Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
SCTV's Joe "Count Floyd-Guy Caballero-Sammy Maudlin" Flaherty on the Greatest TV Show EVER!
10-13-06 KATM EXCLUSIVE
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Comedic master Flaherty, the box cover of Shout! Factory's upcoming SCTV DVD release and Flaherty with fellow cast members
SCTV, the hilarious sketch comedy television show that originated from Canada, debuted in 1976 not long after the much more
popular Saturday Night Live to which it's often been compared. The cast, like SNL, consisted of many former Second City comic
actors skilled at improvisation and celebrity impersonation. Unlike SNL, which brought in guest hosts, current chart topping music
acts, and had a much looser format, SCTV followed its simple premise throughout the scattershot years of its existence. This was
the brilliant idea of creating a fake, broken down television station, called SCTV, reduced to putting a series of dreadful programs on
the air. With television, the “vast wasteland” as the show’s target, the cast of SCTV (who were all performers as well as writers) had
seemingly infinite possibilities for sketches. Aside from performing the parodies of literally every kind of TV show and commercial,
not to mention movie and sporting event parodies, the cast also played both SCTV station personnel (Guy Caballero and Edith
Prickley), its fourth rate stars (Lola Heatherton, Bobby Bittman, Sammy Maudlin), and impersonated a slew of celebrities.
And with a line-up that included John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Harold
Ramis, Dave Thomas, and Joe Flaherty (among others), the writing, acting and performance level was sure to be top notch. For
years, the rabid fans of the show (including a very enthusiastic Conan O’Brien) would greet each other with catch phrases made
popular by the show’s infamous characters and dreamed of the day the series would finally be released for home viewing. Finally,
after years of working out the tangled issues over music clearances, Shout! Factory began releasing multi-sets of the show (four to
date along with a disc devoted to SCTV’s parody Christmas specials).
Now, in conjunction with the latest release on October 24th, the 3-disc SCTV – Best of the Early Years, Knight at the Movies had
the distinct pleasure of speaking with the delightful Joe Flaherty, one of the show’s most unsung stars. Flaherty is sometimes
overlooked in light of the more prominent recognition his fellow cast members have enjoyed since the shows unfortunate demise but
that doesn’t dull the impact of his hilarious work. Where would SCTV have been without station manager Guy Caballero who rode
around in a wheelchair merely to gain respect or Count Floyd, the last minute, cranky replacement for the station’s Creature Feature
host, or the ultimate show biz sycophant, talk show host Sammy Maudlin?
Highlights from our conversation:
Knight At The Movies (KATM): I’m so happy to talk to you today. It’s really a pleasure and an honor. SCTV is my all time favorite
show. I’m pretty darned excited to be able to tell you that.
Joe Flaherty (JF): Great! Thank you.
KATM: Did you ever suspect that SCTV would become such a venerated show and have this amazing reputation among improvisers
and comedians all these years later?
JF: Oh God, no, no, never. Didn’t really suspect that at all. Maybe in the back of our minds. You know, I think, anytime you
approach a project you’d like to hit some kind of immortality subconsciously but no, honestly, no. (Laughs) You know, we never
were a very popular show. We never did have very good numbers or ratings or anything like that. I think the victory for us was
staying on the air and you know what? We knew that we didn’t have a big audience but we liked the audience that we did have –
kind of hip people like musicians and people in the entertainment industry liked it a lot. Apparently we were very popular with
standup comics and we liked that audience. And the fact that it’s reached this level is kind of fun.
KATM: Can you talk about working day to day with some of your fellow comic legends? And I’m using the word “legend” on purpose.
JF: Well you know what, if I had known we were going to become comic legends I think I would have approached it a little bit
differently (laughs). I was kidding Gene (Eugene Levy) about that on one of the DVDs. All I knew was that we assembled a cast of
people that we thought could do a television show because we needed people that could perform and write and these were the
strongest people that we knew of at the time that we could get together there in Toronto. What I didn’t realize was how good that
cast was going to turn out to be. I knew they were good – I was a little bit older and had more experience so I helped assemble
that group along with the producers – but I never realized what everybody would become. It just amazed me how talented they were
and how perfectly as a company everything fit together. Every sense of humor was different. Every sensibility was different but they
all together made such a nice, funny package.
KATM: It worked so beautifully together.
JF: And the talent as I say kept getting better and better. It was fun but it was also work because you had to keep up. It was a
challenge to keep up with the rest of them. We were always raising the bar. Somebody would go out there and do something great
and you’d think, “Oh geez, I’d better do something here or I’m going to look bad.”
KATM: Well you had the reputation as the improviser who in the middle of the scene would go off 360 in another direction – and you
know that don’t you (laughs)?
JF: (laughs) Especially onstage, yeah.
KATM: Did you do that during the show, too?
JF: You know, as much as I’d have liked to, I couldn’t. Sometimes maybe I would – early on – but once we had to get the shows on
we couldn’t stop tape if it didn’t work because we didn’t have the time. So we stayed basically within the script but there was a
freshness there because we didn’t rehearse it enough.
KATM: Some of your characters are so indelible – Guy, Count Floyd, Sammy, etc. – did you have a favorite one that you really loved
to perform and still look back and think, “Boy, I’d love to do something with that character?”
JF: Yes. I was just talking to somebody else about this and it wasn’t a station character. It was a character I think I did twice on
the show but he was so much fun to do and that was Charlton Heston.
KATM (Laughs hard)
JF: Nobody had done Charlton Heston at that point and I felt that I broke some ground and that would be fun to do. He was just
bigger than life – literally – too dramatic sometimes and everything was an epic as far as he was concerned.
KATM: Boy, it would be great to see you do Charlton Heston AND Kirk Douglas in one scene.
JF: (laughs) Yes!
KATM: Two great characters from your repertoire.
JF: Yes – I guess on the show you had the luxury of doing that. You could shoot that on TV.
KATM: I remember the Count Floyd comedy album. Was there ever a plan to take that character into an Elvira type horror series
where you would host it or maybe a Count Floyd movie? Because I know the whole Bob and Doug MacKenzie characters became the
big thing and I wondered if Count Floyd was next on the list?
JF: You know what, I find that interesting because there were some opportunities to do a show about him. We kicked that around –
myself and some of the writers – a series or a movie. In fact, the one that appealed to me most that one of the guys thought of
was Count Floyd vs. Blacula.
(WE BOTH LAUGH UPROARIOUSLY)
JF: I got a big kick out of that idea. It seemed perfect – you know, one of those early 70s or late 60s movies – those “versus”
movies – you know, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula – that sort of thing. And I’d be facing off with Blacula himself. I liked that but the
movies were a lot of work and the more we worked on it the more difficult it became because I was such a non-vampire, you know?
The joke about Count Floyd is that he really wasn’t a vampire. He was a guy with a bad widow’s peak drawn on his head just trying
to get through the show. So the jokes were the fact that he wasn’t a vampire; had no fangs.
KATM: I find myself wanting to recite dialogue to you – “who booked that film – Prickley!” or “Oh, kids, it’s going to be sooo scary…”
JF (laughs) You know I do take credit – rightly or wrongly – but I used the word “scary” at the time because when Harold Ramis and
I were talking about this character I said, “I’m going to use the word ‘scary;’ it’s a little kid word” and it really wasn’t used very much
back then. So that became my signature, (IN COUNT FLOYD VOICE) “Oooooh, very scary” and then all of a sudden “scary” got into
the lexicon and everybody started using the word. So I’d like to take credit for reviving it – I don’t know if I did but I think I did.
KATM: I think you did, too. Okay, speaking of movies – was there ever a plan to do an SCTV movie?
JF: A couple of times we thought about it. We entertained the idea but unlike Monty Python we never really were that…I don’t know,
we just couldn’t do it. We couldn’t find the time when somebody wasn’t a major star at the time like John (Candy) or now it would be
Gene (Levy) or Catharine (O’Hara). Everybody had different levels of notoriety which made it kind of difficult and then some of the
people didn’t want to keep being identified with SCTV. So, no, it never came off the ground and it’s too bad. You know, Monty
Python was very businesslike in their approach to it. It was like, “Okay, we’re going to do a movie now, egos be damned, forget
about who you play” and I would have loved to have done that. But I don’t know if we would have been able to write something as
great as Python, though.
KATM: Well are you going to do a one-man show like Martin Short that incorporates all your characters?
JF: Well, if you can get Chuck Heston in there (laughs).
KATM: Martin Short’s show is a big hit on Broadway, you know.
JF: Well he loves to do that but funny enough, I was talking to Eric Idle a few years back when he was doing a one-man show of
basically Monty Python material and I said, “How is that going?” and he said, “Oh, it’s going fine. I love doing these one-man
shows. If you want, I’ll do a one-man show of SCTV” (laughs) and I said, “I don’t know if that will work.” I wouldn’t want to subject
an audience to an hour and a half of just me out there. That’s probably the reason why I never even went into standup. That’s why
I like ensemble work so much and sketch work. As much as it appeals to my ego I wouldn’t want to do it.
KATM: SCTV has a devoted gay following – I don’t know if you know that – because of the camp factor of the show and there are so
many characters that you parodied that are gay icons – Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, and Lola Heatherton and Sammy and Bobby
Bittman and many others. Were you guys ever aware of that?
JF: No. No. Not at all (laughs). That’s interesting. In fact, I thought, if anything, there wouldn’t be. SCTV didn’t seem like that we
had anything for that audience. Wait a minute…oh my God, I just realized that I did Charlton Heston in the baths, actually (laughs)
when Prickley was touring in the baths and I came in to do a dramatic reading and got booed off the podium by the guys. No, no – I
didn’t know that until just this second.
KATM: So now you can be surprised and delighted for the rest of your life.
JF (laughs hard)
For more information on all things SCTV related, please visit the comprehensive site, www.SCTVguide.ca