Brent Butt talks about noir and not being a Doodlebop

by Jorge Ignacio Castillo


So, your hit show has come to an end: what now? That question has lingered over Brent Butt ever since the enormously successful Corner Gas ended its run (by Butt’s choice) in 2009. While he’s never stopped touring the country as a comedian, Butt’s most noticeable screen venture after Corner Gas was Hiccups, a sitcom that only lasted one season — and that was three years ago.

His landing in cinema was somewhat predictable, although the genre wasn’t. No Clue (set to open March 7) is a comedy rooted in the tradition of film noir. Butt plays Leo, a salesman who pretends to be a private detective when the mandatory femme fatale (Amy Smart) walks into the wrong office. The case is about finding the woman’s missing brother, a hotshot video game designer with enemies to spare. Leo doesn’t have the skills or the guts required for the job, but he keeps stumbling upon potential suspects and clues.

The comedian’s trademark ‘aw-shucks, smarter-than-he-lets-on’ kind of guy anchors the film, but his surroundings are radically different to those we’re used to seeing him in (that is, downtown Vancouver as opposed to rural Saskatchewan). There’s also an attempt to root No Clue in reality by adding a dose of grittiness and pathos to the proceedings.

Along with taking on the lead role, Butt wrote the script for No Clue and is one of the show’s producers — which makes sense, because he’s a huge fan of gangster films from the ’30s and ’40s (“If I ever catch Double Indemnity on TV, I never flip pass it,” he says). The Tisdale native convinced Carl Bessai (Repeaters) to direct the project and locked in two well-known American actors (Smart and Anchorman’s David Koechner) for supporting roles.

We found Butt in Sudbury, Ontario, in the midst of his current comedy tour.

You went with Carl Bessai to direct the film. That’s an interesting choice, considering he’s known as a bit of an auteur.

I knew he was able to tell a strong visual story. We wanted to make an homage to film noir, so it had to be gritty and dark. I wasn’t interested in a zany, bumbly kind of comedy, but a thriller that happened to be funny. Carl was capable of doing that.

No Clue reminded me of Steve Martin’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.

I would say it’s more Chinatown, except Chinatown isn’t a comedy. No Clue has a very direct narrative. Dead Men is one of my favourite movies, but it didn’t care for realism the way we do.

When you finished shooting Corner Gas, did you have a clear path you wanted to follow?

I knew I wanted to stay on TV. I was hoping to have an extra year between Corner Gas and Hiccups to allow people to change gears, but CTV wanted to use the 2010 Olympics as a launching pad for the new show. I understand the reason behind it, but ultimately it was too soon.

Have you ever participated in TV’s pilot season in the U.S.?

Not really, because I don’t fancy myself an actor. I’m more interested in creating. My goal has always been to make a show in Canada and then market it around the world.

It has been almost two years since the elimination of the film tax credit in Saskatchewan. What’s your perception of how that has changed the industry in the province?

I’m not there on a day-to-day basis, so it’s hard for me to say. I know that crews have left Saskatchewan because there wasn’t enough work to live, and the soundstage sits in the dark, but it’s hard for me to speak on because I don’t know.

Not The Doodlebops

Why do you continue doing stand-up? How do you keep yourself interested?

It’s my favourite thing. Whenever I’m not doing it, I’m itching for it. I don’t think my style has changed considerably from what it was 10 to 15 years ago. The experiences may be different, but my process is the same thing.

How does your stand-up differ from your on-screen persona?

A lot of people bring their kids to my show — like I’m the Doodlebops or something — because I did this show on network television that families watched together. It’s a bit weird — I’m not the filthiest comic in the world, but I do talk about things children wouldn’t understand.

Do you change your routine if you see kids among the audience?

You start censoring yourself. It can be frustrating because one of the great things about stand-up is being able to say whatever you want. 95 per cent of the time my material is clean; it could go on primetime TV. But five per cent of it isn’t, and I like having the freedom to go there.