In this weekend's Bullseye with Jesse Thorn interview, we hear from Rick Moranis. He has a new album out, and we get to hear about his early days in show business—plus why he stepped away from a career as a movie star. Let's go!
Listen To the Interview
You can hear the full interview using the SoundCloud player above. You can also jump to the parts we've highlighted using the time codes shown at the beginning of each snippet.
1. His First Job Was Selling Programs at Hockey Games...Unsuccessfully
I guess the very first job I had was selling programs at the hockey games at Maple Leaf Gardens when I was 12 or 13....
That sounds like the greatest job a 13-year-old could ever have!
Yeah. It was pretty cool. The problem was is that I was so low in the hierarchy that I had to sell in the top seats which were called the “grays” and the book was 75 cents. I was really little. I could only carry 25 of them, and I had to climb a thousand stairs to get up to the grays. You look at the ticket price and the number of people that had tried to sell these people programs on their way up to the grays, and I wasn’t selling a lot of programs. The odds were that if you did sell one somebody would give you a dollar, and I would do anything that I could to try and coax that 25 cent tip out of the 75 cents, to be able to get somebody to say “Keep the change,” which is really hard in Canada, to get somebody to say, “Keep the change.”
So I started doing shtick. I started doing, “Souvenir hot dogs! Get your souvenir hot dogs, ice cold program, hot Coca Cola, who wants a hot Coca Cola?” Stuff like that. It wasn’t working. I didn’t make any money but we did get to stay for the games if there were empty seats....
2. His Early Radio Career Involved Some Dead Air
The first time I went on microphone I was reading a public service announcement on my college radio station and I messed it up and then I said a word you’re not allowed to say on the radio, but I was one the radio live. And it’s indelibly imprinted upon my brain. Do you remember the first time you went on mic live?
I do and I don’t because I think I deliberately blocked it out because it was so bad, but I didn’t have that traumatic type of experience that you did. I had a terrible, you know they called them faults when you screw up on live radio and we had to keep a fault book. And there was this huge, huge crisis, serious news thing that happened and the newsman came in and gave me two sound carts. That’s in the days of tape. And I didn’t have a toggle flipped and the news came on. There were two reports. The news came on and said “Now we go live to Ottawa for this report.” Dead air. “And now we go live to Montreal for this report.” Dead air. And then they said, “The weather in a moment.” Dead air because I didn’t have the toggle. Then he gave the weather 30 seconds later. I mean, it was bad. I thought I was going to be fired. I wasn’t but I had to write a novel into the fault book explaining what had happened.
3. The "Bob and Doug" Skits Were Improvised After the Crew Went Home, to Satisfy Canadian Content Requirements
Yeah. Very much so. That’s exactly how they were created, why they were created. I had been doing a lot of satire before that on Canadian content regulations which my knee jerk reaction to this government mandate was to satirize it. I thought the government had no business legislating the arts.
We should explain for Americans who are listening that in Canadian broadcasting a certain amount of the content, depending on the outlet, has to be of Canadian origin and in some cases has to have Canadian-themed content, represent Canada.
Right, right. And what it is, is it’s cultural protectionism and there’s protectionism in a lot of different industries. The industry lobbies the government and the government puts on import quotas and taxes and whatever, but for the government to do it to the arts, it didn’t make sense to me. In retrospect I have no idea whether I was right or wrong or who got the last laugh. I have no idea. But at the time I was doing a lot of satire of it and the third season of [SCTV], which was the season that I joined, was not on independent television. It was on the CBC. It was syndicated in the States to independent television which had six minutes of commercials so it was therefore a 24-minute half hour, and the one in Canada was a 26-minute half hour.
The producers came into the room and they said, “With the extra two minutes the CBC wants you to do something Canadian,” and I was appalled by this because it didn’t matter what we did. We were Canadian. We were in Canada. Everything that we were doing was therefore Canadian. And I said, “That’s crazy. What do you want us to do? Sit in front of a map of Canada, put on tuques and parkas and snow boots and fry back bacon and drink beer and talk like this, eh?” And he said “Sure, sure, do that,” so we did.
Ironically, of all the stuff that was done on that show and there was a lot of really interesting work done on that show that a lot of care was put into, a lot of writing and production and design and performance and editing and on and on and on—a lot of work, and this thing was a throwaway. It was one camera. There wasn’t even a crew. The crew went home and one guy stayed there with one camera on us and we improvised the thing, and that was the thing that came out of the show.
I felt bad about it. It wasn’t fair to the other cast members and to the other work that we were doing. On the other hand it was an incredible amount of success that Dave [Thomas] and I had.
The movie that the two of you made, Strange Brew, ended up being the year’s highest-grossing film in Canada.
4. On Leaving Show Business and Becoming a Stay-at-Home Dad
I want to ask you a slightly personal question. If anything is too personal, just let me know. Your wife died when your kids were quite young and she was ill before she died. I wonder what it was like to try and recalibrate your life around a new set of facts? I think show business kind of assumes that show business is the most important thing and so it can be hard to change your priorities when you’re in show business.
Well, stuff happens to people every day and they make adjustments in their lives for all kinds of reasons, and there was nothing unusual about what happened or what I did. I think the reason that people were intrigued by the decisions I was making and sometimes seemed to have, almost, admiration for it had less to do with the fact that I was doing what I was doing and more to do with what they thought I was walking away from—as if what I was walking away from had far greater value than anything else that one might.
The decision in my case to become a stay-at-home dad, which people do all the time, I guess wouldn’t have meant as much to people if I had had a very simple kind of “make a living” existence, and decided, “You know what, I need to spend more time at home. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do this part time and then work out of my house to do this and this and this.” Nobody would pay any attention to it, but because I came from celebrity and fame and what was a peak of a career, that was intriguing to people and to me it wasn’t that. It wasn’t anything to do with that. It was just work and it was time to make an adjustment.
I think also your career was a creative career and so in part you were walking away not just from being famous and rich but also making stuff which you had previously dedicated a huge part of your life to.
I didn’t walk away from that. I applied all my creativity to my home life, to my kids, to my family. I was the same person. I didn’t change. I just shifted my focus.
5. "The only reason I’m doing interviews is because I let this record company talk me into releasing this album."
Do you think that you might like to return to show business? I’m sure that if you wanted to go out and audition you could either be getting parts in movies, playing someone’s dad on a sitcom pilot if you wanted to and your kids are now grownups.
I’ve never had a plan. I’ve never, ever had any forethought about anything I’ve ever done. I’ve just kind of looked at opportunities, said no to most things. Sometimes whatever was left standing was the thing that I went for. Sometimes something came along that was so appealing I just jumped at it. Usually it was driven by the people that were involved more than anything else.
There are other factors now. I’m comfortable where I live. There are certain locations I’m not interested in being and I’m not interested in doing anything I’ve done in the past, but in terms of being on camera, I have no idea. It’s not something I’ve given any thought to at all. The only reason I’m doing interviews is because I let this record company talk me into releasing this album, so now I’m doing interviews. That’s just part of the process. But the driver for that was writing a bunch of songs and being talked into recording them by friends of mine.
Where to Subscribe to Bullseye with Jesse Thorn
You can subscribe to Bullseye With Jesse Thorn via iTunes or any podcast player you like. It's also on various NPR stations across the country. You can also hear the complete interview above on SoundCloud.