Steve Smith still on the road with popular character
Steve Smith has made a career out of playing, well, Steve Smith.
More accurately, he’s been, for most of 40 years, his signature character — Red Green.
And Red is back on the road this year in what Smith hints could be the final public appearances for his alter ego.
Red Green began as a spoof of Canadian television fishing show legend Red Fisher, while Smith and his wife were hosts of a variety show — Canada’s Sonny and Cher, if you will. That 1979 series eventually gave birth to The Red Green Show, originally a local-market sitcom in Hamilton, Ontario, and then eventually a huge hit — by public television standards — in the United States.
Stations like WPSU and WITF, which are seen on local cable and satellite systems, aired the final 10 seasons of the show’s 15-year run. The TV version is gone, but Smith is taking Red Green on the road again.
His two closest appearances are March 28 in Wilkes-Barre and March 29 in Frederick, Maryland.
Smith is not afraid to tell fans when it’s the end; he pretty much said in the 14th season of his show that there was one more coming, and held to it. That’s why his “This Could Be It” tour could really be it.
“It’s possible — that’s why the word ‘could’ rather than ‘is,'” he said. “Look at my birth certificate and there’s some clues in there.
“I’ve always had a history of not being the last one to leave the party. Maybe it’s time to make an exit –that’s what I did with my TV show and maybe that’s what I should do with touring,” he said.
The tour isn’t, he said, geared to promote his latest book. And he insists doing more TV is out of the question.
But, he said, “I didn’t expect to enjoy the live performing as much as I have. It’s very personal, immediate and it’s irrefutable.
“This is my fourth tour and every time we do a tour the average age of the audience decreases. There are kids that come that don’t even know the show was on television,” he said.
The new show includes a few new features, such as an apology on behalf of all Baby Boomers to the current generation. Some of the characters from the TV show will phone in, he said, and he’ll unwrap a surprise ending involving a wish for the audience.
“I had to do this one as if it was going to be my last, to give me a chance to wrap up a few things,” he said. “I’m looking forward to doing it. I think this is going to be the best one yet.”
A live performance of Red Green is comparable in some ways to a Renaissance festival and in others to the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” — a lot of fans dress the part, even if it’s only a flannel shirt and the signature two-color suspenders.
“It’s a compliment,” Smith said. “Whenever you’re doing something and you create a character on television, you expect your fans will look like that guy because they relate to that guy. What you don’t expect are the daughters of that guy to come up and say hello and tell you that this is the show they watched with their dad.”
Or in simpler terms, “Maybe it’s just so weird that if you like it, there’s nowhere else to find it.”
Red Green and the other denizens of Possum Lodge are played by actors — Smith sort of disagrees — but the roles were cast to take real traits of the performers and make them comfortable on the set.
“I’m really not an actor, and as soon as I stop being Red Green it will become obvious,” Smith said. “It’s really just an extension of the creative process. Everything Red Green says and does comes from within me.
“There aren’t a lot of people in Canada, so there aren’t a lot of actors. We started with what we thought were their natural abilities and then just exaggerated them.”
Smith calls himself fortunate — but then, he also calls himself the Colonel Sanders of comedy, a reference to the famous restaurateur starting at an advanced age.
“I’m very fortunate — it took me a long time to find my niche,” he said. “I started Red Green (the show) when I was 45 years old — your career’s supposed to be pretty much done by then. The show’s been off the air for 12 years and it’s still alive.”
He put the entire run on YouTube, and it’s also back on cable in the U.S. Through the Heartland Channel. Part of his success on this country, he says, is because he knows he’s appealing to a niche audience.
“I’m not a mainstream comedian or comic or writer. If you put me in front of 100,000 people who don’t know me, probably 80,000 of them won’t care for what I’m doing. But there will be 5,000 who just love it,” he said. “I think a lot of Americans don’t even realize the show’s from Canada — they think I’m doing this out of Minnesota or something.”