Arts·Queeries

With the darkly hilarious The Other Two, Heléne Yorke is proving herself a comedy icon in the making

The actress has gone from childhood summers on Lake Winnipeg to starring in one of the best shows on TV (if you can find it).

The actress has gone from childhood summers on Lake Winnipeg to starring in one of the best shows on TV

Heléne Yorke in The Other Two. (HBO Max)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

The only remotely negative thing I have to say about the otherwise more-or-less perfect comedy series The Other Two is how annoying it's been to find a way to watch it in Canada. The first season finally arrived on Crave this past spring, two years after its U.S. release (though it had been available via purchase on iTunes prior), and the most of us are still awaiting the debut of the second. I have been lucky enough to watch via screener, and is it ever worth the wait.

"Justin Trudeau needs to come out and like, really pump The Other Two if he wants to be reelected again," one the show's stars, Vancouver-born Heléne Yorke, told me on the phone just before the September election. As we now know, Trudeau remarkably managed to squeak by without any mention of The Other Two in the Liberal platform. So we're just going have to rewatch the first season for a second time (or a third, as I just did last month) as we await the second season's Canadian launch later this year.

In the meantime, another thing we can do is all become a little more obsessed with one of our fellow Canadians, at least by birth.

"I've been in the States since I was one and a half," Yorke says. "Truly, I was Canadian for a sliver. But my family is from Winnipeg, and I went every summer to Victoria Beach on Lake Winnipeg. It's kinda where I grew up and where I learned how to swim made all my friends. Canadian cottage culture is deep in my bones."

Yorke plays Brooke Dubek in the series, a straight, 30ish former professional dancer who — along with her gay struggling actor brother Cary (Drew Tarver) — make up the titular "other two" as they try their messy best to navigate the rapid, Bieber-like celebrity of their 13-year-old brother Chase (Case Walker) and the suddenly regular presence of their fragile, Hollywood-ready mom Pat (Molly Shannon, who is as magical on the show as she always is). It may sound like a gimmicky premise, but anyone whose seen even a few episodes knows how much it elevates that idea, serving some of the most hilarious dialogue on TV while also being a dark, uncomfortably truthful take on family, fame and finding yourself.

Personally, I've come across few characters on TV as relatable as Tarver's Drew — which is a little distressing given that he is one of the most tragically dysfunctional gay men the medium has ever seen. (The Other Two, in general, offers one of the most on-point depictions of contemporary gay life currently on TV.) When I reluctantly admit this to Yorke, I am grateful she quickly shows solidarity. 

"I think one of the things that makes this show so successful is that I think most people are a little reluctant to admit that they see themselves in these two characters," she says. "Certainly, I see myself in Brooke in a way that is deeply troubling to me. I think it's really easy in this day and age to think you have everything together or be able to curate an image of having it together, when I really, truly believe — and I'll go to my grave with this — that none of us have it together."

Drew Tarver and Heléne Yorke in The Other Two. (Greg Endries/HBO Max)

Yorke says that "getting to the core of who we are and what's really important in our lives" is one of the primary things The Other Two has done "really, really well."  

"This idea of getting success and what that feels like and what that means and the fact that it's never exactly what you expect it to be," she explains. "We all like to think like, 'Oh, we would behave well in certain situations.' But really all of us are just shitheads by accident on a near-constant basis, just speaking for myself."

Initially a musical theatre actress (she was in Broadway productions of Grease and Bullets Over Broadway and played Glinda in the 2009 U.S. national tour of Wicked), Yorke made her way to television with notable roles on Masters of Sex, High Maintenance and The Good Fight before landing her dream role on The Other Two

"I was doing a show called Graves at the time, and I was about to go to New Mexico to shoot the second season of that when I got the script for this and I was like, 'Goddamnit,'" she recalls. "It's just kind of always scary to get a script of something that you want and that you think is really right for you, just because wanting something presents the possibility of losing it. I'm sure there's a psychological deep dive you can do on that."

Yorke auditioned for the show's co-creators, Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, who were just finishing up a run as head writers on Saturday Night Live (their former boss there, Yorke's fellow Canuck Lorne Michaels, executive produces The Other Two).

"I was just like, 'These people are so cool,'" Yorke says of meeting Kelly and Schneider. "When I first moved to New York, improv classes were expensive, and I was like, 'How does anybody have $350 for an improv class?' So I was never in with that crowd, and I've just always really admired comedians and actors that find their way in that world. And at that point, Drew had been cast, and he's an incredibly skilled, hilarious improviser. So I went in with an open heart, hopeful that maybe just maybe they would take an interest in me. And then after meeting with them and reading through the material and everything, I was just walking down Fifth Avenue, just thinking, 'Gosh, if I'm not lucky enough to get this, I wonder if those two would want to be my friends.'"

Of course, Yorke was indeed lucky enough to get it, and we've been oh so lucky as a result: the sharp delivery and physical comedy she brings to Brooke reminds me of Jane Krakowski in 30 Rock and Renée Elise Goldsberry in Girls5Eva, as does her career in general. All three are performers in musical theatre who have emerged as these astonishing comedic talents at the heart of a TV show. I tell Yorke this, and ask if her background in musical theatre has informed the way she approaches comedy. 

"Um, incredibly nice to be mentioned in the same sentence as Jane and Renée, first of all," she says. "I'm a huge fan of both of them. I played Jane's daughter on 30 Rock after she donates her eggs to buy a Vespa in college. Me and John Early play her kids that come back to haunt her after she has abandoned us because she sold her eggs for money." (I highly suggest you find your way to this episode of 30 Rock: it's the 11th episode of the sixth season). 

Heléne Yorke in The Other Two. (Greg Endries/HBO)

Yorke explains that training in musical theatre (she did so at the University of Michigan) was definitely beneficial to her future work in comedic acting. 

"I think it's the letting go of looking stupid, if that makes sense? Theatre school is a place where you're getting applauded by your friends to push the envelope and go further. That encouragement is really helpful and conducive to finding out who you are and then also if you have a predisposition for comedy. It starts to come out."

"I watched Ace Ventura: Pet Detective like 500,000 times growing up and I just could not believe what Jim Carrey was doing with his body. So I've just always admired that ability in others. And hey ... he's Canadian too!"

Indeed he is, and may Heléne Yorke deservedly go on to join him as our most celebrated comedic exports.

The first season of The Other Two is available to stream on Crave, with the second season coming out a TBD date in 2021. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2020s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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