A full house of guests (by invitation only) attended a comedy show at Slave Lake’s Legacy Centre on July 11, to hear what actor/comedian Jonny Harris had to say about the community. They were all advised to show up expecting to be filmed for a TV show, to not wear hats or display any large logos, (some did anyway, at least the hats).
The show was the culmination of a couple of months of research, interviews, filming and general prep by the production of Still Standing. Capping it off was the arrival of Harris, the native of Pouch Cove, NL. He’s been doing the show for something like nine seasons now, and Slave Lake will be its 101st episode.
“Don’t stare into the camera lens!” the crowd was advised, in a series of humorously-delivered instructions by Fraser Young, one of the show’s writers and a comic in his own right. “If you have to go to the toilet, do it now!”
Young was followed by two other warm-up performers, Aisha Brown and Graham Chittenden.
Then it was Harris’s turn. He started with a bit of Newfie stuff, and then launched into the meat and potatoes of the show – things he’d learned and impressions gained from the past few days of talking to a few selected people in Slave Lake. The success of his performance hangs on his ability to find funny things to say about local people and situations, but without ever getting mean or disrespectful. It’s a balancing act, and Harris pulled it off well.
One well-known local story he made the most of was the one where a local firefighter, directed to buy 18 pizzas from Alimo’s, ended up ordering them from Alamo Pizza, in San Antonio Texas. Discovering the mistake, the fire chief asked the Texas pizzeria to deliver the pies to the nearest fire hall. This led to some big-time news coverage, when the delighted San Antonio crew started putting it out on social media. It also prompted Moe and Ali Mouallem of Alimo’s to start their ‘Random Acts of Pizza,’ promotion.
This kind of thing is right up Harris’s alley, and he made very effective comic use out of it. The audience loved it.
“We really enjoyed the show, even if some of the jokes were ‘cheesy,’” says Moe Mouallem. “The whole process was pretty cool. We were interviewed three times before being selected as one of the final five that get featured on the show. I was really impressed with how big of a team they had (20 people crammed in to Alimo’s, plus Ali and myself). Although our interactions with Johnny himself was limited to the interview, working with people like Andrea and Alex (Lazarowich, daughter of former Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pearl Calahasen and Ivan Lazarowich, Widewater residents) was an amazing experience. Definitely grateful to be selected and have a chance to highlight our family, and our restaurant to the entire country.”
Harris focused on the 2011 wildfire experience, mentioning his chats with Chana Trudel – who was working at the wildfire centre then – and long-time firefighter Joanne Hunter. Somehow he managed to find humour in it.
Harris had also spent time with Stan Isadore, getting a tutorial in fancy dancing, an Isadore specialty. He retold Isadore’s story about dancing for Queen Elizabeth II – in England – when he was just 13 years old and didn’t know who the ‘nice old lady’ was. Harris worked that one for all it was worth as well.
Also selected for special treatment during the show was local pro wrestler Derri Deschover, AKA Tarzan Hayes.
As for how and why Slave Lake was chosen, one of the Still Standing producers, Dave Kerr, offers this:
“We have certain criteria for picking towns. For example, the town has to be under a certain population, have come back from some kind of adversity or challenge and have something special that really makes it stand out.
“Slave Lake in particular… has an incredible story, a vibrant community, and presented us with a chance to show off some of the natural beauty that you find in this part of Alberta.”
We also asked Kerr how the interviewees are chosen:
“It all begins with a research phase that is done remotely over the span of a few weeks. During this early stage, we’re trying to learn everything we can about what the town has been through in the past, and what are some of the things going on in town today. Then a member of our team spends almost a week in town doing more research here on the ground and meeting people face to face. It takes almost a month of research to make a single episode of Still Standing!”
The new season of Still Standing will premiere on CBC TV and streaming free on CBC Gem later this Fall 2023, Kerr says.
by Joe McWilliams