Sit back, relax, throw on your favorite tuque and a parka, and knock back a couple of your favorite beers in the Great White North. The cult comedy classic Strange Brew is turning 35 years old. In honor of Bob and Doug McKenzie’s Canadian adventures, here are some facts about Strange Brew—you hoser!
1. BOB AND DOUG MCKENZIE STARTED OUT AS A FLUKE.
Comedians Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas created the characters of the excessively Canadian brothers Bob and Doug for the third season of the influential Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV, which debuted in 1976 and moved to the CBC network in 1980. CBC’s executives stipulated that two minutes of each show needed to be dedicated to Canada-centric topics, so as a joke Moranis and Thomas used the allotted time to completely improvise a sketch where they played two bumbling, overly Canadian men talking exclusively about farcical Canadian culture. The joke caught on, and the brothers made the leap to American television in 1981 when NBC ordered new seasons of SCTV to be shown in the States, and specifically requested the McKenzie brothers be part of it.
2. STRANGE BREW WAS MADE BECAUSE OF THE SUCCESS OF THE BOB AND DOUG COMEDY ALBUM.
Moranis and Thomas released an album of sketches and songs as Bob and Doug called The Great White North in 1981 because of the success of the characters on North American television. The album went on to sell more than one million copies in North America, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. The album’s broad success and appeal of the characters prompted Moranis and Thomas to quit SCTV in 1982 in order to write a script for a Bob and Doug movie.
The album is hinted at in Strange Brew itself, when an audience member watching the movie within the movie criticizes Bob and Doug’s stereotypical intro saying, “They did this on the album, too!”
3. THE MOVIE WAS ALSO MADE BECAUSE OF JOHN CANDY.
John Candy was also a member of SCTV in the early 1980s with Moranis and Thomas, though he stayed with the show until its final episode in 1984. But Moranis and Thomas got the idea to leave SCTV to make a Bob and Doug movie after Candy was offered the lead role in a comedy for Universal Pictures called Going Berserk, about a chauffeur moonlighting as a musician who gets into a series of madcap adventures in the lead-up to his wedding day. The movie also starred SCTV cast members Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty, as well as Paul Dooley, who would go on to appear as the devious Uncle Claude in Strange Brew.
4. THE PLOT TO THE MOVIE IS LOOSELY BASED ON HAMLET.
Dave Thomas studied English Literature in college, and thought it would be funny to class up Bob and Doug’s big-screen debut by modeling the pair after Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Pam (Lynne Griffin), who takes over her recently deceased father’s brewery in the movie, is also modeled after Hamlet, who in the play returns to Denmark after the murder of his father. English lit fans will also note that Elsinore Brewery is named after Hamlet’s royal castle of the same name.
5. THEY MAY HAVE COINED THEIR ICONIC CATCHPHRASE.
How about this, eh? You better take off, you hoser! In between swilling Molson beer, Bob and Doug repeatedly use clichéd Canadian language, and in particular that wonderful term of Canadian endearment, “hoser.” Despite a rich colloquial history that may have started out as a turn of phrase to describe the person hosing down ice to maintain a hockey rink, the first written record of the word “hoser” is allegedly from a 1981 article in the Toronto Star describing Moranis and Thomas’ characters.
6. BOB AND DOUG LOVED STAR WARS, BUT THEY MISSED SOMETHING IN PLAIN SIGHT.
At the beginning of the hockey game scene where Bob and Doug find themselves in the middle of Brewmeister Smith (Max von Sydow) and his minion controlling the minds of the asylum patients via random notes on a keyboard, the brothers make a joke referencing Star Wars.
“I am your father, Luke. Give in to the dark side of the force, you knob,” Doug says, decked out in hockey pads that resemble Stormtroopers from the galaxy far, far away. “He saw Jedi 17 times, eh,” Bob says to Elsinore Brewery employee Jean "Rosie" LeRose, who also takes part in the game.
What Bob and Doug don’t know is that Angus MacInnes, the actor who plays Rosie, played Gold Leader, one of the Rebel Alliance Y-Wing pilots who died during the attack on the Death Star in the original Star Wars.
7. BOB AND DOUG’S DAD IS BUGS BUNNY.
Cartoon fans should recognize the voice of Bob and Doug’s TV-obsessed father, who continually yells at the pair to get him a beer. It’s the voice of actor Mel Blanc, better known as the man behind Bugs Bunny and dozens of other iconic Looney Tunes characters including Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, and Yosemite Sam.
Moranis and Thomas, who co-directed Strange Brew, inserted Blanc’s voice as the dad during post-production on the movie. The voice actor, who was then 75 years old, earned $10,000 for an hour’s worth of work on Strange Brew.
8. MAX VON SYDOW AGREED TO PLAY BREWMEISTER SMITH BECAUSE HIS SON WAS A FAN OF BOB AND DOUG MCKENZIE.
The role of Brewmeister Smith was actually written with von Sydow in mind. But Moranis and Thomas thought actually enlisting the normally solemn actor, who was perhaps best known for appearing in Ingmar Bergman films like The Seventh Seal, to be in their Canada-centric farce would be impossible. It turns out that Freddie Fields, then-president of MGM—the studio that made Strange Brew—had just produced a movie called Escape to Victory, which starred von Sydow. So he sent the esteemed actor the Strange Brew script. Instead of hashing it out with Fields, von Sydow ran it by his son, who was a huge SCTV fan and encouraged his father to take the role.
9. A BEER BOTTLE-SHAPED PAPERBACK BOOK WAS RELEASED TO PROMOTE THE FILM.
While not a direct novelization, a book shaped like Bob and Doug’s ubiquitous beer bottles was published as a promotional tie-in for the movie. The book touted its “ingredients” as “A mellow blend of choice cartoon tidbits and the finest photo-snippets aged in goatskin bags.” It also featured a fake library card insert with the signatures of famous Canadians who had allegedly checked the book out, including hockey player Bobby Hull and author Margaret Atwood.
The book is currently out of print, but you can find copies on Amazon for as much as $500. That's a lot of beer money.
10. A SEQUEL TO STRANGE BREW, TITLED HOME BREW, WAS SCHEDULED TO BE RELEASED IN 1999.
Strange Brew was a modest hit when it was released in 1983, pulling in just over $8.5 million at the box office against a $4 million budget, and allowed Moranis and Thomas to have continued careers in comedy throughout the 1980s. Moranis eventually took a hiatus from acting in the late 1990s, but emerged when Bob and Doug returned in a Molson beer ad campaign around the same time.
The success of the campaign prompted Moranis and Thomas to write a script with SCTV writer Paul Flaherty in 1999, and the sequel received funding from comic book writer and entrepreneur Todd McFarlane before being fast-tracked to pre-production. Moranis agreed to come out of semi-retirement to reprise his role, but the funding for the movie fell through, causing Home Brew to stall completely.
11. EVEN THOUGH THE SEQUEL WASN’T MADE, BOB AND DOUG LIVED ON IN CARTOON FORM.
The McKenzies eventually returned in animated cartoon form in a series developed by Fox in 2008. Initially titled The Animated Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie, the show, eventually retitled Bob & Doug, ran for a 10-episode first season and a five-episode second season on Canada’s Global Television Network. Moranis and Thomas created and executive produced the show, but only Thomas returned to voice Doug, while Canadian actor Dave Coulier provided the voice of Bob.