As It Happens·Q&A

Comedy legend Joe Flaherty was an honorary Canadian, says SCTV castmate Dave Thomas

"Joe loved Canada," says his friend and colleague Dave Thomas. Flaherty, best known for his roles on SCTV and Freaks & Geeks, has died at the age of 82.

Flaherty, known for his roles on SCTV and Freaks & Geeks, has died at the age of 82

Six men and one woman sit on a long couch smiling in front of a coffee table.
Comedian Joe Flaherty may have been born in the U.S., but his SCTV castmate says he was an adopted son of Canada. Dave Thomas talks to As It Happens host Nil Köksal about the loss of his dear friend and colleague.

Comedian Joe Flaherty may have been born in the U.S., but an SCTV castmate says he was an adopted son of Canada. 

Flaherty — a founding cast member and writer at the beloved Canadian comedy sketch show — died Monday at the age of 82

Born in Pittsburgh, Flaherty spent much of his career living and working in Canada. He helped establish the Toronto Second City comedy troupe, from which SCTV was born in 1976. During the show's eight-year run, Flaherty honed his comedy chops alongside Canadian legends John Candy, Catherine O'Hara and Dave Thomas, to name a few.

When the series ended, he took on a variety of iconic roles, including on the TV cult-classic Freaks and Geeks, and blockbuster movies Happy Gilmore and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Thomas spoke to As It Happens host Nil Köksal about the loss of his friend and colleague. Here is part of their conversation. 

What do you remember about the first time you met Joe Flaherty? 

I saw him on stage before I actually met him…. and I saw him pull some pretty remarkable comic rabbits out of his hat as he performed on stage at Second City.

I thought he was probably the best actor in the cast at SCTV and did some incredible stuff if you look at his body of work over his career as a comic actor. 

A writer, too, on SCTV.

Oh, God yeah. Joe and I wrote sketches together. And when you're in the trenches with somebody writing sketches together, you really get to know the person really well because there's a kind of an intensity to the work.

I remember when Joe and I came up with this parody of Fantasy Island, which was not just a parody of the television show Fantasy Island, but also a parody of the movie Casablanca, and also inside that a movie parody of Road to Morocco, the [Bob] Hope and [Bing] Crosby movie, and also a parody of The Wizard of Oz. 

It ended up being most of a half-hour show but, boy, that was fun. And it was a really wonderful writing experience of working on that with Joe. 

A man wearing gardening clothes and kneeling in front of a trellis looks away from the camera.
Flaherty — best-known for his roles on SCTV and Freaks and Geeks — has died at the age of 82. (CBC)

You're professionals, of course, but how do you keep it together and not break up?… How do you keep a straight face? 

You don't always. And, you know, we weren't taping live the way SNL tapes. So we would stop if somebody started laughing. We would do another take. That was part of the fun of it. We shot SCTV more like a film. 

Joe was a pioneer. We all kind of looked at him as the sort of Corleone Godfather of the SCTV cast. And when he did his Godfather parody, he played that character and that was an inside joke. But it was also kind of a tribute to him and who he was to the cast, and to all of us. 

He's one of those folks who a lot of people assume is Canadian…. He's not. Did he feel like an honorary Canadian? How did he feel about that designation? 

When Global dropped the show and we went to Edmonton, and it became a CBC show and an NBC show, Joe probably loved Edmonton more than anybody. And he went back there many, many times. 

Joe loved Canada. And he was originally from Pittsburgh ... but he certainly was an honorary Canadian in all of our minds. No question about it. 

WATCH | Joe Flaherty on life post-SCTV:

Joe Flaherty, post-SCTV, discusses Really Weird Tales

20 days ago
Duration 5:11
The comedian enlists former colleagues, including Catherine O'Hara, for a new series he's producing. Aired July 9, 1986 on CBC's Midday.

Were you guys able to keep in touch over the years? When was the last time you had a chance to chat? 

I talked to Joe last week. I was supposed to go see him this week, and I went to Hawaii with the family, and now I'm riddled with guilt that I did that instead of going to see him. 

When I got off the plane, I got a text from his daughter and it just said "Joe passed away." And it was horrible to have all the laughs and all the fun and all the years of working together reduced to three words: "Joe passed away."

I stared at my phone in just shock and disbelief. 

I'm so sorry for your loss, Dave. But you have such incredible memories — and recorded memories in addition to the ones behind the scenes. 

In our phone calls, we would joke about old movies and reminisce about embarrassing moments that happened behind the scenes of SCTV. It was a strong relationship, and it was a good one.

It's a big loss to comedy, a big loss to us personally, and, I think a big loss to Canada that one of their adopted American sons has slipped away. 

A group of smiling people pose.
Former cast members of SCTV reunited at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Saturday night, March 6, 1999, in Aspen, Colo. From left front row: Thomas, O'Hara, Martin, Levy and Short. In the back row are Flaherty, left, and Harold Ramis. (E Pablo Kosmicki/Associated Press)

For those of us who didn't get to know him behind the scenes, as you said, you know, working in the trenches, writing together, what do you want the world, our listeners, to know about the kind of person Joe Flaherty was? 

Joe was relentlessly innovative, spontaneously funny all the time, really idiosyncratic and sometimes dysfunctional. 

He was never on time for anything. And if you wanted to be sure Joe was on time, you had to drive by his apartment and pick him up. That was the only way to guarantee that he would be on time. And, usually, he would make you late, too. 

But when he got there, boy, did he collaborate. Boy, did he participate.

I loved him dearly as a friend, and also as a comedy legend. So I'll miss him.

Interview produced by Chris Trowbridge. Q&A edited for length and clarity

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