It wasn’t on a regular basis that I would tune in to watch an episode of Air Farce, but whenever I did it was worth it. The cast had deadpan delivery not to mention they practiced family-friendly humor. On a whim a few years ago, I got a few tickets to attend the live taping of their final show at the CBC headquarters. The weather was terrible that day, a snow storm had errupted but I was determined to be there. I dashed across the snow-covered street and managed to make it just in time. I had been to one live taping a few months before, so I new what to expect … or so I thought I did. There was a lot of emotion on the set from cast members as this was the final episode ever but everyone managed to hold it together and deliver an entertaining show. When I read recently that cast member Roger Abbott had passed away from a 14-year battle with leukemia, it was a sad moment. I remember having the opportunity to do a telephone interview with him for a story I was writing about the finale of the long-running comedy show. Abbott had a gentle, soothing voice that instantly calmed my nerves. He joked during most of the interview and I came away from that moment wishing it wouldn’t end. This, like the great Wayne and Shuster comedy show, was a highlight in sketch comedy that will be greatly missed as will the charming Roger Abbott.
A FARCE TO BE RECKONED WITH:
35 Years Later, Canadian Comedy Troupe is Still Flying High By Angela Walcott
The floor is a flurry of activity — guys in T-shirts and jeans with headsets; make-up artists with brushes and compacts in hand, audience coordinators and floor directors. Two men walk out to centre stage and the lights dim. A ballad begins, detailing what’s to come in the following 45 minutes. This is the set of the long running comedy program, The Royal Canadian Air Farce and although this marks its final year, there are no signs of anyone or anything slowing down. After 35 years, the Air Farce cast has enough energy and enthusiasm to do yet another 35 years worth of shows.
The Royal Canadian Air Farce’s original cast members consisted of Luba Goy, Roger Abbott, Don Ferguson, Dave Broadfoot and John Morgan. Morgan passed away in 2004, and Broadfoot retired in the 90s. Goy, Abbott and Ferguson stayed on stage the trio is what remains of the program’s original roots. Ferguson and Abbott met at Loyola College where they formed the Jest Society, an improvisational comedy ensemble in 1970. Goy joined in 1971 and Broadfoot joined the group when Jest became the Royal Canadian Air Farce. They did their first radio broadcast back in 1973 and a decade later, in 1983, it became a regular part of the CBC television line-up. Abbott was very surprised that the show lasted this long. “I keep asking myself, can I possibly be this old?’” said Abbott. When asked which medium he preferred to work in, he said radio.
“Radio is magical. With TV, you put out one single image, but with radio, it is up to the listener’s imagination,” he explained, while admitting that it reaches more people and has a greater impact. Over the years, humor has changed. What was funny back then isn’t necessarily funny now. Humor has more of an edge and often times, is not afraid to be political. Comedians are constantly pushing the bar in an attempt to be funny, hesitating to push the envelope too far. While Air Farce has not been afraid to controversial, it has commendably managed to keep its humor clean — something that appears to have kept longtime fans happy. “Comedy paralleled the music scene,” said Abbott. “Singers were songwriters and comedy writers were becoming the performers. People started performing their own material. Comedy is based more on realistic situations. It is part of the evolution.”
A younger dynamic was introduced to the troupe with the addition of Jessica Holmes, Alan Par, Penelope Corrin and Craig Lauzon to reflect this new evolution.
The troupe has remained true to its formula of putting out good, clean humor fused with local situations, national and international politics, global issues and skits about the latest Hollywood celebrity antics. The comedy sketches have always been funny and the troupe has never been afraid to challenge the system, whomever or whatever it was. It has often incorporated current politics into their sketches long before it was the thing to do. (like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report), going so far as inviting politicians to join in on the skits to make fun of themselves. The program did this recently with New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton who appeared on a Halloween special.
“Most people don’t think about the power of humor,” Abbott says. In fact Abbott admits he is not sure what humor is himself. “Satirical humor has been able to deflate sacred cows – the practitioners.” While humor can be used to lighten a bleak day, raise your spirits and diffuse tense moments. However, comedy is a fickle partner. “When it is good it is good and when it’s not, it’s awful,” said Abbott, who added that he is still not quite sure what the exact definition of it is, if there is one.
But whatever it is, he’s glad to have a hand in it since humor can be used to lighten a bleak day, raise spirits and diffuse tense moments.
However, Abbott sees comedy is a fickle partner. “When it is good it is good and when it’s not, it’s awful,” he said. “Thirty-five years later, and I still can’t predict what will get a laugh. You can’t argue with the audience.”
If it is not their silly antics and goofy characters, it is the sense of camaraderie that fans will miss the most on set. Abbott said he will miss the audience the most because of the amazing relationship he had with them. The highlight of his career, Abbott explained, has been the increase in audience ratings from the 1st million to the 2nd million –they were exciting milestones.
For the three-and-a-half decades that it aired, the program was full of Canadian content including references to Canuck landmarks, issues and celebrities that helped to highlight and celebrate country’s true culture. We may not be seeing them every Friday night anymore, but one thing is for certain, the Royal Canadian Air Farce will go down in history as the funniest and most loved shows in Canada.
The final episode, The Royal Canadian Air Farce: Final Flight, is scheduled to air on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31 at 8p.m.on CBC. And after that, there will be many recycled laughs as fans embrace the enjoyment reruns often bring.