Brent Butt dips into comedy Rolodex
Popular comedian keeps stage chops honed while delving into film
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 06, 2013 06:00 am
While Brent Butt was speaking to the Gazette, it dawned on him that February was the 25th anniversary of his professional career as a standup comic.
“The time’s gone by really fast and I’m having a great time. I’m lucky I’m one of the few people who got to live out their dream as a kid,” says Butt from his Vancouver home.
Long before the astounding international success of Corner Gas, a 12-year-old Butt, the youngest of seven kids, discovered that making people laugh was a great way to get attention.
He honed his comedic chops sitting around the town coffee shop with friends, and telling jokes at the school variety night gave him a certain popular status.
But it wasn’t until February 1988 that the eager young comedian cemented his professional future. One evening Butt stepped onto the stage of a now-defunct Saskatoon comedy club and debuted his material during amateur night.
“It was fantastic. It was the best show I ever had,” he says. “I was called back on stage for an encore and I’m still trying to live up to that night.”
The Saskatchewan wonder set a high bar and many consider him a national treasure. For fans who made Corner Gas a part of their schedule, seeing the affable comedian in a sold-out show on Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Arden Theatre is like visiting a long-lost buddy.
In this one-off Alberta show, Butt plans to deliver some of the same new material he presented during an Ontario tour in January.
“Standup is a great connection with the audience and it’s different every night. I have a Rolodex of material and I dip into it,” he says. “Every time there are large groups of people, it develops its own entity. As a performer, I see how it goes and tweak it on the fly. That’s the challenge and the excitement.”
In delivering standup material, Butt has traveled to every corner of Canada. Television, in particular, has embraced him with open arms. North American industry peers have acknowledged his multi-talented creative prowess on Corner Gas with six Gemini Awards and a nomination for an International Emmy Award.
In 2012 the adventurous talent took on a different cinematic animal, a feature film produced by his company Sparrow Media. No Clue is his first movie, a comedic mystery thriller. Plans are in the works for E One Distributors to release it during the next winter season.
“People who are smarter than I am are figuring it out (a release date). We don’t want to put it up against something that will get it crushed,” he said.
A huge fan of film noir – escapes such as Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon – Butt has written an homage to the genre.
“There are little touchstones to film noir, a tip of the hat to old-timey films,” he said.
Tiptoeing around No Clue’s storyline, Brett sketchily outlines the plot.
“A beautiful, mysterious woman comes to my character for help. She walks into the wrong office and tells her story. He agrees to help the beautiful woman because he knows the real detective is out of town.”
“I wanted to do a realistic, gritty, true-to-life film. The comedy comes in when my character gets in way over his head and he’s in a bigger situation than he could have anticipated.”
Comedies and mystery thrillers are two very different genres that rely on diverse competing elements to ensure their success. Would blending the two genres water the film down?
“I also wondered if the comedy would pull away from the drama or if the drama would kneecap the comedy. But we’ve done it in a very realistic way where they don’t pull at each other. They actually work well together,” Butt says.
A perfectionist when it came to writing the script, Butt consulted with close friend Joel Walmsley, an equally ambitious comic he met on the standup circuit. Walmsley’s original interest in comedy shifted to magic, illusion and misdirection. He eventually became captivated with the use of misdirection in criminal activities.
“He knows all the scams and grifts. He’s fascinated by heists and grifts and I ran everything by him to make sure it held water.”
Taking advantage of British Columbia’s moderate climate, No Clue was shot in Vancouver, Squamish and Chilliwack. Most camera work was completed outdoors, however Butt located an empty store in Squamish that doubled for the interior shots.
Internet news on No Clue is quite spare at the moment, however Butt will be posting Twitter feeds with updates. Just log on to his website at www.brentbutt.com.