Air Farce to air its New Year's Eve special a day early

The comedy troupe's annual goof on the year-that-was premieres Friday, on Dec. 30, a day earlier than their usual New Year's Eve airing.

'Uust the greatest range of people we've ever had,' Don Ferguson says of cast

The Air Farce crew are returning with their New Year's Eve special - one day early, on Dec. 30. (Callbackheadshots.com)

Air Farce fans will have to reschedule their New Year's Eve plans.

The comedy troupe's annual goof on the year-that-was premieres Friday, on Dec. 30, a day earlier than their usual New Year's Eve airing. It has everything to do with Dec. 31 falling on a Saturday.

Even founding trouper Don Ferguson recognizes that, in Canada, "the Saturday Hockey Night in Canada broadcast is sacred."

Viewers in Quebec and Ontario can stay tuned Saturday, however, for a second broadcast of Air Farce New Year's Eve 2016 directly after the Montreal Canadiens/Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game.

There will even be a third showing on Jan. 1.

Viewers will see what Ferguson describes as the "best cast ever" in the troupe's 43-year history.

"The cast was like a love-in this year. Everybody was so happy with everyone else. It's the kind of thing you dream of when you're working on a show."

Jessica Holmes returns after 6-year hiatus

Among the players is former regular Jessica Holmes, returning after a six-year absence.

Born the year the Royal Canadian Air Farce began in 1973, Holmes performed as a regular from 2003 through the end of the series' run in 2008, returning in 2010 for one New Year's Eve special. There were several reasons for her departure, she says.

"I had post-partum depression after my son was born, but then went through another depression shortly after leaving Air Farce," says Holmes, who chronicled her struggles in the 2010 book I Love Your Laugh: Finding the Light in My Screwball Life.

She eventually became "really passionate about putting mental health advocacy into the comedy I do." Holmes "re-routed" her career, juggling stand-up comedy and motivational speaking. Her proudest moments now are when people come up to her and thank her for speaking out on mental health issues.

Jessica Holmes, third from right, returns to the show after a 6-year hiatus. (Callbackheadshots.com)

"In the end," she says, "it is good I took six years off to figure out this new path for myself."

Still, she says, she was nervous going back before studio audiences for two Air Farce tapings. She wondered: "Can someone lose their sketch comedy muscles?"

Her worries were for naught.

"It felt really great to be making people laugh on TV again," she says.

Holmes's two children, ages eight and nine, attended the tapings. Prior to this year, they had only seen mom perform with the Farce on video. It was while screening old sketches that Holmes began seeing her work "through their eyes, saw how magical and exciting it was, and started missing the guys."

A few months later, she got in touch with Ferguson and asked if he "might have room for one more," in the New Year's Eve show. Ferguson was only too happy to welcome her back.

She joins Luba Goy — with Don the other remaining founding member — Craig Lauzon, Aisha Alfa, Darryl Hinds and Emma Hunter in a Farce cast that features more women than men for the first time ever.

Ferguson is thrilled with the cast's diversity.

"We have young, old, white, black, South Asian, First Nations — just the greatest range of people we've ever had."

Cast to join CBC's Canada 150

The expanded Air Farce cast has already received orders to fly a special mission. They'll be part of CBC's Canada 150 plans, returning with a new special around July 1.

The troupe has been lobbying for a second show to air in the summer for years. The annual New Year's Eve broadcast has been a consistent crowd-pleaser, scoring as the public broadcaster's top special of the year.

"I'm just really happy CBC saw fit to include us in their plans," says Ferguson, who looks at the Canada 150 initiative as an audition for an annual summer broadcast. He sees a summer blast of Farce as a "Canada at the cottage" kind of hour, leaving headline news sketches for the New Year's Eve specials.

The summer special will have a historical bent, with takeoffs on former prime ministers going all the way back to Sir John A. Macdonald.

All seven cast members have indicated they'll be back, although Hunter may have a conflict.

"She's going to have a baby at the end of June," says Ferguson. "As one of the writers said, 'I guess there's going to be a few pregnant pioneer housewives in this historical show."