Behind Air Farce's laughter
(CBC Still Photo Collection)
An instant hit on both radio and television, the Royal Canadian Air Farce
ran longer than any other comedy program on CBC.
The diehard fans of the show number in the millions, with critics acknowledging that Air Farce
exemplifies Canadian comedic mayhem. But while Air Farce
's knack for send-ups of politicians, pundits, and plebeians alike kept audiences laughing out loud for almost four decades, the troupe's own story has gone untold. Until now.
Comedy troupe member Don Ferguson teamed up with the late Roger Abbott to pen a candid memoir, entitled Air Farce: 40 Years of Flying By the Seat of Our Pants
. The book is set to launch on Oct. 17 with a special signing with Ferguson at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in downtown Toronto.
The memoir is full of anecdotes, photographs, scripts, and other memorabilia from the authors' private collections and describes every aspect of their hard-scrabble early life in 1970 as an onstage comedy troupe, their historic run on radio, and their spectacular success on prime-time television.
Ferguson and Abbott were friends since they were 13 years old, first meeting on on the steps of Loyola College High School in Montreal's west end. The meeting would spawn a life-long friendship and a creative and business partnership spanning more than 40 years.
Abbott died in March 2011 at the age of 64, 14 years after being diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. In the wake of his death, Ferguson took on finishing the 272-page book.Writing book 'therapeutic'
"His death is still fairly recent and it's something I'm still coming to terms with," Ferguson says. "In a way I've been reliving for the past several months the history of Air Farce
from its beginnings all the way through. In a way it's been an interesting experience. It's been fun. It's been very therapeutic."
Abbott stumbled into comedy in 1970 with the improvisational comedy troupe, The Jest Society, a satirical parry to Pierre Trudeau's Just Society
. The original group was made up of John Morgan, Martin Bronstein, Patrick Conlon, Gay Claitman and Abbott.
Within a few months of forming, the Jest Society moved to Toronto, where Ferguson and Luba Goy joined them and, with the addition of Dave Broadfoot, the troupe would evolve into the Royal Canadian Air Farce.
The troupe sketch comedy show made its CBC Radio debut in December 1973. The show was recorded live for the first few years at the Curtain Club in Richmond Hill, Ont., then at CBC's Cabbagetown studio theatre in Toronto - and then at theatres all across Canada for broadcast across the country on CBC Radio.
Writers Gord Holtam and Rick Olsen joined the crew in 1977 and over a period of 24 years, the group produced more than 600 radio broadcasts.
After brief stints on television in the 1980s, Air Farce
took up its permanent place on the CBC-TV roster in 1993. It ran concurrently on radio and television for four seasons before moving exclusively to TV in 1997. In 2003, the show added four new cast members: Jessica Holmes, Craig Lauzon, Alan Park and Penelope Corrin. And in 2007, the show returned to a live format with Air Farce Live
, which ran until New Year's Eve 2008.Cast contributions
The new book includes contributions Broadfoot and Goy as well as Holmes, Hotlman, Perry Rosemond and Ivan Fecan - all interviewed by journalist and Farce
fan Bill Brioux.
Readers will be taken behind-the-scenes, on stage and into the day-to-day creative vortex of one of the most popular comedy shows in the history of Canadian television.
"It's a fabulous book and I know this not because I wrote a lot of it but we were able to gather lots of photographs going way back," Ferguson says.
The author added when he first saw the prototype of the book, he expressed some concern about the over 200 behind-the-scene photos it contains.
"I said to the editor that the problem with this is this book is worth reading but no one's going to read it - they're going to be looking at the pictures," Ferguson jokes.
"But it's really fun ... and if you're an Air Farce
fan, it's a great book. I can honestly say that."
The memoir maps Air Farce
's earliest days on CBC radio, touring the country, and after 20 years of unprecedented radio success, landing on television for yet another incarnation of the Farce.Winning hearts and mindsAir Farce
won the hearts and minds of Canadians because of their uncanny ability to turn headlines into punchlines and find funny nuggets in everything from national scandals to small-town idiosyncrasies.
For 35 years, millions of Canadians tuned into CBC for their weekly dose of home-grown humour. They flocked to town halls, high-school gyms and charitable benefits the Farce supported, lined up for the annual Christmas revues at Toronto's Massey Hall and clamoured for tickets to the New Year's Eve tapings.
The popularity of Air Farce
was partially based on its ability to "provide a mirror - slightly cracked - for the nation", Ferguson says.
The memoir really is an unprecedented glimpse to the intimate workings of the comedy troupe with no-holds barred, he adds.
Both Ferguson and Abbott have written sections that share highlights, lowlights, successes and tragedies that resulted from their Air Farce
You can learn more about the book on its official website
, including a sneak peak at a chapter
. It's also currently available for pre-order
ahead of its official Nov. 7 release.
If you want to attend the book signing, you can find out more info about the event - which is happening from 12-2 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in downtown Toronto - on our Facebook page
Keep watching the 75th anniversary blog for more Air Farce
surprises, including clips from an exclusive interview with Ferguson.
Posted on Oct 10, 2011 6:00:00 AM