Exactly a month ago today, it was my girlfriend’s birthday. We spent the night downtown at the Moore Theater in Seattle. Exactly one year before that, we celebrated in the exact same building by attending a performance by Antony and The Johnsons. If you managed to read the review that I wrote of that show, you might remember that we were provided with seats in our very own balcony, among ancient stained glass windows and majestic statues. The historic building felt as if it had been constructed specifically for just such an occasion. Antony Hegarty‘s operatic vocals mixed with the vibrating piano chords and resonating strings of his stripped-down mini-orchestra; swirling up to the classic dome ceiling and filling every cement crack in the architecture. It was a magically chilling experience that my lady has chalked up as her “favorite concert ever.” Yep, “favorite“. Yep… “magical“. Yep, these are the standards that I’ve created for myself and was forced to live up to. So, like I said, we returned to the same beautiful historic building as on that memorable occasion a year prior. The major difference was that, this time, cellos and vibrato were exchanged for fake piss and weed jokes and the theater seats, previously occupied with an awe-struck audience so silent that you could hear a pin drop, were now filled with screaming white trash alcoholics.
The U.S. run of the Trailer Park Boys Live “tour” seemed to have limited advertisement behind it. That is, if you can even call it a tour; I only knew of 2 dates total: one in L.A. and the one in Seattle that I attended. The official website didn’t even hold any information about the dates and the only other appearances that I could find took place in their home land of Canada. The last Trailer Park Boys film, Countdown to Liquor Day (2009) didn’t even have a U.S. release beyond Netflix/DVD. That’s actually one thing that I like about TPB overall, they don’t need the United States for their success and are aware of it. If there is substance and quality behind a project, somebody will find it but, since that’s not always enough, I’ll provide a bit of a back story for those that were never exposed to the magic that is the Canadian cult phenomenon known as “Trailer Park Boys“. In 1999, filmmaker Mike Clattenburg wrote/directed the original Trailer Park Boys, a black and white mockumentary-style film which chronicled the lives of Ricky (Rob Wells) and Julian (John Paul Tremblay), two small-time hoods living in a trailer park in Dartmouth, Novia Scotia. Canadian cable network, Showcase saw it’s potential and, after being approached with the proposition, agreed to run the Trailer Park Boys as a series. A few changes were made, including filming in color and the incorporation of Bubbles (Mike Smith), a character taken from the early Clattenburg short film The Cart Boy. Throughout its 7 year run (2001 – ’07 ) TPB gained legions of fans and spawned 2 more films, with the legendary Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes, etc) operating as executive producer. Now, after successfully transitioning from film to a TV series and back, the 3 main stars set out to translate their routine into a live stage show titled, Ricky, Julian and Bubbles Community Service Variety Show. On February 28th it was my opportunity to see how well they were able to make the latest jump.
The entrance of the Moore Theatre opens directly into a foyer with a merch booth and a small bar against the far wall. There was less of a line behind the bar and much more of a rowdy unorganized mob packed around it. Surprisingly, there was no search upon entry. We found our seats on the main floor and it gave me a better chance to survey the crowd as individuals. RUSH was pumping through the house system and I noticed a man in a hockey jersey with the name “BUBBLES” on the back. The front of the jersey had “Sunny Vale” (the sit-com’s trailer park) printed on it in place of a team name. Then I noticed a Gretsky jersey, then another and another. The only things that rivaled Hockey gear in volume were cast “impersonators” and pot T-Shirts. One person was even dressed as Bubbles‘ wrestling alias, The Green Bastard and I caught a couple of fools imitating Ricky by sporting pompadours and sideburns (both real and fake). Coincidentally enough, the last time that I saw fake pompadours was also the last time that I was at The Moore, during a DEVO concert. The crowd was already whooping, hollering, and patting each other on the back, congratulating each other’s festive garb. A guy up front stood facing the crowd and, with his arms raised high, he commanded the crowd to join him in a giant “WHOO!” He was wearing an T-Shirt with a giant pot-leaf on it, parodying the ADIDAS Tri-foil logo. It said “ADDICTED” across the bottom.
There was a black curtain set up stage right and a projector screen positioned dead center. The lights finally went down at 7:20 and I hoped that it would be a big enough cue to make the crowd finally shut the fuck up. It wasn’t. Smoke poured out over the top of the curtain as dialog began coming through the speakers. From what I gathered, Bubbles was arguing with Ricky, who was “smoking weed” behind the curtain, to pull his shit together, but the details were often difficult to make out, due to the constant noise coming from the disorderly wing-nuts in the audience. The basic premise for the show was that Julian, Bubbles, and Ricky were supposed to put on a court mandated anti-drug/alcohol puppet show to help work off their community service hours. Bubbles was trying to get the other two to partake in the educational kids’ show routine and was calling Ricky out for smoking tough behind the screen instead. Before they ever physically appeared, the audio took them through a scenario where Ricky takes a piss in a milk jug and tosses it over the curtain, sending it thumping and spilling out over the stage. There’s a brief moment where they attempted to work with the puppets, but quickly abandoned them as Ricky and Julian entered from behind the screen.
There was a standing ovation when they hit the stage and, although I had already tired of the audience’s screams, even I was pretty psyched to see the stars in person for the first time. Eventually, Bubbles gave up and came out himself. There was another standing ovation. “Okay” I thought. “These people are too simple-minded to pay attention to the audio alone but, now that the actors are in clear view, the crowd won’t overpower the dialogue“. Nope. More chants and screams came, often in misguided attempts to interact with the actors and gain their attention during the performance. There was even a screaming match between a couple of strangers demanding that the other one, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” A group of idiots stumbled over each other and crashed out through the back door. Some douchebag who was wearing a Sounders jersey, a couple of rows dead in front of me, kept standing up and screaming with his arms raised and blocking my view. My knuckles were whitening, but I couldn’t punch everybody so I tried to focus on the performance as much as possible.
Ricky left the stage, pretending to bail on the “community service” and Julian followed suit, instructing Bubbles to keep the crowd busy. Mike Smith (aka: “Bubbles”) is actually an accomplished musician in Canada, as a former member of the band Sandbox. He picked up an acoustic guitar and played it for the audience. Then he pissed himself and, when the other two characters returned and Ricky brought attention to the “accident”, he fled the stage to change his clothes.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuE3JDqujgg
When Smith returned, he did so as The Green Bastard, picking fights with Ricky, in retaliation for embarrassing him. That’s when Julian and Bubbles decided to utilize the projection screen to present Ricky and the rest of us with a slide show of their escapades from earlier that day. The story was that Ricky was so trashed that he hadn’t remembered any of the embarrassing acts that he had committed, so there were a lot of images of him doing things like vomiting, passing out in the street, falling down stairs, and having dicks scrawled across his face in permanent marker. Then, as a comedic double-cross, Bubbles had slipped in a few derogatory images of Julian as Patrick Swayze. This reference goes as far back as the original film, when Julian was taunted by people referring to him as Swayze and Ricky was constantly be mocked for resembling illusionist/hypnotist, Peter Raveen. The Raveen reference also appeared later in the show, when Ricky mentioned the magician, while claiming that he had the ability to “hipitize” the audience. He elaborated to Bubbles that the human brain has “departments” and “compartments” so, to “hipitize” someone, it only requires the ability to switch the “compartments” with the “departments“. In the first moment of true audience interaction, a group of women were invited onto the stage and were seated in chairs to be “hipitized“. Ricky went through his little routine and, when he’ finished, Bubbles was completely convinced that the whole thing had worked. They had been commenting on having 2 probation officers monitoring their performance and, now that they had been “hipitized” with the rest of the crowd, the 3 convicts would be free to act however they chose for the remainder of the evening without the fear of regulation by their law enforcement chaperones. The “downside” was that Ricky didn’t know how to “un-hipitize” people, so they left for the intermission with plans to discover how to break a trance by searching on the internet.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26s92l5zw18
During the intermission, I made my way downstairs as part of a slow moving line to the bathroom. A couple of guys hit some weed and a few more than that took pulls off of cigarettes in the stairwell. There was a thick smell of booze and sweat and, although I haven’t attended a professional wrestling event in 20 years, I still recognized this crowd from my youth. It really started to hit me that, much like with the WWF matches, a good amount of these ridiculous clowns in attendance had issues differentiating between the entertainers and the characters that they were representing. It was as if they didn’t realize that the actors weren’t actrually returning to a trailer park after the show; they were probably going to a really fucking nice hotel. These men aren’t dense struggling pot heads, they are intelligent and extremely well-off actors/screenwriters who enjoy smoking weed that they purchase with profits from their exorbitant ticket prices. Basically, these guys stack mad loonies; they’re not restricted to eating hamburger helper and stirring Kool-Aid with their forearms. Back in my seat, I saw the obnoxious dipshit in front of me getting removed from the theater. My assumption is that they prepare for the second half by clearing people out during intermission like this every night.
The second half of the night contained plenty of references to the program for the regular fans and a heavy amount of audience participation. The actors made sure to drop the names of characters like J-Roc, who were not part of the touring act, and then mentioned how they wished that their sidekicks, Cory and Trevor were there to help with the manual labor. Continuing to play off of the concept that the crowd was in a hypnotic state, they called two men up from the audience to take the place of their two absent minions. The men put on a couple of accessories and instantly began moving around like the bumbling goons. This half was going off with less interruptions but, when people began shouting out annoying shit again, Bubbles finally called them out. Likening them to the drunken disasters that manage the trailer park, he stated that there were a “lot of Lahey and Randy type people” in the audience that night.
3 woman who claimed that they had the ability to roll joints were invited onto the stage to compete as “Seattle’s #1 party girl“. Now working as stage hands, the substitute Cory and Trevor brought out a table and the girls were handed some shake to twist spliffs. The girl in the middle looked as if she was about to win until the one on the right busted out a pre-rolled “ringer” out of nowhere. Rob “Ricky” Wells pocketed it and she was declared the winner. Round 2 involved the girls cracking open bottles of spiced rum, filling their mouths, and transferring the liquid into another container. Again the middle girl was about to take the trophy but, once it was discovered that the 3rd contestant had been guzzling the booze straight, that round was awarded to her. The final challenge was chosen by Bubbles and consisted of another race, this time requiring the women to pull cat turd-shaped chocolates out of a litter box with their teeth.
Later on, 3 men were invited on stage who claimed that they could “shred” on guitar. They were handed a really nice Gibson Les Paul and took turns showing off their supposed skills. One of them was terrible and, once the obvious winner was selected, he was invited to join Bubbles in a rendition of “Liquor and Whores“, which the audience had been screaming out for the entire night. This is Bubbles‘ trademark tune and has even been performed on stage by Smith and Guns N’ Roses during their Chinese Democracy tour. Smith followed it up by performing RUSH‘s “Closer to the Heart“, a track that he had the opportunity to perform on the TPB series with Alex Lifeson, himself.
Before the show’s end, Bubbles‘ puppet/alternate personality, Conky made an appearance to mock Ricky and, utilizing the information collected from the internet, the boys switched the crowd’s brain “departments” and “compartments” back, shaking them from their “hipitism“. As the comedy trio thanked the audience and began to to leave, something that resembled a rose was thrown onto the stage. It was a giant marijuana branch. That’s right… not a bud… a huge branch with giant cola nugs attached to it. Rob Wells picked it up and it was the first time that any of the actors had broken character for even a moment. He had a tremendous grin on his face and you could tell by his eyes that it was Rob who was smiling and not just Ricky.
As a live show, I feel that the characters translated remarkably well and, while all 3 of the actors did an incredible job, Mike Smith‘s stage presence, quick wit, and improvisational skills clearly made him the most dominating force overall. The presentation was so solid that the audience disruption even seemed to dissipate into the background and, contrary to the simple minded characters that they portray, Wells, Tremblay, and Smith were always consummate professionals and never floundered. The live setting allowed me to recognize their true ability to cross genres for the first time. Even my appreciation for their irreverent humor and reckless drug fueled hyjinx has always been rooted in their talents with script writing and character development. I’ve always believed there to be a “high art” core in a lot of shit that’s considered “low brow”, so maybe that’s just my mistake. Still, on the most base level, Trailer Park Boys also has the ability to connect to the most dedicated fans of Kid Rock and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. Perhaps it doesn’t matter whether you respond to the approach of the creators or identify more as one of the people that they are parodying, as long as you enjoy yourself. I still wonder what the fans that only respond to the fuck and piss jokes think about the fact that Rob Wells is a distant cousin of Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper or that Mike Smith is related to SNOW, of rapping with a fake Jamaican patois fame. Hell, Ellen Page even appeared as a reoccurring character throughout season 2. These guys are a respected creative force behind the scenes and the live show is a testament to the strength of their abilities beyond the program. To the straight world, TPB is probably viewed as cultural toxin with no redeeming qualities. To so many others, however, it’s become an integral part of their own personal cultures and a source of inspiration. We’ve always strongly supported It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and I still respect it’s creators, but I’ve even noticed clear evidence of them taking ideas directly from Trailer Park Boys [Always Sunny has Green Man and the McPoyles while TPB has The Green Bastard and Terry and Dennis, the Japanese brothers that only wear bathrobes]. The characters of Sunny Vale are so beloved by so many that the Community Service Variety Show is just one more opportunity to keep them alive. But what now? My hope is that the talented creators who made Trailer Park Boys what it is will, at some point, be truly able to outlive the characters that they have created. I’d really like to see what else they are capable of and I like the idea of them retiring their past while the concept is still on top and successful. Then again, if they come do come back and the show is mediocre, I’d probably still go see them again. I like these guys way too much not to.