The Royal Canadian Air Farce makes its final flight on CBC Television on Wednesday.
It’s the 16th New Year’s Eve special for the venerable comedy troupe, and it will be the final show for the Air Farce crew.
Don Ferguson, Roger Abbott and Luba Goy, who were part of the original troupe that began the show on CBC Radio in 1973, announced earlier this year they would end the show with the New Year’s Eve edition.
The Final Flight episode was recorded in front of a live audience, as were all 332 Friday night shows that aired on television over the past 16 years.
The final edition will feature appearances by some of the cast's Canadian characters, including Stephen Harper, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, as well as satirical looks at both the year that was and the year to come.
Air Farce veteran Dave Broadfoot is returning for a cameo. Other special guests include The National anchor Peter Mansbridge, writer Margaret Atwood, CBC Sports’s Ron MacLean and hockey legend Johnny Bower.
The successful formula of political satire that Air Farce created lives on in shows such as This Hour has 22 Minutes and Rick Mercer Report, but Abbott demurs when asked whether he believes they've left a legacy.
"I think we've left some memories behind and some bad jokes — I don't know about a legacy," he told CBC News.
, but I think we might have been the first to make it really popular and accessible in that it was goofy political satire rather than sharp editorial comment. I think of that weird mix we always had of …a clever political joke followed by a really bad toilet joke."
The radio show, which also included original members such as Martin Bronstein, John Morgan and Broadfoot, toured for 24 years.
The Air Farce teamed up with local charities in cities and towns across Canada. The charities rented a theatre and sold tickets, and the troupe did everything else.
"It was a terrific training ground for us, because it enabled us to find out what makes real people laugh out loud," Abbott said.
That connection with the live audience has been one of best things about the show for the Air Farce crew, which now includes newer members Penelope Corrin, Jessica Holmes, Craig Lauzon and Alan Park.
Abbott recalls performing in Iqaluit, being in front of a Calgary audience during the 1988 Olympics and appearing before Canadian troops in Germany.
"I remember a thing Don [Ferguson] and I wrote — a morning in the life of prime minister Pierre Trudeau — he'd wake up in the morning and Don would do his Trudeauesque yawn. He steps out of bed and then 'the first order of the morning' — the sound of a stream of water pouring into another bowl of water. The audience knew exactly what we had in mind … and then we say 'With a refreshing pot of tea.'"
Ferguson's Trudeau was always a favourite with both live and radio audiences.
'The one thing about radio writing is you don't have a laugh track. You have to get the live audience to respond — the microphone [doesn't] pick up smiles or appreciative nods'—Don Ferguson
All those years of doing live performances for radio helped the Air Farce crew make the transition to TV, Ferguson said.
"The one thing about radio writing is you don't have a laugh track. You have to get the live audience to respond — the microphone didn't pick up smiles or appreciative nods. The fact that we did things for radio in front of a live audience was unique," Ferguson said.
"When you're playing in front of 2,000 people, you can't just stand at the microphone and move your lips, so we all became quite physical — we gestured and we moved around and made faces," he said.
There was doubt among CBC brass about how well the show would do on TV after being so well-loved on radio, he recalled. "When we got into television, we had been acting and performing physically for a long time. A lot of people were surprised when we made the transition. We were able to, because we’d been doing it all along — but no one ever saw it."
The show drew more than one million viewers with its second episode and kept a large audience throughout its 16-year run.
"We wanted to reflect where we lived — we thought there was a great mine of humour in Canada that wasn’t being done," Abbott said.
Abbott said he hears from people in their 20s who have no memory of Air Farce not being on air. In the weeks since they announced it would go off air, people have approached him to say "thanks for the laughs," he said.
"[They'll say] 'It used to be a big treat on Sundays after church — we'd come home from church and turn on the radio. I got into dating and didn't see it for some years. And now I've settled down and I’m watching it again.'"
Abbott said there were tearful partings with fans and crew after the final taping in Toronto the week before Christmas.
While he says he won't miss the long days of writing comedy, he will miss the many connections he's made with ordinary Canadians.
"I think we'll feel it in January, when Parliament is back in session and Obama is inaugurated and we wake up one morning and think of a joke that we'd really like to get into that week's show, then we realize we don't have that week's show," he said.