Like many kids growing up in America, PBS entered my life at a young age with shows like “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company.” As I grew a little older, “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,” “Reading Rainbow” and “3-2-1 Contact” became part of my regular television regimen. This was also the place where I began learning about things such as nature and the universe itself from the likes of “Wild America” and “Nova.” By the time I had hit junior high I had become steeped in British humor such as “Monty Python” and “Fawlty Towers,” while the various cooking shows would turn my mother’s kitchen into a friendly domain of my own.
It still boggles my mind that there are folks in our wonderful country that see PBS as a waste of money.
A huge example of what we would be missing without the likes of PBS will be paying a visit to Tacoma’s Pantages Theatre on Tuesday, Sept. 13. He goes by the name of Red Green, and if you’ve ever spent any time watching PBS there’s a pretty good chance you’ve taken in “The Red Green Show” a time or two. The show began broadcasting from Canada in 1991 and wrapped its 300th and final episode 15 years later. All the while, it found a frequent home on PBS.
The brainchild of Canadian comedian Steve Smith, “The Red Green Show” is one of the most successful television shows ever produced north of our borders. Even though it has been out of production for 10 years now, the show carries an impressive 7.9 rating on IMDb.com, as well as an 8.5 rating on TV.com. These sort of gaudy numbers don’t just happen without a loyal fan base, with some going on 25 years now. The show’s balanced combination of situation comedy and sketches struck a chord with millions of fans.
Smith created the character of Red Green as a humorous answer to a popular Canadian outdoors show called “The Red Fisher Show” that began in the 1960s. The character of Green would make early appearances in sketches on Smith’s first three television productions before finding a permanent home as the host of his own show and the centerpiece of the “Possum Lodge” where much of the show’s situation comedy bits would occur.
My personal favorite moments of the show are easily the “Handyman’s Corner” segments where Green decides to fix or improve something around the house or property with as few dollars as possible, while using as much duct tape as any human has ever dared. There is a veritable treasure trove of “Handyman’s Corner” videos on YouTube, and I can’t recommend them enough.
Upon retiring “The Red Green Show,” Smith, now 70 years old, has remained in the public eye. He has authored five Red Green books, and has taken to the stage with several successful comedy tours throughout North America. Smith’s stop in Tacoma will mark his final show in the United States, as he will then take off to the “Great White North” for 29 dates in his native Canada.
Before hitting town with his “I’m Not Old, I’m Ripe” tour, we caught up with Smith for a few moments from his home up north.
TW: Steve, you’re going to be hitting the West Coast before swinging up here to Tacoma. I know you’ve done some other tours in the past. What’s got you out on the road again?
SS: It’s a combination of things. You know what? I really enjoy it, that’s the short version. I just really like what I’m doing. This is the most enjoyable part of my career. I’m enjoying these live shows more than TV, more than anything.
TW: There’s a certain sort of give and take when you’re standing up on stage with a crowd that you can’t get when looking into a camera. Am I right?
SS: Absolutely. It’s just so personal. There’s no other agenda, other than a bunch of people staying in the same room together. It makes me feel like I could be doing this 500 years ago. Getting really back to basics and communicating with an audience.
TW: Steve, did you have any experience performing on stage before you did the Red Green Show?
SS: No, none at all. (laughing)
TW: That must have been interesting stepping out there your first time.
SS: (laughing) Yeah, especially doing the one-man thing, I mean, you’re really out there. (laughing) But I’ve always been kind of drawn to what’s next, rather than trying to recreate what I did before, so that part of it appeals to me. When you try to be funny, nobody wants to hear your greatest hits, so you’ve always got to be generating new thoughts, which is good for me.
TW: So, Steve, is this show a Steve Smith show, or is it Red Green?
SS: Oh, it’s totally Red Green. Red Green is on stage. Nobody cares about Steve Smith (laughing). It’s a lodge meeting and the premise is to get the members to know each other better, and at each meeting somebody gets up and talks about themselves, and in this I’m going up first. I shot some new material for this tour and of course, the actual content is all brand new.
TW: Steve, Canadian humor really seems to be its own thing. What’s your take on Canadian humor versus British and American humor?
SS: I think we’re in between the two. British humor tends to be more subtle; you have to think about it and make a trip to them. I look at it this way; picture a guy sitting on the couch watching TV. If it’s a British comedy, the show all takes place inside the TV. He’s got to extend his mind to engage that show. If it’s a broad stream, major network, American comedy it comes out of the TV, jumps over the coffee table and slaps the guy in the face every 15 seconds to make sure he’s getting every joke.
Canadian humor is in between those two. It will meet you sort of halfway across the coffee table. We don’t expect you to come the whole way, but you’ve got to make some effort, or you’re not going to appreciate the humor. That’s the way I see it.
7 p.m. Sept. 13
Tacoma’s Pantages Theatre
901 Broadway #700
Ticket Price: $51.50