Brent Butt has been a household name in Canada for years, even before the success of his hit show Corner Gas. Since the show’s final season in 2009 Butt has been working on other projects including the show Hiccups, which ran for two seasons, and a forthcoming movie No Clue which is equal parts murder mystery and comedy.
On the side, Butt still regularly tours his stand-up act and will be performing at Showplace Theatre in Peterborough on January 20.
Arthur sat down with Canada’s favourite funny-man to see what he’s been up to and what the future holds for him.
Why do you continue stand-up after the success of Corner Gas and Hiccups?
Well, I don’t need to keep doing it; I just love doing it. You know, I get asked that question a lot and it always surprises me as though doing stand-up was something you had to work to release yourself from, when really since I was 12 it’s all I ever imagined myself doing. It’s all I ever really wanted to do. I definitely wanted to do TV and film, but those things were kind of fingers crossed, hope I can do that. But stand up, I knew I would be miserable if I didn’t get to do stand-up. And still, whenever I do TV shows or film, as much as I love doing them, I’m itchy to get out on the road. I mean, Seinfeld still tours, right. Talk about a guy who’s made it. He’s not having any trouble paying the cable bills.
Do you still get hecklers at your shows?
Only at the worst kind of things did I ever get hecklers. You know when you’re first starting out and you’re in some pub and half the crowd didn’t even know it was comedy night when they came there and they want to shoot pool but they’ve turned the pool tables off while the comedy show’s on so they hate your guts. Those early days when you’re first learning the craft and learning how to fight then you’ll have to deal a bit with hecklers, but it hasn’t been a part of my shows… especially at a soft-seat theatre gig.
Hecklers are always stupid—there’s no getting around it. A smart person would know better than to heckle. So your hecklers are stupid people, and usually fueled by booze, so that’s a type of person you don’t usually get at a nice theatre show. But I wouldn’t trade those [early] days for anything. That’s really where you learn your craft, that’s where you learn to speak up and work in any situation. And stand-ups have the best stories about hecklers. It’s part of the romance of it, but I’m glad those days are behind me.
You’ve been working of a movie, No Clue, recently. What’s the difference between working on a TV show and working on a movie?
Well for me it’s hugely different. The process is similar, but the biggest difference for me is that while you’re working on a TV series it’s a series, so while you’re writing one episode you’re shooting another episode and probably editing on another episode, so there’s really no down time for me. Even if I’ve got 10 minutes on a camera turnaround I have to run to do another job on another episode. But with the movie, because it’s a one-off, I’ve already written the script so that’s all done, it’s gunna be months until there’s any editing to do, all the finance and the business has been taken care of…I’ve never been in a situation where if the camera’s taking 10 minutes to get turned around I’ve got 10 minutes to sit down and go on Twitter. I enjoyed the pace of it. Most of my work was done—aside from the acting—when we got there.
But it was my first movie so the whole process was really interesting. I’m a big fan of keeping my eyes and ears open and learning whatever I can. I was working with some very smart people in terms of structuring the business of the movie so I was asking a lot of questions and I learned a lot about it. And working with Carl Bessai [the director] who’s a legitimate filmmaker I learned a lot from…you know we shot with two cameras in a kind-of run-and-gun style. We didn’t have that many days to shoot so we were getting a lot of material in a small amount of time. Anytime I do something new I just try to drink it all in and learn as much as I can. I just watched the editor’s assembly of the first cut of the movie and I couldn’t be happier.
So there could be more movies in the future then?
I would love to do more movies in the future. If enough people come out and see this movie then the chances of me getting the opportunity to do another one are increased. It will be fun when I could get a trailer cut together. I’ll probably be able to post one maybe a few months from now or something.
Would you ever turn your old comic books into a movie of some sort?
Well…I’m not against the idea of letting somebody else try to do that. I’m not sure if that’s where my mind’s at right now. I mean, my old comics are a real science fantasy no-comedy-involved, you know…mid-80s fueled by teenage hormonal… heavy metal warrior chicks fighting demons, that kind of thing. There weren’t a lot made, we had a print run of maybe 1500 when they were made. In my movie actually there’s a moment when my character sees a comic book and we use one of my comic books as that comic. Partly as a cool thing to do, partly so I wouldn’t have to get approval or licensing from anybody.
Now you’re a definitively Canadian comedian—when people think of you they think “Canuck”—but your film explores a traditionally American genre (film noir). What are you doing to make this film “Canadian” or is that even a real concern?
For me, I never thought I was doing a “Canadian” show when I was making Corner Gas. I was just making a show about people going about their lives, and they happen to live in this small town, and it happens to be in Saskatchewan. It’s like…Seinfeld wasn’t about New York it was about these people, and Corner Gas wasn’t about Saskatchewan it was about these people. No Clue isn’t about Vancouver it’s about this guy trying to get to the bottom of this mystery. It’s really more of a case of where do you set the movie, where’s the backdrop? Maltese Falcon has nothing to do with San Francisco.
I’ve always felt, to the detriment of the product, too often in Canada producers Canadianize stuff. In the past we’ve felt the need to say “look how Canadian this is.” Every show’s got to have hockey in it… [No Clue] is just kind of a typical murder mystery thing, and that’s as much a British genre as it is a U.S. genre. There are arguments to be made that the first detective story ever written was Chinese. There’s definitely an homage to film noir in part of my script because I love them, and there’s also influence by British detective movies because I love those, and because I’m Canadian and because the movie takes place in Canada that’s the “Canadiana” of it.
It’s really a case of telling good stories about people. One of the things as a Canadian entertainer when you’re trying to pitch TV shows in the early days you have people saying “I don’t know if this is Canadian or not.” Really? It’s written by Canadians, and filmed by Canadians, and acted by Canadians, and shown to Canadians on Canadian networks…what’s not Canadian about it? “Well it’s got to have a moose in it and everyone has to be wearing a toque and then it’s sort of Canadian.” And you just go, jeez, you’re killing us out here! None of us want that!
So what does the future hold for you?
I’ve got a noggin full of ideas. I expect to be back on TV at some point, but in what capacity I can’t say right now. I have a couple of projects I’m gunna start shopping around and see what sticks. My company Sparrow Media, I want to make sure it becomes a full-fledged production entity. I mean we’re making movies and TV and radio and podcasts. I’m going to be starting my own podcast, that’s something I can do kind of quickly and easily without too many other people’s involvement. It’s just kind of a comedy podcast where I talk to other comics. That will be available on iTunes and my website. I’m gunna call it the Buttpod.
In your most recent YouTube QnA video you mentioned that you were getting more work done thanks to the NHL lockout. Do you worry that future projects will suffer now that the lockout is over?
[laughs] No I always manage to get things done. There are definitely those times when you’re watching a game and you think “Wow, I really should be working right now.” You know what was nice, I knew we were filming the movie mid-October, mid-November, and prior to the lockout I was thinking “man, I’m gunna miss a lot of games.” But then the strike happened and I thought “yay, now I don’t have to miss any games.” It was nice of the league to wait until I got the movie taken care of.