'Letterkenny' Uses the Power of Niche Comedy to Unite a Country (or Two)
Hicks, skids, Christians and hockey players — these all make up the town of Letterkenny. "Letterkenny Live!" tells their stories
Published Feb 03, 2020In 2018, Canadian TV got a morsel of international attention when, in a test of aptitude away from home, the hicks, skids, hockey players and Christians of the beloved Canuck comedy series Letterkenny headed south of the border on a short run of American tour dates.
Now, they're heading out on tour again, visiting a total of 26 cities Stateside, in addition to 12 dates on Canadian soil. The newfound demand for the show can, in part, be attributed to American streaming platform Hulu's acquisition of the series last year. The live crew will have a chance to bring the show to their American followers in the next few months. Until then, the cast are preparing for a long-haul.
Speaking with two of Letterkenny's finest, Tyler Johnston and Nathan Dales — who play Stewart and Daryl respectively — we got the scoop on what this new attention means for the future of the Canadian comedy gem, and what we can expect to see as the show transitions again from screen to stage.
"Letterkenny Live!" promises a lot of what you see in the Crave series, but with a few new skits and, of course, plenty of ass-kicking. But don't expect to see the show's signature Wes Anderson-esque slow-motion fight scenes performed on stage (the stunt coordinator won't be joining the crew on the road). No, the ass-kicking in "Letterkenny Live!" will remain firmly in the conceptual realm.
"In terms of content, there's going to be pounds and pounds of ass-kicking," says Dales, who is audibly thrilled to be testing out new material on their audience this February. "It's gonna be so much fun."
"We appreciate everyone's supporting our weird little Canadian show and we're happy to keep this journey going," says Johnston, who is joining the nine-member live tour cast for the first time.
Since announcing the tour back in October, the schedule has expanded to 42 shows in 38 cities, with some venues hosting more than one performance a day — all of which will place in the span of about two months. As such, the massive crew plan to take the show literally on the road, loading themselves and their provisions on an actual tour bus in an effort to minimize travel time between cities. If it sounds a lot like the rock star lifestyle, that's because it is. Sex, drugs and rock and roll — the whole gamut. Well, maybe not.
"None of those things," says Johnston.
"Sleep, water and comedy," laughs Dales.
In the spirit of Letterkenny's scrapping, hard-boozin' bar tumbles, the audience, of course, is free to celebrate however they choose. Some dedicated fans have been known to chug a few cans of Puppers Premium Lager while cheering on their favourite show. The cast sure seems to love it too.
"It's a hell of a beer to drink and watch some comedies, so that's a match made in heaven as far as I'm concerned," says Dales.
Sadly, for customers looking for the canine-themed beer outside of Ontario, you may be out of luck. Even in Dales' home base in Toronto, you may notice a distinct lack of Puppers on the shelves at the LCBO.
Throughout our conversation, the two refer to each other by their adorable pet names (Dalesy and Teej), mirroring the show's loyal interpersonal relationships. This intimate quality extends to the neighbourly hicks on Letterkenny: Daryl, Katy (Michelle Mylett), Squirrely Dan (K. Trevor Wilson) and Wayne (played by showrunner Jared Keeso).
"I like their loyalty to each other, says Dales, "And their kind of 'take no bullshit' attitude."
Dales plays Daryl, the hick whose nickname is Dary, while Johnston's character Stewart is often referred to by his fellow skid friend Roald (Evan Stern) as "Stwrt!," an utterance usually whimpered in moments of fear or uh, sexual tension.
If these two were to put themselves into one of Letterkenny's demographics, they both agree that they'd technically fall into the hockey player category, having grown up as athletic Canadian kids. But these designations, much like a Canuck-themed Myers-Briggs test, can shift over time.
"I put myself in more of the hicks category [now]," says Dales, "Only because I don't fit in anywhere else in the show, really. [It's] kind of great though 'cause I get to play a hick, which is so much fun."
And despite their different clans, you get the feeling that the cast and crew really are as tight as they seem in the show. Dales and Johnston are particularly fond of their colleague, Jonathan Torrens (Trailer Park Boys, Jonovision), who joined the show in 2017 as both a writer and actor.
"Not only is [he] perfect for our set because we love being professional and doing a really good job, but you want people there who are excited to be there. Everybody wants to step their game up because everybody is having fun," says Dales.
"He's one of those guys where you have a casual conversation with him four months ago and the next time you see him, he brings it up, 'How your mom's car muffler doing?' or whatever," says Johnston. "He remembers. You can really tell he's paying attention."
The similarities often drawn between Trailer Park Boys and Letterkenny went meta three years ago when Torrens joined the show. And while his J-Roc character on TPB remains out in Dartmouth, NS, on Letterkenny, Torrens brings the same enthusiasm to his new character Noah Dyck, a Mennonite whose ignorance to double entendre is worth its weight in comedy gold.
"Torrens is awesome, man. He's an incredible writer. He's one of the performers that I can never look at in a scene because he just makes me smile and makes me break," says Dales.
Unfortunately, Torrens won't be joining the rest of the cast on tour, but I'd wager you can expect to see him reprise his insanely popular role as Noah on screen when the series returns for its new season. With Letterkenny Season 8's debut back in December and Season 9 on the horizon, the crew's coast-to-coast excursion is sort of perfectly situated as an off-season marketing pull. If all goes well, Letterkenny has the opportunity to gain whole new swaths of fans in the U.S. while they await a new filming schedule in their home and native land.
Since the show's YouTube beginnings, Canada has served as Letterkenny's main filming location. Sudbury, Ontario, in particular, has played the part of the humble rural town. Between Johnston's work adapting Vancouver author Aaron Chapman's The Last Gang in Town for film, and Dales' work on a forthcoming romantic comedy Broken Heart Gallery, the pair, alongside their numerous cast-mates, head up north to Sudbury for the better part of the year to shoot. They've made it almost like another home base. They even have favourite bars to frequent (and get kicked out of on occasion).
"People there are nice. It's fun. It has become sort of like a second home, which is odd to say," says Dales, a Calgary native. "I would have never thought that Sudbury, Ontario would become like a second home, but it certainly has."
Hearing Dales and Johnston talk about all the different parts of Canada they've called home over the years really drives it home that this show isn't just fart jokes and sexual innuendos. It's about identity. It's about the connections we make through our shared idiosyncrasies. And if Letterkenny has proven anything about Canadians, it's that there's nothing quite like the power of our comedy to unite a nation (or two).
Though the show may be niche, it's humour is universal. So the saying goes, "everyone knows someone from Letterkenny." It's true — whether they be a hick, Christian or hockey player. I bet you even know some basement-dwelling skids out there.
"Look, the basement door is always unlocked," laughs Johnston. "The door is wide open, right? And we're looking for friends. [That's a] pretty good band name: Looking for a Friend. The album title: The Basement Door Is Always Open."
Check out tour dates – including Eastern Canada from February 27 to March 7, and Western Canadian dates from March 31 to April 5 — here.