Brent Butt is living the dream.
“I love doing standup comedy, mostly for the free pop” he said to begin his February 27 show at the Regional High School’s Anne Portnuff Theatre, quipping that he knew from a very young age that free pop and snacks would be important to him in a career choice.
Following an opening 30-minute set by Calgary-based deadpan comic Jamie Hutchinson that put the near capacity audience in a laughing mood, Butt stalked the stage for an hour and 15 minutes. With the animated ease of a seasoned pro, he masterfully whipped the partisan Saskatchewan crowd into a frenzy with his signature down-to-earth story-telling punctuated by uproariously ridiculous punchlines and clever callbacks.
Butt is a favourite son of Saskatchewan, of course, having grown up in Tisdale and having set his wildly popular sitcom Corner Gas in the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan. Even though he is very warmly received here, however, he says the dynamics of a particular show has little to do with where he is in the country.
“I always find every audience to be so, kind of, unique and so uniquely different from everybody else,” he said. “Two nights in the same town can be so different from each other. I kind of don’t really get a sense regionally; I just look at each audience as its own individual animal, because it really is. You get 500, 700 individuals in a room, it creates its own fresh new entity that you have no idea what it’s going to like.”
The Yorkton show came near the end of Butt’s “Almost a Movie Star” tour that criss-crossed the country starting in Ottawa January 30 and ending yesterday in Lethbridge.
“It’s been a haul,” he said. “I haven’t done a tour this long since long before Corner Gas. I usually go out for four or five days, maybe. This is essentially 30 days away from home so I’m not used to this kind of haul anymore.”
It was a good night for him in Yorkton, though, as the whole tour had been, he explained.
“The shows themselves are energizing,” he said. “It’s more about being away from home for 30 days is tough. When you’re a young comic starting out and you have a crappy apartment and you kind of hate living at home, the road is sweet reprieve from your miserable life. But once you have a house you like and my wife is there and the dog and I’ve got a nice TV, it’s hard to be away from for a month.”
It was very important for Butt to get out on the road for an extended time, however, to promote his latest creative venture. On Friday, the former TV star releases his first feature film, No Clue, in theatres from coast to coast. The movie, written by and starring Butt as novelties salesman Leo Falloon, who gets drawn into a murder investigation by a femme fatale (Amy Smart), premiered at the Whistler Film Festival in December 2013 and was well-received.
Butt describes No Clue as a “dark, gritty thriller” that “happens to be funny.” During the standup tour, he closed out each evening by screening the movie trailer and was pleased with the reaction.
“It’s been really good,” he said. “And the screenings, we’ve done three screenings now, in Whistler and Whitehorse and Calgary, and the response from the people has been very encouraging. People really seem to respond to it pretty much how I hoped.
“The laughs came early and often and right where you wanted them to and the moments when it’s not a funny movie, when it’s actually a dark, gritty thriller, I could look around the room and see that people were really engaged in it, so it was very gratifying.”
A positive response from test audiences, and even critical acclaim, do not necessarily translate to box office success, though. A poor turnout on opening weekend can quickly get a movie relegated to DVD, explained the comedy tour’s production person, John B. Webster. Butt is hoping his fans will help him keep the film in theatres by filling the seats this weekend.
“It’s important for any movie, but it’s really important for small Canadian films that are competing with Hollywood blockbusters because you’re competing for that theatre space and you don’t have a lot of time to prove your box office worth,” he said. “That’s why we encourage people, if they’re interested in seeing it, to go as soon as you can when it first comes to town because it makes all the difference in the world to a Canadian film.”