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'Greatest of all time': Joe Flaherty created memorable, still funny 'SCTV' characters

Forty years after he invented them, Joe Flaherty's characters can still raise a smirk, and often more, from Canadians of a certain age.
In this Dec. 12, 2009 file photo, actor and director Harold Ramis, centre, along with actors from left, Joe Flaherty, Eugenie Ross-Leming, Judy Morgan, standing, and Jim Belushi break out in laughter as they perform a skit on stage to celebrate The Second City's 50th anniversary in Chicago. Comedian Joe Flaherty, a founding member of the Canadian sketch series “SCTV,” has died. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Jim Prisching

Forty years after he invented them, Joe Flaherty's characters can still raise a smirk, and often more, from Canadians of a certain age.

"Rest in peace to one of the great comedy minds of my lifetime," opined one heartsick fan on social media Tuesday after Flaherty's death was announced.

Anyone watching TV in the '80s, who had the requisite anarchic sense of humour, can probably still rattle off the characters Flaherty invented for 'SCTV.' The sketch series about a fictional TV station is still memorialized behind a showcase in Edmonton's Global TV building, the show's original home.

There was Guy Caballero, the wheelchair-bound (sometimes) president of the imaginary network; acerbic-to-the-point-of-rude newsman Floyd Robertson; and talk show host Sammy Maudlin with the inflated Afro hair and lounge-lizard tux.

Flaherty was also the member of the '50s-style, squeaky-clean doo-wop ensemble The Five Neat Guys, a little booze-wobbly in his pressed chinos and V-neck; Big Jim McBob from Farm Film Report and Celebrity Blow-Up, who didn't much care for movies but loved it when things "blowed up real good."

And of course, there was Count Floyd, who, with his painted-on widow's peak and trademark howl of "Ah-ooooo," never seemed to know whether he was vampire or werewolf.

"Forty years later I still hear this sketch in my head when I have pancakes," wrote one Floydian, recalling when the count screened the movie "Dr. Tongue's Evil 3D House of Pancakes."

If there was one thing those characters had in common, it was that they were all much too much and utterly shameless about it.

Caballero, who would have been the worst boss you never had, typically addressed the camera from a wheelchair. He didn't need it. He got out of it when it suited him. He only used it, he said, "for respect."

An oleaginous Maudlin, in an accent spoken by nobody nowhere, flipped between buttering his guests up and reminding them, "You have been known to pork out, baby."

Perhaps the king — or the count — of shameless was the host of Monster Chiller Horror Theatre.

In between trying to convince his watchers that movies such as "3D House of Cats" were actually frightening ("Verrry scarrry, kids. Ah-oooo!"), Count Floyd would try to con them into sending him $27 for a set of cardboard 3D glasses, all the while trying not to knock down a very obviously cardboard set.

In today's age of shamelessness, shameless is still funny.

"One of my true heroes," posted actor and comedian Tom Green. "Growing up watching him made me think about comedy in a completely different way.

"Joe was one of the greatest of all time."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2024.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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