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 imagined."

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 overuse 'eh'.

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 McKenzie brothers."

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 enough of.

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."

©2008 Playing With Words.  Reprinted with permission.