Trent Ernst, Editor
Last week was a whirlwind week for Tumbler Ridge, as the TV show Still Standing came to town.
The CBC comedy show features host Jonny Harris meeting the people and exploring the culture of small towns across this country that have fallen on hard times. At the end of a week of exploring and meeting people and doing research, Harris performs a comedy routine built on his experiences in town in front of a group of locals.
Tumbler Ridge, still trying to find its footing after the town’s two coal mines closed down, was a perfect fit for the show, and so Harris and a crew of about a dozen people came to Tumbler Ridge.
Harris says he grew up in a small town (Pouch Cove, Newfoundland), just outside St Johns. “Being from a small town lends me some credibility with these people,” he says. “But I’ve been living in Toronto for the last number of years, so I’m sort of a fish out of water going to these small towns.”
Harris says he relies a lot on his team to accomplish what he does. “Our production team will search out interesting stories. We’re looking for survival stories, and Tumbler Ridge certainly fits the bill. The story editor and the production team did a lot of work even before we got here. And then we had a local, Jerrilyn [Schembri, Chamber of Commerce Manager], whose been helping us out all week. Me and the guys go over the information and start writing jokes. But you never really know until you’re there and you meet people face to face.”
“The guys” are a trio of other writers who Harris works with. The four will sit down together and write jokes in the evening and work on material collected during the day while Harris is off shooting. “We do the whole sit around the table and throw jokes around thing,” says Harris. “The jokes will get tweaked as we get out into the town and see things firsthand and meet the people first hand.”
While in town, the show hit the highlights around the town: the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, riverboating on the Murray River and a helicopter flight over Monkman Park, as well as the historical highlights of the town’s ups and downs. “We covered a lot of information in this episode,” says Harris. “To turn it all into jokes, it’s a bit of a slog, because we’re out all day talking to people and then write at night, but it’s a really good team effort.”
Harris says Tumbler Ridge has a very interesting story to tell. “You can explain the episode in just a couple sentences and people are hooked. It’s quite an interesting scenario, the transition the town is going through.”
Over the course of the week, Harris spent time with many locals, many of whom become a part of the routine. One of the best lines of the evening came early on in the show. “Archaeologists have discovered signs of human habitation dating back more than a thousand years. Ladies and gentlemen, Harry Prosser and Clay Isles,” he says, pointing to the pair sitting in the front row.
Harris says while he incorporates people that he’s talked to into all his Still Standing shows, but he doesn’t take cheap shots. “You don’t have to worry about sitting in the front row at any of my shows. I don’t pick on people. It’s not my style. It is a comedy show, so you try and take some playful jabs. When I talked about Harry and Clay, who are very adored figures in this community, it’s a little dig at their age, but it’s playful. Or the line about the cascading waterfall looking a lot like Marc’s (Bresse, Ridge Rotors pilot) beard. Hopefully nobody takes offense at these things. What we’re putting together is a toast, not a roast. We’re never there to make people feel foolish or embarrassed. Ultimately, we want the show to have heart. When we go into a town, we’re on their side, and the show is always rooting for the community it visits.”
Except for a few warm-up jokes off the top, all the material performed by Harris is specifically generated for that town, often written from Harris’ experiences. “It’s daunting to go out and perform material for the first time, but what I’ve learned is it’s a bit of a cross between a stand-up set and doing a speech at a wedding,” he says. “You’re talking about them. People are glad to have you there. People in small towns are proud without being precious, so they’re not going to be sitting their wagging their finger at you. They’re there for a laugh. They get such a kick out of being talked about. It’s a very different vibe than a comedy club. You feel like we’re all in this together, so it makes it a lot easier to do. It was a particularly casual vibe tonight I wasn’t nervous before going on, and it felt like everyone was on the same page. It was a very nice vibe.”
On the show, part of the time is spent on the stand-up routine. The rest is spent meeting the people of the town and experiencing town life. Harris has had to wrestle a steer, test a bull’s fertility by measuring the size of its scrotum, sat on the back of a square dancing tractor (don’t ask, just watch the show) and helped deliver a baby goat. But, he says, coming to Tumbler Ridge was the first time ever he’s been on a helicopter. “That was amazing. I enjoy that kind of stuff, but it was pretty freaky. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes.”
His favourite moment? Happened during the stand-up show. “I knew that Dr Helm was a respected figure in the community, but I wondered a little bit if there were Geopark fans and those who are not quite so excited about it. But when I said tonight that he’s a modest guy but there wouldn’t be a Geopark without him, the place went up. The show of support for him and the Geopark was definitely a standout moment for me.”
While the show is now in the can, don’t expect to see yourself on TV anytime soon. Season 2 will start airing next month, and the Tumbler Ridge show is slated for season 3, probably sometime in 2017.