I spent a lovely afternoon five years ago with the great Dave Broadfoot. The comedian, who died Tuesday at 90, was the guy who came before; as in before SCTV, before The Kids in the Hall, before even the comedy troupe he was most often associated with, The Royal Canadian Air Farce.
I met Broadfoot after Don Ferguson and the late Roger Abbott asked me to help them with their 2011 book Air Farce: 40 Years of Flying by the Seat of our Pants. My job was to interview not only Broadfoot but Luba Goy, long-time director Perry Rosemond, younger troupe members and several others.
After trading phone calls, Broadfoot invited me over to his home in mid-town Toronto. We sat and had tea and basically cracked open the Canadian comedy time capsule.
In the video above, he talks about the origins of one of his favorite characters, the Member for Kicking Horse Pass. He also talks about how he adopted his loping style of pacing across a stage during his live performances, including shows he did annually at Toronto’s CNE grandstand. Those long walks were a bit he stole from a most unlikely source.
Born in North Vancouver, Broadfoot served in the merchant navy before relocating to Toronto just in time for the advent of television in 1952. He became involved as a writer/performer for the annual Spring Thaw review and did countless club shows all across the country. He told me about a trip to New York in the ’50s when he attended a taping of one of Sid Caesar’s groundbreaking sketch shows. Broadfoot himself performed on one of TV’s biggest stages in the ’50s and ’60s, The Ed Sullivan Show.
Here’s Broadfoot on the early days of television at CBC in the ’50s, including a story about the man who was his first TV director: Norman Jewison:
My first memories of Broadfoot on TV in the ’60s include the times he would turn up on Wayne & Shuster specials or even in-between periods during Hockey Night in Canada as punch drunk hockey mug Big Bobby Cobbler. Broadfoot had the physicality of a Red Skelton with more of a political edge, a performer who could play it broad or brainy depending on the room.
He was well established in Montreal during the years surrounding Expo ’67. A chance meeting with Roger Abbott in the summer of ’69 led to an invitation to join the fledgling troupe “The Jest Society.” That evolved into Air Farce, and for 15 years — until Luba’s tardiness finally drove him around the bend — Broadfoot was a frequent bonus member on Air Farce radio broadcasts.
The Order of Canada recipient was definitely Old School. The worst thing a performer can do, he told me, was to leave an audience waiting. “Never let them cool off,” he said. “Start on time.”
Yet he was also very open-minded and up to date when it came to comedy. Well into his eighties he would seek out young comics and was known for offering encouragement.
Find his 2002 autobiography “Old Enough to Say What I Want” for many stories covering over 50 years of making Canadians laugh. Rick Mercer’s blurb on the back of Broadfoot’s book says it all: “Dave Broadfoot is an inspiration. If the comedy business was a railroad, Dave drove the first spike and the last. The rest of us just rode the rails.”