Thursday, March 25, 2010

The McMadden Family Speaks Out On a Northern Interior University

This is hardly the best piece of old writing I've uncovered, but it has a bit of a story behind it that is worth telling.

In the years before I started touring Canada I had gone through a series of different comedy troupes - most of which spawned directly from th Prince George Theatre Workshop's Summer Stage project.

One of them - The Machine Gun Canaries - ended up getting a coveted TV gig.  There was a local TV magazine called 54-North.  The producer and host decided that a comedy troupe would be an interesting addition to the weekly commentary.  We got the job.

On about our second or third week the subject of the week was the debate over whether Prince George should be the home of the planned fourth university in BC.  Locals variously supported and criticized it.  At least one other city was trying to get the University built there.  It was all up in the air.  But we were young homers, naturally we were in favour of it being in PG and the arguments against it were silly - what better way to support our position than to stuff a few strawmen in the mouths of our opponents?

We put together two sketches .  One poked fun at the proposed names for the University - I don't recall it clearly, but I know at one point we referred to it as UPiG and there was something about UNBC "proud as a peackock."  ...the eventual university would in fact be named UNBC.  They left out the rest of it... not that anyone would get the joke anymore.

The second sketch follows below:

ELBERT: (Slowly with a hesitant drawl.)  Hi.  My name is Elbert T. Mc Madden Jr., and this is my wife, Ma.

MA: Or 'Ma' for short.

ELBERT: Ma and I run my hay farm in the Blackburn area.

MA: Where we farm... hay.

ELBERT:  The farm has been in my family since my great grandaddy came and arrived here when he came and... arrived in 1889.

MA: One hundred years ago.

ELBERT: Of course Great Grandaddy hasn't been around for a few years now.  (Pause.)  I have come here today to express my concerns about a Northern Interior University.  I think that a university at Fort George.

MA: That's Prince George now, Elbert.

ELBERT:  Oh, that's right. "The times they are a changin'" as that hip folk song does say.  I think that a university in Prince George would be a waste of tax payers' money.  I feel that money could go to better causes.

      (Enter their son.)

SON: Pa!  Pa!

MA: Now hesh up a second there boy.  Your father 's speakin'.

ELBERT: No, Ma.  Let me introduce my boy.  Afterall our youth is our future.  This is my boy, Elbert T. McMadden Junior Jr.  Junior Jr., we is on TV.

SON: Golly!

MA: Now what did you want to ask your father, boy?

SON: Pa, I got a real hot date tonight.  An' I was wonderin' if I could use the tractor to go to town?

ELBERT: Sorry Junior Jr, but Ma and I was goin' to take the tractor to town to watch them buildin' that new fangled hockey rink.

MA: Now, that's progress.

ELBERT: I'm afraid that you'll have to take the combine.

SON: The combine!  Pa, I'll look like a geek!

MA: Now Junior Jr., don't argue with your father.  Run along now.

      (Junior Jr. leaves, upset.)

ELBERT: The money we save on taxes could be out towards buying a new tractor so that we could be a two tractor family.

MA: Now, that's progress!

ELBERT: An Interior University would be about as much good for the city as that new fangled cultural centre they wanted to build.  Why I got plenty enough culture just sittin' round watchin' Wheel of Fortune on the television.

MA: ...Actually Elbert, we could use a new TV set...

ELBERT: What in tarnation are you talkin' about Ma?  We just bought a brand new enormous 12 inch black and white in 1959.

MA:  Of course, we couldn't receive any channels back then... But it sure was nice to put something up where we used to stare against the wall in the evenings.

ELBERT: Yeah Ma, we always have been ahead of the times, ain't we?

MA: Shore have.  We believe in progress.

- End -

Now I'll be the first to admit that I can think of a dozen ways to improve this sketch - if it were still relevant.  It's really not even close to being one of the best of the old pieces I dug up.  But it is special for another reason...

A day after it aired, the TV station recieved a number of complaints about the sketch.

Some people in the Blackburn area of town were upset about the portrayal of Blackburn farmers... a complaint I still feel is kind of quaint, sort of misses the point and if anything kind of serves to further the point.  I should also add... my Grandmother's maiden name?  Blackburn.  NOT a coincidence.  My uncle and cousins still operate the Blackburn farm in the Blackburn area of Prince George.

Anyhow... I don't know whether the producer of 54-North buckled under his own weight or under pressure from above at the station, CKPG, but we never appeared on the show again.

UNBC (proud as a peacock) DID get built in Prince George.  (As did one in the Okanagan - UBCO.)  The "New" arena is now in need of replacement, and they did eventually build a new cultural centre.

Somewhere along the way my adolescent brain got the message that comedy can push buttons and effect change.  Perhaps I don't practice that as much as I ought to... but if someday I can convince someone to green-light my TV series "Big Wig" - I'll be back to pushing buttons, making points and effecting change on TV.  Or maybe TV producers are too scared.

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