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Corner Gas Closes Up Shop – Exclusive Interview with Brent Butt

All good things must come to an end. I understand a lot of us are feeling upset now that the Corner Gas Franchise has ended as of last week. It was a Canadian treasure of comedic value and talented people. Taking place in a small town in Saskatchewan where all kinds of quirky things could happen. A local coffee shop, a gigantic farmer’s hoe, and all kinds of neat little landmarks adorned the town of for years, and everybody had adventures. Naturally, we wanted to see more after the original series ran its course and we did. We got a movie AND an animated series. But when something goes on too long with no sign of stopping, that makes it worse. While we don’t want certain things to end, it is a sad fact of life. Sometimes it’s for the best that something comes to a close. Now, it’s time for Corner Gas to say goodbye, because the gas pumps of humour will soon be pumped dry, and it’s time for cast and crew to leave it. Move on to new things. Get new roles, build bigger opportunities, EXPAND. Over Zoom, I got a chance to talk to Brent Butt, a man I saw on screens and in print media since I was in my teens. He told me how he felt about it and what he’ll most likely be doing next. While the finale ended with the future being uncertain (both in the episode and for anyone working in the franchise), I have feelings of certainty that Brent is going to plunge into something brand new and it’s sure to be just as successful.

 

HNMAG: So Corner Gas Animated is finally over, and so is everything in general related to the franchise. How does it feel to have it come to a close?

Brent: I feel it’s kind of the perfect example of bittersweet. There’s definitely sadness. We loved doing the show, we were having fun doing it, but if you look at the other side of the coin, this idea I had for a gas station in Saskatchewan was originally going to be shelved because I thought it was something nobody would ever be interested in. For us to be here almost 18 years later, it’s an incredible blessing.

 

HNMAG: And what had it going for such a long time?

Brent: I’m sure it’s a lot of intangible things coming together. We had an incredible cast, you get lucky if you find the right kind of people and they have the right kind of chemistry. There’s a kind of weird sorcery that goes on, that you can’t just replicate whenever you like. People were fascinated and connected with these characters, it resonated and if that happens, then you have something. I don’t care if I’m writing a book, a play, or even a song. If people can connect on some level then you got something. I think the show was very different from anything else aired at the time and we sort of stood out because of that.

 

HNMAG: And so you got a great following. Did the response make you want to go further?

Brent: Yeah, like we wouldn’t have kept doing this show if the response wasn’t what it was. We wrapped up after Season 6, I said, “We’ve done over 100 episodes, we’re all creative people, I think we should go on and create other things.” I didn’t want to watch the show wither on the vine, I thought it deserved a better fate but the response from people was overwhelming so I figured “Wouldn’t it be great if we came back in a few years and do a movie?” We did and the response to the movie was so much bigger than we anticipated. It was physically selling out in theatres. CTV asked if Cineplex could give them another week in theatres. I remember my brother calling from Calgary, saying “I can’t get into your stupid movie because it’s sold out!” So there was such a response that the network asked if we wanted to do more episodes because there was clearly a demand here. It all boils down to the fans pushing for it.

 

HNMAG: As a creator, show runner, AND actor on the show, was it difficult to maintain work over it for such a long time?

Brent: On the live action it was very difficult because I was on set for 11 or 12 hours, so a lot of the duties I had to do (building scripts, editing, etc) it all had to come outside of my time on set. You work 16 hour days for 3 and a half months, and you’re pretty buzzed. Animated, I could an 8 hour day on the show. We would record an episode every couple of weeks, and then you’d be out in three hours. The rest of my day I could focus on my administrative tasks.

 

HNMAG: So was it easy to transition to animation from live action?

Brent: For me, it just made for shorter days. I could work a whole day like a regular person, but I know a lot of the animators worked late hours (chuckles)

 

HNMAG: Do you feel you’ve learned a lot from working with the cast and crew for a long time, both live action and animated?

Brent: Yeah, one of the things I loved about this whole process is how much I had to learn in such a short amount of time. When we were going into the live action show, I never produced a series before. There was so much to learn and such a short time to get there. But I love cannonballing in and seeing whether you could swim or not. I also had a ton of fantastic people around me to keep my eyes and ears open. Then when we went into animation, i heard to learn how animating was put together. The people at Smiley Guy Studios were AMAZING to work with. 

 

HNMAG: And why did you choose to go with animation in the later years?

Brent: I think later years has a lot to do with it (laughs). By the time we were done the movie, I was a bald man, and Janet’s health wasn’t very good, and we also thought “Creatively, we don’t want to come back and do the same.” The other actors on the show were doing other things, they were getting other parts in movies and shows, so when you’re doing a series, it really locks up your time. When the network approached us asking for more episodes, I didn’t want to do more of the same, but I very much liked the idea of being employed. But how could we do it differently? I have a history in cartooning, and creative writing, a Graphic Arts Background. 

 

HNMAG: Oh, really? Have you published any cartoons? And how did you get into cartooning?

Brent: I published a comic book in the 80s, and when I left high school, I went to college in Oakridge, Ontario to study animation. That was my fallback plan if I couldn’t do standup comedy. But I bailed during orientation week. But animation was always on my radar, it’s something I love, so I asked my partners “What if we tried animating it?” and so that was the idea, we didn’t know if it would work. We made a demo, because I didn’t just want to do it for the sake of doing it, I’m not above a shameless cash grab, but I didn’t want to do that with Corner Gas. After we made a 3-minute demo and watched it, it felt like more episodes, and it was really good.

 

 

Brent also explained if Corner Gas had continued live action, it would’ve almost ended up like the Gilligan’s Island reunion where Gilligan’s hair had gone white, traumatizing Brent as a child. So he went with animation, careful not to traumatize anyone TOO harshly.

 

HNMAG: So I see Corner Gas Animated was the best approach with all the seasons it got.

Brent: It’s still the #1 show on CTV Comedy. 

 

HNMAG: And will have you ever see about possibly meeting up with the cast and crew for reunion parties or even working with them in the future?

Brent: I would welcome them with open arms if I had the opportunity to work with ANY of them again. Working with this cast has been the blessing of my life.

 

HNMAG: Out of everything that came out of this franchise, what would you say is your favourite moment in all of it?

Brent: I would say, meeting Nancy. We ended up marrying, and it’s hard to beat that. I got a wife out of the deal. We met during the show. A lot of people think we came into this as a couple but we met during the show. But I don’t even know how to articulate it. It was my dream to do this, and I did it. It’s a fairly small percentage of the population that actually gets to live their dream. So that’s never not lost on me. I loved standup comedy ever since I was a little kid and I wanted to do show business work in TV. I’ve gotten to do all that, and make a living at it. A lot of hard work goes into it, but a lot of people work hard and still don’t get it. I got lucky.

 

HNMAG: Are you thinking of maybe creating other kinds of series now that you have ended this one?

Brent: I’m a guy who writes stories. I love characters getting up to stuff. I fully anticipate writing treatments for other shows, feature films, and one thing I’ve always wanted to see that I could do was write a novel. I did so this past year, so I’ve started writing my second one. My first one has gotten some good feedback so I’m figuring out with people whether or not that’s going to get published. As ideas come to me, I write them down. 

 

HNMAG: What about stand-up comedy? Would you be focusing more on that?

Brent: Yeah, for me I kind of feel like everything spokes off of standup comedy, if you boil everything else away, I’m a greasy night club comedian. All through production in between seasons, I would hit the road dong standup. It’s always been a huge part of my life. This pandemic has been so strange, you’d go from many shows a month to doing nothing. But I was blessed because I had production of the show to fall back on. A lot of the shows I had to postpone are getting rebooked, so I’m organizing a tour again in January 2022. I think standup is the one thing I could never walk away from. 

 

HNMAG: The episode talks about a 5-year plan and new hopes for the future. Do you have your own 5-year plan ready or do you feel you’ve achieved it already?

Brent: I don’t really plan that far ahead for the future. I’ve always kind of been a fairly live-in-the-moment guy. If we start moving towards something, I start structuring towards how we’re going to do it. I’m practical and pragmatic, but I don’t plan too far ahead.

 

HNMAG: The finale featured Ryan Reynolds. What was it like having him involved?

Brent: It was amazing, because he was on all of our dream-lists. We each put together a list of people we’d like to see on the show. But some of them are beyond realistically giddy. That’s when some of us looked at Ryan Reynolds and thought he’d be fantastic on the show, but we all assumed his people would politely decline. Once we found out that this is going to be the last season, and we only had 1 episode left, we thought, it’s now or never.

 

HNMAG: And how did you contact him regarding his cameo?

Brent: We found a way to reach out to him directly and he said that he would love to do it. He thought it was a funny little scene. Ryan got on it right away, and you can tell why he is a successful guy. He’s got talent, he’s no procrastinator, he recorded and sent his lines so fast it made our heads spin. Then he sent me a really nice thank-you PM on Twitter because he follows me on Twitter. He even congratulated us, it was a really nice thing for him to do.

 

HNMAG: As someone who has run a franchise for so long, what would you tell aspiring newcomers who would like to start their own franchises or series?

Brent: I would say you REALLY HAVE TO write from the inside out. You really have to honestly believe that what you’re doing is funny if you’re doing a comedy. Or honestly believe it’s dramatic if you’re doing a drama. It’s like sales, you have to believe in what you’re selling in order to make it seem like a way that isn’t selling. Try not to put too much thought into what other people are going to like. The market always needs authentic shows that people believe in.

So while we don’t know what Brent Butt’s next series are going to be if there are any at all, we certainly know he’ll be heading back to standup for next year and that is sure to look promising. Returning from a pandemic is sure to launch a lot of good witty original humour that I’m sure we can all relate to in some way or another. Whatever happens, I know Brent’s future will sort itself out. While he doesn’t plan too far ahead, one can tell his future will be full of comedic gold and success.

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