Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, especially during a week like this one, when I have been sick with my second nasty cold of the winter sports show season. I’ll spare you the details, but it has been rather unpleasant to say the least. Listen to this week’s radio show and you’ll have an idea how I have been feeling (and sounding).
While under the weather (and fortunately, not under the press of other commitments – no TV or writing due this week), I did two things I rarely take the time to do: I took a nap this afternoon; and I finished reading Mag Ruffman’s biography of Steve Smith, We’re All In This Together. I grabbed a copy a couple weeks ago when Tom Dvorak and I were working MPTV Pledge around the Red Green Story, a special retrospective on that zany Canadian comedy that ran for 15 years before creator and star Steve Smith pulled the plug a few years back.
If you are not familiar with The Red Green Show, all I can say is, “Where have you been the last decade or so?” Because it defies description, go check it out online and you’ll have a bit of an idea of what it’s all about.
Anyway, what a treat it was to read about the man behind the character who kept us in stitches for so long. Steve shares his most intimate thoughts, personal discoveries and the highs and lows of his life in a conversation with Ruffman that apparently took place over a three-year period beginning the year before he stopped taping The Red Green Show.
Steve has been a personal hero of mine, but it didn’t start out that way. I can still remember the first time I ever saw his show. In the production office at MPTV, where we produce Outdoor Wisconsin, we used to have a TV monitor that played the current satellite feed, so anyone in the room could see whatever was coming down and being recorded for later airing. One day I happened to notice these two rube-looking goofs in plaid shirts carrying on in a run-down cabin set. The first thing I thought – honest to God – was “Who the #%&*@! is that making fun of our show?” I later learned that Steve Smith and Patrick McKenna (aka Red and Harold Green) were doing this every week for real! After that, I got into watching the show regularly, as MPTV airs it on Thursday night right after Outdoor Wisconsin (one of the smartest moves Tom Dvorak has made as program director for MPTV).
Eventually, Steve came to Milwaukee to do live pledge breaks around his show, and Tom and I were invited to work with him. I have to say, of all the people I have worked with in radio or TV over the years, Steve is by far the fastest on his feet. We did live on-air pledges without a script, with Steve carrying the ball and Tom and I simply feeding him one straight line after another. I think the only time he was speechless was when I reached into a cooler and hauled out a road-killed possum I had picked up earlier that day in his honor.
Between breaks that night, he told me, “Your show is the real thing – we’re just having fun.” I responded with “Yeah, but a lot of people think your show is the real thing.”
“I know,” he said. “That’s scary, isn’t it?”
Over the years, Tom and I have had several opportunities to work with Steve, both on his set in Hamilton, Ont. and in Milwaukee, during MPTV Pledge and at several sports shows.
During that same visit when Steve first came to Milwaukee to work pledge, we took him to an ice fishing expo in Waukesha. The promoter, Doug Reuter, had no idea who Red Green was. Anyway, on a Friday night, Red Green fans lined up for autographs and clogged the aisles at the Waukesha Expo Center, preventing other expo attendees from visiting all the other booths. Vendors were miffed, until Red’s fans started buying stuff – anything and everything – to have something for Steve to autograph. We finally had to sneak Steve out the back door and into a getaway car, and even at that, one fan clung to the rear bumper and went for a ride on the frozen parking lot in an effort to get closer to his hero.
There were more Red Green close encounters, but those will have to wait for another telling. For now, order the book. As Pat McKenna wrote of it, “Steve’s life lessons are worth reading, writing down and following to the letter — it’s a map to personal and financial freedom.”
I don’t know about the financial part – I’m still working on that. But Steve’s story will touch almost anyone of our generation. His comments on parenting and family life especially struck a chord with me. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.