bottle, and keg he untaps. Reasoning that the only ones capable of writing for and directing Bob & Doug were Dave & Rick, MGM assigned the two a $5 million budget and placed them in the care of executive producer Jack Grossberg (The Producers, Take the Money and Run). Rather than fade out on the MGM lion, the camera swerves around Leo to reveal the drunken duo about to film a segment of “Canadian Corner.” It would be impossible not to find something to amuse with Moranis and Thomas calling the shots, but did the film have to peak at the logo?

Throughout the ‘80s, Moranis appeared in a string of successes unrivaled by any of his SCTV cronies. Quality notwithstanding, Ghostbusters I & II, Little Shop of Horrors, Spaceballs, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Parenthood all performed well at the box office. His finest hour came under the direction of Walter Hill. As Billy Fish, the baby faced rock promoter in the cult “rock fable” Streets of Fire, Moranis achieved a perfect combination of intense hostility and slick, showbiz insincerity; Skip Bittman, only darker and minus the affectations and hair.

Almost instantly, his fellow SCTV cast members began embarrassing themselves by appearing in projects that just months before they had all broken their comedic bones satirizing. When it came to movies, Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin pretty much sat the decade out. Catherine O’Hara scored a juicy role in Scorsese’s After Hours and little else. Joe Flaherty was wasted in Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird, Club Paradise and Blue Monkey. Eugene “Never Turned Down a Script” Levy started strong in Splash, but before long, films like Armed and Dangerous and Speed Zone foreshadowed sad signs of what was to come. John Candy let his agent steer him in the direction of duds like Volunteers, The Great Outdoors, and Who’s Harry Crumb? Only Harold Ramis, who found more fame behind-the-scenes as a writer and later director, and Martin Short, brilliant in Joe Dante’s fantastic voyage through Inner-Space, managed to touch Moranis’ level of respectability.

Several SCTV cast mates were involved in Club Paradise, so I can’t single out Moranis. I called in sick the weeks Big Bully and Little Giants opened, for all too obvious reasons, though I did see Splitting Heirs, which could be his lowest moment. As bad as it was, My Blue Heaven is Tati compared to the lower depths of Levy and Flaherty. And kill me, but I found The Flintstones enjoyable. Goodman & Moranis as Flintstone & Rubble made the time pass with a smile.

Moranis’ life came crashing to a halt in February of 1991 when his wife Anne lost her battle to cancer. The widowed father of two began slowly receding from the spotlight, devoting what little time he did to cinema on strictly family fare. In 2000, Moranis told USA Today, “I’m a single parent and I just found that it was too difficult to manage to raise my kids and to do the traveling involved in making movies. So I took a little bit of a break. And the little bit of a break turned into a longer break, and then I found that I really didn’t miss it.”

In June 2008, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson agreed to re-team for the videogame version of Ghostbusters. Moranis and Sigourney Weaver were the only holdouts. The game’s producer told Wired Magazine, “He made so much money off of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids that he retired. He just doesn’t want to work anymore.” Well, that’s not 100% true. The few times that he agreed to leave his house in search of gainful employment as an actor found him voicing cartoons. Yes, it would be great if on just one of the rare occasions Mr. Moranis did agree to work, he would appear in a project that appeals to those over the age of seven.

After a 20-year absence from acting, Moranis emerged briefly last September to appear opposite Ryan Reynolds in a Mint Mobile commercial. In the final days of Trump, it was one of the few events that put a smile on the faces of Twitter users. There’s comfort in the fact that cellular subscribers looking to save a bundle and a new generation of kiddie cinephiles are taking delight in watered down doses of his wit and charm. The good news is, Moranis’ name is at long last attached to an upcoming live-action feature. Bad news: it’s a sequel to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Like I won’t see it.

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Comments
2

I was unaware that SCTV's Bob & Doug segments were a response to a call for distinctly Canadian content, that explains why those bits always seemed edited in from a different (and far less funny) show. Since the Strange Brew movie is unwatchable, all anyone ever needs to know or hear about Bob & Doug can be found on their collaborative single with Rush's Geddy Lee, it's the entire schtick in just a few melodic minutes --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Jm4LoOaAWI

May 7, 2021

If you haven't read Dave Thomas' book, prepare to be astounded. And at one point, I owned the record. You're right: everything you ever wanted to know about Bob & Doug in less than 5 minutes.

May 23, 2021

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