The Royal Canadian Air Farce is a comedy troupe best known for their radio and television series which were broadcast in Canada by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Although their weekly radio series ended in 1997 and their television series ended in 2008, the troupe are still active through an annual New Year's Eve special on CBC Television.
Theatre revue and radio years Edit
The group started in Montreal, Quebec in 1970 as an improvisational theatre revue called The Jest Society, a pun on then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's famous goal of making Canada a "Just Society". The original cast was John Morgan, Martin Bronstein, Patrick Conlon, Gay Claitman, and Roger Abbott.
After a number of personnel changes, the group became the "Royal Canadian Air Farce" as early as 1973, broadcasting through CBC Radio from the Curtain Club in Richmond Hill, Ontario (400 Newkirk Road at Elgin Mills Road East). The CBC gives the date of the first broadcast as December 9, 1973. By this time the lineup consisted of Roger Abbott, Don Ferguson, Luba Goy, John Morgan, Dave Broadfoot, and Martin Bronstein. They quickly became one of the network's most popular programs. Most of their later shows were based in Toronto and recorded in CBC's Cabbagetown Studios; however as the troupe became more popular, they frequently travelled throughout the country to record their weekly radio broadcasts, which featured a mixture of political and cultural satire heavily influenced by the style of Wayne and Shuster. The touring show also often included one or more sketches satirizing local culture or politics, which were not aired on the national radio broadcast.
Bronstein left the troupe in 1974 to pursue a full-time journalism career. In 1977, non-performing writers Gord Holtam and Rick Olsen joined the crew. In the late 1970s during a trip to Los Angeles, Abbott and Ferguson were offered jobs writing for the new television sitcom Taxi, but opted to remain with Air Farce instead.
Recurring characters included addle-brained hockey player Big Bobby Clobber (Broadfoot), Sgt. Renfrew of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Broadfoot), and socialite Amy De La Pompa (Morgan), along with political figures such as Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark, and Pierre Trudeau. Additional characters included Prof. Hieronymus Wombat of the National Research Council and funeral director Hector Baggley.
Another recurring character, making vacant-minded political comments, was the Honourable David J. Broadfoot, Member of Parliament for Kicking Horse Pass and leader of the New Apathetic Party. Broadfoot had been performing as this character for years, and had appeared on Canadian and American television as "The Honourable Member" as early as the 1950s, long before his tenure with Air Farce.
Trying out TV Edit
In 1977, Air Farce writers Abbott, Broadfoot, Ferguson, and Morgan adapted several of their radio sketches for television, in addition to writing new material. The sketches were aired as the first two episodes of the six-part CBC series Krazy House, a compendium of sketch comedy pieces from various Canadian writers and performers that aired in January and February 1977. Broadfoot was the only Air Farce cast member to appear on-camera in these two episodes, which also starred Billy Van, amongst others. The fifth episode of Krazy House was written entirely by Morgan, and featured Air Farce cast member Luba Goy along with Billy Van, Harvey Atkin, and others.
The Farce troupe recorded a one-hour television special in 1980, which evolved into a ten-week series and two sequel specials in addition to their regular radio series. The shows were performed in front of a live studio audience, mixing fully produced sketches with some sketches that were essentially staged versions of the radio show, featuring the cast members standing around a microphone reading from scripts rather than acting out the roles. Despite the decent ratings for the initial special, simply staging the radio sketches did not translate well on television, and the Air Farce faded from CBC TV by 1983. In 1984, the troupe's live Toronto stage show was videotaped as a pay-TV special, and subsequently broadcast on Ontario's Global Television Network.
The troupe continued on radio though, where they flourished for the next decade. While the first decade of the show was largely recorded before a live audience at CBC Radio's Cabbagetown studio in Toronto, from 1984 to 1992 the show was recorded for broadcast on the road in communities across Canada. In this period, troupe also performed in non-broadcast concert and theatrical performances across North America. Some popular sketches in the late 1980s and early 1990s included "joint broadcasts" by CTV and CBC, overlaying opening theme music. When The Journal debuted on CBC in 1982, Air Farce spoofed the program's repeated use of the "sounder", and the use of satellite to connect people to talk to one another (including husband in living room to wife in the kitchen), as well as the seeming similarity between original hosts Barbara Frum and Mary Lou Finlay.
In the early 1980s, Air Farce's summer radio hiatus periods were filled by another comedy troupe, the Frantics, who later moved on to their own TV series, Four on the Floor. Later summer hiatus periods, however, were filled by Ferguson and Abbott playing classic comedy recordings, or by newer comedy troupes such as Radio Free Vestibule. In the late 1980s, CBC Radio launched another 30-minutes weekly political satire, Double Exposure. Though the programs were never in direct competition, some found the latter show fresher and edgier.
Broadfoot retired from the troupe in 1989, although he continued to make guest appearances with Air Farce for many years afterward, on both radio and TV. Barbara Budd was also a frequent guest of the troupe, appearing in many radio episodes of the 1980s and early 1990s, although she was never an official cast member.
Success with TV Edit
In 1992, Air Farce took a second plunge into television with 1992: Year of the Farce, a satirical New Year's Eve special. This time, the troupe elected to perform all their sketches in a more traditional (if low-budget) TV style, rather than performing some of them in front of a radio microphone. A ratings smash, the special led the troupe to produce another weekly television series, which debuted in 1993. However, this time the move to television was permanent. The radio series continued alongside the TV show for four seasons until May 1997, when it was discontinued.
The practice of having a show on New Year's Eve continued to the end of the program, and such episodes were typically titled "Year of the Farce". In recent years, Air Farce also had the honour of counting down the seconds before the New Year on CBC.
Recurring characters on the TV series included the slow Albertan Mike, from Canmore (Morgan) and angry Scot Jock McBile (Morgan), self-righteous movie critic Gilbert Smythe Bite-Me (Abbott), and chain-smoking bingo player Brenda (Goy). Though these characters would occasionally feature in sketches of their own, usually they were used at the beginning of the show to deliver a stream of one-line jokes commenting on the news of that week.
The show also featured frequent sketches with politicians, who were portrayed as various extreme caricatures of their most infamous personality quirks. Notable re-occurring figures included Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (Abbott), who could barely speak a single sentence of English without committing at least a dozen outlandish pronunciation and grammatical errors; the nasally voiced Preston Manning (Ferguson) who loved to shout "REFOOOOOOORM!"; a screaming, bitchy Sheila Copps (Goy); the tyrannical Lucien Bouchard; the dopey and overly image conscious Stockwell Day; the strutting, clucking, pompous Joe Clark; and the power-hungry Paul Martin (all Ferguson). Many of the real politicians also made guest appearances on the show, often interacting directly with their parodic counterparts: for example, in one sketch late in the show's run, Ferguson played Jack Layton answering questions at a press conference; midway through the sketch he requested a moment to consult with his "top advisor", and out came the real Jack Layton.
However, Colonel "Teresa" Stacy (Ferguson) quickly emerged as the show's most popular character—each time he appeared, Stacy would load up the Chicken Cannon and fire rubber chickens and other assorted projectiles at whomever he deemed the most annoying public figure of the week (or year).
Morgan retired from Air Farce in 2001, and the remaining three members carried on with a rotating stable of guest stars until Jessica Holmes joined the show in 2003. Holmes added celebrity figures such as Paris Hilton and Liza Minnelli, and Canadian politicians such as Belinda Stronach, to the troupe's roster of characters.
Later, in 2005, after a lockout at CBC, Air Farce gained two new cast members, who had previously appeared on the show as recurring guest stars: Alan Park and Craig Lauzon. The addition of these two newcomers brought the total number of performers in the troupe to six. Park initially only signed on to do rant-like segments, saying in interviews that he'd never play a character, but ended up taking on roles including Barack Obama. Lauzon regularly portrayed Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, taking his stiff public persona and creating a generally robotic character.
While the show was held up as de facto Canadian tradition, some critics felt that the television show's quality had diminished over the past few seasons, especially since the breakdown of the original four-actor quartet. However, it still continued to draw solid ratings each week.
On March 30, 2007, the Air Farce celebrated their 300th episode by doing the show on live television (except in Western Canada) for one hour. Roger Abbott and Luba Goy began the show with a brief history of the show, closing with "the scariest three words on television: AIR FARCE LIVE!".
After this experimental episode, CBC announced that the 15th season of the series would be aired live for the entire season, with a name change to Air Farce Live. With the new live format, Penelope Corrin, who filled in for Holmes during her pregnancy in early 2007, officially joined the troupe, increasing its number to seven.
On April 1, 2008, the CBC and Air Farce jointly announced that the Royal Canadian Air Farce would wrap up its weekly television show in the 2008/2009 season. The plan as announced was for nine new Air Farce shows to be produced for the fall of 2008, and then the series would end with a New Year's Eve special at the end of 2008.
New Year's Eve reunion specialsEdit
Air Farce returned on December 31, 2009 for a New Year's special, featuring the return of most of the original cast (excluding Jessica Holmes, who had committed to appearing in a theatre show). As well, long-time writers Holtham and Olson retired, and did not write for this or any subsequent reunion show.
The first reunion special featured guest appearances by Peter Mansbridge, Battle of the Blades winners Jamie Salé and Craig Simpson, and the Dragons of Dragons' Den. The special also featured the successor to the Chicken Cannon, the "F-Bombs," which was dropped onto photographs from the top of the atrium of the Canadian Broadcasting Centre. A further special aired on December 31, 2010, with Jessica Holmes reuniting with the rest of the cast. She would leave again, and not return to Air Farce until 2016.
Roger Abbott died of leukemia on March 26, 2011.
As December 31, 2011 fell on a Saturday, Hockey Night in Canada was broadcast as usual; the 2011 special, Air Farce Not The New Year's Eve Special aired instead on January 1, 2012. While the troupe had originally not planned to do a special for 2011-2012 due to the death of Roger Abbott, they were coaxed by producers and the CBC to continue. The special featured a new cast member, Arnold Pinnock, who became a regular member of the troupe, also featuring in their subsequent 2012/2013 New Year's Eve broadcast.
Pinnock elected not to return for the 2014 special. After a talent search, stand-up comic Aisha Alfa and Second City-alumni Darryl Hinds were added. The following year (2015), Park and Corrin left, and Emma Hunter was added to the cast. The year after that Holmes returned, bringing the cast back up to seven.
Ferguson has announced that for 2017 the Air Farce will tape two specials. One will be for Canada Day, the other will be the troupe's traditional New Year's Eve show.
Cast history Edit
Original members Edit
- Roger Abbott (1973–2011) died at the age of 64 on March 26, 2011
- Martin Bronstein (1973–1974)
- Don Ferguson (1973–)
- Luba Goy (1973–)
- John Morgan (1973–2001) retired in 2001, died at the age of 74 on November 15, 2004
- Dave Broadfoot (1973–1988): Broadfoot retired in 1988, but was thereafter an occasional "special guest" on both the radio and TV series, his appearances becoming less frequent over time. However, he continued as an occasional special guest right through to the troupe's final regular TV broadcast on December 31, 2008. He died at the age of 90 on November 1, 2016
Later additions Edit
- Jessica Holmes (2003–2008, 2010, 2016), did not appear in 2009. Returned in 2016 after a six year hiatus.
- Craig Lauzon (2004–), supporting member during 2003, became full member in 2004.
- Alan Park (2004–2014), supporting member during 2003, became full member in 2004.
- Penelope Corrin (2007–2014), filled in during Holmes' maternity leave during the first two months of 2007, returned for the live season finale, joined cast for 2007/2008 season.
- Arnold Pinnock (2012–2013), addition after the death of Roger Abbott, debuted on 2012 New Year's Day Special.
- Darryl Hinds (2014–)
- Aisha Alfa (2014–)
- Emma Hunter (2015–)
- Barbara Budd (1984–1991), frequent appearances as a "special guest" on the radio show
Members of the Jest SocietyEdit
- John Morgan (1970–1973) co-founder
- Martin Bronstein (1970–1973) co-founder
- Roger Abbott (1970–1973)
- Don Ferguson (1971–1973)
- Luba Goy (1971–1973)
The Air Farce released eight comedy albums during its radio days, all of which are available on the Air Farce website.
- The Air Farce Comedy Album (1978)
- Air Farce Live (1983)
- The Air Farce Green Album (1990)
- To Air Is Human, To Farce Divine (1990)
- Farce On A Stick (1991)
- Year of the Farce (1991)
- Twenty Twenty (1993)
- Unplugged and Uncorked (1994)
Royal Canadian Air Farce has received the following awards and nominations:
- the Governor General's Performing Arts Award (1998)
- a star on Canada's Walk of Fame (2000)
- a Juno Award for comedy album of the year
- Don Ferguson and Roger Abbott were given a special Gemini Award for "Humanitarians of the Year"
- Maclean's Honour Roll of "Canadians Who Make a Difference"
- the Earle Grey Award for lifetime achievement in Canadian Television
- nominated for thirteen Canadian Comedy Awards from 2000 to 2005, but have not won
See also Edit
- Superspecial - Air Farce Original Airdate : 1980-10-19 Air Farce's first TV special (1980)
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