Entertainment Television

'Corner Gas' reinvented as a cartoon

By Jane Stevenson, Postmedia Network

Brent Butt tells 24 Hours about his newfound freedom with the cartoon version of Corner Gas. BELL/ SUPPLIED

Brent Butt tells 24 Hours about his newfound freedom with the cartoon version of Corner Gas. BELL/ SUPPLIED

Brent Butt is sounding pretty animated about his latest return to the fictional town of Dog River, Sask., in a new Corner Gas reboot.

The 50-year-old comic has been busy on the west coast voicing Brent Leroy - his character from the popular sitcom which he also created. (The award-winning sitcom aired on CTV from 2004-09 before being revived as a 2014 film.) Corner Gas: The Animated Series is set to debut on the Comedy Network in early 2018.

"This kind of came together because after we did the movie, the response was so much bigger than anybody expected. We were selling out movie theatres," recalls Butt.

"So the network said to us, 'It's obvious ... there's still an appetite for the brand. Would you guys consider doing more Corner Gas?' We didn't really want to just go back [to live action]. I said, 'There's no sense in doing this again unless we're going to do something different.'" 24 Hours caught up with Butt down the line from his home in Vancouver recently.

The entire cast is back with the exception of the late Janet Wright, who played your mother Emma Leroy in the series and the movie. She'll now be played by Corrine Koslo in the animated show.

[Janet's] husband Bruce told us, 'You know who you should audition is a good friend of Janet's, who has a similar timbre to her voice. They were very good friends and they did theatre for years together. She now she lives in Ontario.'And I thought, 'Yeah, we'll audition her.'But I also thought, 'What are the chances she's going to be the right one?'And then, she really was.

Are you surprised at the enduring legacy of Corner Gas?

None of this was what we expected at all. I remember thinking, 'Well, this is cool. Somehow we tricked them into letting us do a show. And we'll do 13 episodes over the summer. Then, we'll all go our separate ways. Nobody will watch.'It just became this thing unto itself.

You briefly went to Ontario's Sheridan College which is known for its animation program. Was that the catalyst for turning Corner Gas into an animated series?

Years ago, my partners and I had a coffee and we were talking about what else we could maybe do with Corner Gas. That was when the series was still [airing]. And the notion of an animated version ... we all thought that was a funny idea but we were all too busy making the series to consider it, so the idea sort of went away. When this opportunity came around, we kind of said, 'Remember when we talked about animating? What do you think about that?'

So it sounds like a pretty easy transition then?

None of us were sure it would work, so we made a demo. It's kind of cool 'cause one of the guys that wrote on Corner Gas used to write on King of the Hill so he had prime-time adult animation experience. I was able to say to Norm Hiscock, 'How do you think our Corner Gas scripts would translate to being an animated show? How would we do it differently?'He said, 'We wouldn't do anything different.'So that was kind of encouraging. So then I wrote a couple of scripts and we made the demo. Everybody liked it.

Will you personally draw any of the animated series?

No, I'm not drawing. At the beginning, I worked with a couple of animation designers. I'll make a sketch. We're doing a thing where there's like a flashback fantasy to a Sasquatch thing so I kind of draw the Sasquatch and I send it off to the designers.

Does the animated version of Corner Gas give you more freedom in that you can air anything?

If you want a quick scene where your character is on Mars, you can do that. Whereas there were certain things that were very difficult to pull off in live-action that we can certainly make happen now. We can kind of let our imaginations go a bit more.

How much standup do you still do?

My career is standup. The other stuff I feel like, 'Oh cool, I get to make TV and movies every now and then.'

Is the one upside of Donald Trump being president is comics have more fodder now?

I legitimately think he has mental deficiencies. I think he has emotional and mental shortcomings that he needs to be treated for. At a certain point, I feel like as much as he's kind of doing some horrible things that make you want to kick him. It's also kind of like, 'Oh man, I think you're just not wired up right.'To me, it's more I'm saddened by it than I am angered by it.

Are you working on any other TV projects?

I'm personally trying to put together an hour-long show that I like the idea of [for me]. But once I get it done, who knows? Maybe nobody will be interested.