TAKE OFF, EH!
By Blair Matthews
It's been nearly 25 years since Dave Thomas first sat on a soundstage
wearing earmuffs and a toque, drinking beer from stubby brown bottles,
cooking back bacon and koo-loo-koo-koo-ing his way into the fabric of
the Canadian identity as one half of the McKenzie brothers. He was
joined by, of course, Rick Moranis.
The Bob & Doug McKenzie act was conceived during the third season
of the Canadian-produced SCTV in a very accidental way. "The CBC
version of the show was two minutes longer than the American version
because it had less commercial time," Dave Thomas recalls. "CBC's
request was that this be specifically Canadian content." That request
annoyed Thomas and Moranis since the show was being written and
produced in Canada using Canadian actors. Thomas says he asked how much
more Canadian the show could get - and the answer was, "More than we
As a mean-spirited joke, Thomas and Moranis asked if they should just
throw up a map of Canada, don toques and parkas, drink beer, and
The powers that be thought it was an excellent idea.
At first Moranis and Thomas didn't put any effort into the improvised
skits. "The rest of the cast would go home after a hard shooting
day and Rick and I would stay an extra hour and just shoot some Bob
& Doug McKenzie. They were all exactly two minutes long so we'd
have the floor director count us in and we just improvised. If we shot
10 and two were good, that was a pretty good shooting ratio compared to
the rest of the show to get four minutes of programming in one hour."
And when the skits starting catching on and becoming popular, no one
was more surprised than Thomas and Moranis; and it wasn't long before
their popularity was evident.
"Rick and I got invited during that third season (of SCTV) to go to
Regina to have drinks with the (Saskatchewan) Roughrider Cheerleaders -
we were both bachelors and figured what the hell, how bad could that
be'. We flew there and there were about 500 people waiting for us when
we got off the plane cheering and yelling. That was our first
indication that anybody was a) watching the show and b) fans of the
The duo soon expanded their act and recorded a comedy album.
They enlisted the help of Canadian rocker Geddy Lee to sing their 'Take
Off' theme song on the album (Moranis knew Lee from their school days).
The result was a different kind of comedy album that fans couldn't get
Thomas says he and Moranis were completely surprised with the record's
sales. "I'll tell you who was more surprised than us was the record
company. They were caught short, they didn't do a big enough run.
They were all gone and there was a gap before they could manufacture
new vinyl and get them out there," he says.
Their single 'Take Off' spent 14 weeks on the Billboard Top 100 List
where it peaked at Number 16.
The Adventures of Bob & Doug
McKenzie: Strange Brew
With the Great White North album riding high and blowing away sales
projections, the next logical step was a full length feature movie.
Thomas and Moranis wrote and directed the 90 minute adventure in which
Bob & Doug McKenzie found themselves in the middle of a plot by
evil Brewmeister Smith to take over the world by putting a drug in
Elsinore beer (a fictional brand). It's up to the McKenzie brothers to
foil the plan before the tainted beer shows up at the Oktoberfest
celebrations in Kitchener, Ontario.
Thomas says they made a conscious effort to have Toronto be the
backdrop for the Canadian movie. "Back then they used to shoot Toronto
as New York City and less convincingly as L.A. I was very specific in
the directing of this to shoot the Toronto skyline with the C.N. Tower
so that everybody knew it was Toronto. Back then all the cop cars were
yellow, the cops had the red bands on their hats - I said, 'I want this
to look Canadian'... that's why it looks like it's shot in Toronto,
because I personally insisted that it be shot that way."
Strange Brew, which reportedly cost nearly $4-million to make, brought
in a box office total of $8,571,374 US. That may seem weak compared to
the blockbusters of today, but the over the years the movie has found
its niche with college kids from across North America and has been
catapolted to cult status. Thomas says he just can't put his finger on
the reason for the movie's continued success. "I'm sure it had
something to do with the beer, but honestly, I don't know the answer to
that. So I've decided not to try," he says with a laugh.
Since 2004 the movie has sold 550,000 dvd copies and a total of
475,000 VHS copies overall.
After Strange Brew left theaters the Bob & Doug McKenzie characters
faded away, at least for a while. Moranis went on to star in
blockbusters Ghostbusters, Spaceballs, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and
countless other big screen Hollywood films.
Thomas pursued a diverse career in writing, directing, producing, and
sometimes starring in dozens of television shows.
Over time, Bob & Doug McKenzie have re-appeared when you least
expect it. They appeared in a series of commercials for Pizza
Hut, Mr. Lube, and Molson.
In 2003 Thomas and Moranis lent their voices to a pair of moose in
Disney's animated feature Brother Bear.
The 2-4 Anniversary
To commemorate the 2-4 Anniversary of the McKenzie Brothers, Thomas
& Moranis celebrated by producing a television special featuring
appearances by Geddy Lee, Martin Short, Tom Green, Paul Shaffer, Andy
Dick, Dave Foley, Brent Butt, Will Sasso ("MADtv"), Paul Dooley, Chuck
Williams (producer, "Brother Bear"), Tom Cavanagh ("Ed", "Love
Monkey"), and Matt Groening (creator, "The Simpsons").
The one-hour broadcast was hosted by former Canadian Prime Minister
Paul Martin, who proved much funnier than one might imagine him to be.
Thomas takes credit for bringing Martin on board as a tribute to the
Canadian hosers. "I thought that would make sense to have a former
Prime Minister as their spokesperson." It didn't take much to convince
Martin to host the special, Thomas says, and he was committed to the
project right from the start.
"He's a good guy, a good sense of humor. If he'd been that funny when
he was Prime Minister, he'd probably still be Prime Minister."
The special, which was originally broadcast on CBC in Canada, is now
available on dvd and features bonus footage not included on the
television version. Thomas says fans of the McKenzie Brothers will
absolutely love it. "What they can expect to see are things
they've probably never seen before. There's commercial footage,
there's behind-the-scenes, sales footage for commercials, there's some
behind-the-scenes stuff that was shot at CityTV for a promotional shoot
for LIFE Magazine, and some new stuff that Rick & I performed."
For Thomas, reprising his role of Doug McKenzie for new Great White
North material on the special wasn't much of a chore. "It's always been
easy for Rick and I to slip into those characters."
Unfortunately for Bob & Doug fans, the new 'live' material on the
2-4 special is likely the last time you'll see the McKenzie Brothers
donning the toques and parkas and cooking up back bacon on the Great
White North stage. "We're getting older and it looks kind of
stupid for us to put on the toques," Thomas says. "I think we're done
with live action appearances for Bob & Doug."
But you haven't heard the last from the brothers from the north.
They'll live on as animated characters in a new series starting
shortly, due to Thomas' role in a production company called Animax. "I
think we can keep the hosers alive by animating them."
Fans can expect to see at least 13 half-hour episodes airing on the
Global television network in Canada.
And as the Bob & Doug characters are introduced to another new
decade of fans, Thomas says he's extremely surprised by the longevity
of the McKenzie brothers but can't answer why the characters have
lasted as long as they have.
"I don't know why that is ... there are some interesting people on the
(anniversary) dvd talking about that. There's a linguist who talks
about various phrases Bob & Doug invented that are now in the
Canadian dictionary," he says.
A Toronto editorial cartoonist named Brian Gable gave his take on the
Bob & Doug characters and their success on the dvd. He says that
American culture has a number of icons associated with it from Bugs
Bunny, Superman, Michael Jackson, Walt Disney and Cadillacs. The list
of Canadian icons instantly associated with Canada is short. After the
beaver and the Mountie there are very few icons left, Gable says. He
found that Bob & Doug were icons that he could draw in political
cartoons that would be recognizable to all Canadians and get a laugh.
"I really believe that some of the use of the characters in Canadian
media by people like Brian Gable has contributed to the longevity of
the characters," Thomas says. "But I honestly can't say that Rick and I
had anything to do with that. I really think it just happened."
Erik Niklas, webmaster for the fan site 'bobanddoug.com' thinks the
longevity of the McKenzie brothers has a lot to do with how the
characters were originally conceived. "Rick and Dave simply created two
characters that epitomized every Canadian stereotype, which of course
was their aim," Niklas says. "I think their 12 Days of Christmas
track (from their Great White North album) also helps to keep them in
people's minds, as it's become a staple of the holiday season.
Even in Ohio, you can hear it on the radio every Christmas. I
think that they were just so big in their heyday that just about
everyone who was over ten at the time has them etched in their memory."
Interestingly, Thomas says that at the peak of the McKenzie brothers
fame in the 1980s, he never wondered how long it would last.
And with nearly 25 years of being saddled with the Doug McKenzie
personna, does he ever regret putting on a toque and a pair of earmuffs
to fill that last two minutes of airtime? "Never. First of all, it's
been ridiculously lucrative in terms of how much money we've made off
of those characters but separately from that, it was a lot of fun. And
there we are, now being acknowledged by Canadian media as Canadian
icons, Bob & Doug McKenzie."
These days Thomas still pops up from time to time in television
projects - like 6 episodes of Arrested Development. But mostly, he just
turns stuff down. "I think you've got to do what you want to do. I just
liked writing and producing my own little shows and I never wanted to
give up the writing aspect of it. I've done writing, producing,
directing, acting - a lot of it stuff that I created, a lot of it is my
own shows. I've done way better and have done way more things than I
ever dreamed I would in this business. I'm very very happy with the way
it's gone," Thomas says.
Though he and Moranis have been inducted to the Canadian Walk of Fame
for their work on SCTV they've never been officially inducted for their
Bob & Doug characters. "Now we're being acknowledged by Canadian
media as Canadian icons Bob & Doug McKenzie'. But with my luck
(we'd get inducted) at a particularly slippery point in the walk and
someone would slip and fall and sue me," he says with a laugh. "So
maybe it's better not to have that."
Words. Reprinted with permission.