Interview: Mike Smith, Robb Wells, and Jean Paul Tremblay

Mike Smith, Robb Wells, and Jean Paul Tremblay have always had their outside pursuits as individual comedic actors, but their working relationship at the trio of Maritime misfits called The Trailer Park Boys made them a household name. Despite the constant touring under the TPB banner and a third big screen outing in the works for the beloved fictional dimwits, the three collaborators went out on their own a couple of years ago to try something even a bit more batshit insane: playing themselves… sort of.

In the gloriously titled miniseries The Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour, Smith, Wells, and Tremblay play nearly every character on the show (save for some great character/cameo work from the likes of Amy Sedaris, Jay Baruchel, and the late Maury Chaykin) including themselves, but this time they are three actors hired by a network to create a $15 million comedy extravaganza. What they end up turning in is an almost indescipherable sketch show that the network and test audiences seem to hate almost in equal amount because they got their entire cast a crew hooked on a powerful blue halucingenic that has convinced all the actors on the show that their characters (be they pirates, blatantly offensive radio DJs, mobsters, World War II soldiers, Irish cops, or whatever) are actual inhabitants of the fictional town of Port Cockerton.

It’s a surprisingly sprawling vision and a risky gambit for a sketch comedy show with a continuous plotline. After its initial airing on Showcase Action (and offshoot of the same network that cosigned for Trailer Park Boys) the show has finally come to DVD not as a miniseries, but as a full length feature film that stays closer to what the creators had in mind. While on a recent stop to promote the show’s release in Toronto, we sat down with the guys to talk about how hard the show was to make, the various and strange battles they had with the network, and how the show plays to people who are sober versus those who are incredibly fucked up.

Dork Shelf: So I watched the movie for the first time the other night completely sober, and while I can see where people could really get into it, but there’s almost this sci-fi kind of element to the story that I noticed that works pretty well if you’re not fucked up. Was that balance something that you always had in your mind when coming up with the show?

Mike Smith: Yeah, we definitely were conscious of asking “How does it work sober?” and “How does it work when you’re really fucked up?” and we had to make sure that it works in both instances.

DS: It’s pretty trippy stuff to come up with a show that has Maury Chaykin at the heart of it as a mad scientist. Where did the concept and idea for the show come from?

MS: It was sort of borne from doing a lot of the Trailer Park Boys Live stuff and the touring we did for that, so we spent a lot of time in the back of the tour bus together and we’re always coming up with characters and scenarios and shit, and when it came time to do something new we were trying to decide what characters we wanted to do and where we wanted to go, and we just said, “Fuck, why don’t we just come up with a concept where we can do all these characters at once?” So then we had to ask ourselves kind of a fucked up question about how a mob family, a bunch of superheroes, a bunch of sexually confused pirates, and a bunch of other shit could ever fully exist in one world. That’s where the Happy Funtime Hour concept came from.

DS: You guys already have this built in brand where everyone knows what you’re best known for, so how do you pitch a show that’s considerably more out there than your last one to a network?

Robb Wells: It was really tough. I mean, it isn’t something that exactly jumps right off the page. Our producer and director were looking at us at first saying, “This is unshootable. This is impossible.”

MS: Yeah, the network at the time when we came to them and signed up to do it, about halfway through shooting Showcase was changing its format, being sold, and changing ownership and all that, so all of a sudden the network was trying to make the station more mainstream and sort of something like Global, and we ended up coming at them with this show with pirates jamming their fingers in people and it was something that ended up getting kind of discounted. (laughs)

DS: Was that part of the reason you decided to sort of lock the series off as one contained universe and story instead of keeping up with a longer arc?

MS: Yeah, but there were really a couple of reasons aside from just that. One was just because of the amount of time it took to just shoot it all with the prosthetics that we had to wear. I don’t think we could have went more than six episodes with it. We probably would have died.

RW: Every day started with about four hours in make-up alone.

DS: Yeah, with all the make up and fat suits and make-up that has to be physically demanding on comedian who has to keep their energy up all day.

Jean Paul Tremblay: Totally. We would get to work every day at about three or four in the morning, put all this stuff on, and then shoot for ten or twelve hours. Then it would take two or three hours just to get all this shit off, so doing the math there were a lot of long, long days that we had.

RW: It’s definitely challenging, but we made the show we ultimately wanted to make, so we’re really happy about it and proud of it.

MS: And, you know, the fact that we were just doing something new meant that it was fun. We worked on writing it for so long, so that when we actually went to work to shoot we would look at the schedule and say “Oh, man, look what we’re going to be shooting today!” It was an adrenaline rush for sure just to be doing these characters, and once you get in that full make-up you it feels cool to look in the mirror and you’re a 140 year old man of a big, black, fat, gay DJ. That kind of shit was just very fun to play.

DS: Now, you guys work together a lot and you have all this other stuff that you do on your own, so what is the right time for you guys to come back together and do something again and what keeps you coming back together and not getting sick of each other?

RW: We pretty much all have the same sense of humour, and we love writing together and coming up with crazy ideas together. As long as it stays fun, then we’ll keep doing it.

DS: Were any of the ideas for the show abandoned ideas for anything larger that you folded into this one?

MS: Nah, it was all pretty much new stuff that we would come up with just sitting around – in whatever state – and (laughs)… I’m not sure that was what I was thinking of saying.

DS: You might as well have just called the show We’re Really Fucked Up Right Now.

JPT: (laughs) That’s the next show. This one’s a fucking acid trip. People will feel like that watching this movie.

DS: You guys also have to trade off a lot when playing yourselves on the show between who gets to be the one who’s really fucked up and the other two who are sober. Was that something you guys tried to do so everyone got equal time to not be the straight guy?

MS: I think it sort of continues onto our next project in Swearnet, but I always seem to be the one who gets fucked up the most and the most willing to do the drugs in Drunk and on Drugs. From the first episode I’m always eating crazy shit like that fucking blue pancake just to see how fucked I can get.

JPT: It’s kind of like a shared nightmare between the three of us.

DS: Was there anything that you guys ever had to cut back on that you were bummed about?

MS: Yeah, there were some of the things that we had to tone down a bit.

RW: There were a lot of language barriers, unfortunately, that caused us to tone it down.

MS: I can’t think of anything really specific that we had to cut that we were concerned with losing, but we had to consciously edit and censor ourselves, which is never fun, but again that’s why Swearnet right now is looking pretty solid.

DS: Is what’s coming out on DVD right now a lot more like what you always intended for the show to be like in this new cut that makes it all into one movie?

MS: Definitely closer.

JPT: We definitely went back and put in a lot more of the swearing. It was tough for us because for Showcase we were only allowed I think it was 2 fucks, 4 shits…

MS: …2 cocks. Per episode.

JPT: So it kind of painted us into a corner. We knew that we wanted to give Amy (Sedaris, playing the network executive) one fuck each episode because she needed it for the character and because she was so amazing to work with. So then we were left with one fuck, and ultimately we were fighting over fucks.

MS: We were trying to trade less cocks for more fucks (laughs). We would cut back on the shits if we could add a fuck here and there. And we address that sort of thing in the movie for Swearnet. There’s a scene where we’re specifically talking about that kind of thing.

DS: How much of your battles with the network did you ever end up putting back into Amy Sedaris’ character in this one?

MS: I think by that point it was really all approved and scripted so we didn’t want to chance going back and making things potentially harder on ourselves.

DS: So what’s next for you guys? There’s been a lot of talk about what’s going to be happening.

RW: We got the new Trailer Park Boys movie coming up for us in March. Swearnet has both a movie and a website coming up soon.

MS: Swearnet: The Movie comes out in August and the internet network launch is in March, so we’re pretty pumped for the next year.

JPT: We’re definitely going to be keeping busy.