CBC Radio Cancels Edmonton's "The Irrelevant Show"

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CBC Radio Cancels Edmonton's "The Irrelevant Show"

Postby jon » Fri Oct 13, 2017 7:22 am

Paula Simons: A bittersweet goodbye to The Irrelevant Show, which put Edmonton centre stage
"It really burns my britches. But I think our downfall was that we were seen as a little show, out here in Edmonton."
Paula Simons, Edmonton Journal
Published on: October 12, 2017 9:34 AM MDT

The Irrelevant Show is as dead as Monty Python’s parrot.

After seven seasons, CBC Radio has cancelled the hit sketch comedy show, made here in Edmonton.

Why? Here’s a part of the statement the CBC’s Chuck Thompson emailed to me Wednesday: “It’s not uncommon for new programs to be introduced to the schedule and, inevitably, that means other shows wind down. The programmers are always reviewing the schedule, looking for new ideas and new voices.”

The Irrelevant Show joins The 180 and Tonic, produced in Calgary, as national programs from Alberta cancelled this year.

Seven years is a good run for any program. But CBC cancelled the show so abruptly, the cast didn’t even get a chance to do a goodbye finale show.

“I wish that we’d gotten a head’s-up,” said cast member Donovan Workun, who created, among other characters, Coach Carlson, who had a hard time explaining sensitive things.

Workun believes the show wasn’t hip enough for Toronto radio executives.

“It really burns my britches. But I think our downfall was that we were seen as a little show, out here in Edmonton.”

“It’s somewhat of a mystery to me as well,” adds castmate Mark Meer. “We were in the top echelon for ratings, and we seemed to get more and more listeners every year. This was so arbitrary. There’s only so much room on the schedule, but there was no need to treat us so shabbily.”

The Irrelevant Show routinely scored among the highest ratings of any CBC Radio comedy production — with a season average last year of just under 500,000 listeners — despite the fact the network kept moving its time slot. Its podcasts scored 20,000 downloads a week. Live shows consistently sold out, generating $40,000 per year to underwrite production costs.

The show won national and international awards for its unique domestic social satire, observational humour about the exasperations and absurdities of everyday life, from coping with the guy who chomps popcorn too loudly at the theatre, to trying to figure out which is the right day to put out the garbage.

One of my favourite recent bits was a steamy love song, delivered in the sexy style of Barry White, from a husband who pledges his exhausted wife a full night of sleep, uninterrupted by cats or kids. The Irrelevant Show asked us to imagine the embarrassment of Bruce Wayne when he loses the keys to the Batmobile, or the humiliation of Darth Vader, enduring a patronizing performance review conducted by Kevin from HR. My all-time favourite sketch featured a mortified bee circus promoter whose show went badly wrong.

In addition to Meer and Workun, the core cast was made up of Jana O’Connor and Neil Grahn, who was also head writer. They were joined by “special guests” from Edmonton’s theatre community, including Leona Brausen, Jeff Haslam, John Ullyatt, Amy Shostak, Marianne Copithorne and Jocelyn Ahlf. Even Oiler Andrew Ference got a sketch of his own.

Sound effects guy Dave Clarke brought time machines and sheep catapults to life. Peter Brown pulled it all together as producer, writer and occasional performer.

The show was huge fun, whether you were watching live or listening in your car. It was also a fabulous showcase for Edmonton’s comedy scene, a chance for “our” performers and writers to reach a national and increasingly international audience. The program presented an Edmonton that was witty, urbane, charming — everything everybody seems to think we’re not.

“For people who don’t hear much about Edmonton — and generally you don’t — this was a great ad for Edmonton’s theatre community,” said producer Brown. “To work with such ambient talent was such a luxury; to know when Neil or Mark couldn’t be there, Jeff Haslam could step in.

“I felt like this was a project I got to do with my friends — and it didn’t always occur to us that we had listeners in Montreal and Victoria and Austin, Texas.”

They were surprised, delighted and humbled to meet fans and get fan mail from every part of Canada, to have people recognize their voices, whether they were in line ordering Booster Juice or calling to order a pizza.

“The love and support from those audiences was palpable. Really, you could feel it,” said Jana O’Connor, the warm and witty comedienne who gave the show its heart.

“It was my dream gig. It’s the reason my career is where it is now. It’s painful because I loved it so much and it was such a huge part of my life. Those are the vagaries of the entertainment industry, I guess. But if the pinnacle of my career was to be on The Irrelevant Show, I’ll still very lucky.”

We were lucky, too, to host The Irrelevant Show, the program that made Edmonton a star. For awhile, at least.
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