YORKTON - When Brent Butt took to the Painted Hand Casino stage it was just another step on a career path the well-known comedian has been on since he was a youth.
Butt, perhaps best known as the creator, and star of the long running TV series Corner Gas, grew up in Tisdale, Sask., and knew he wanted to be a teller of jokes to make people laugh from a relatively young age.
“It was very much the dream. It was number one on the list since I was 12,” he said in a recent Yorkton This Week interview.
The dream started when he was watching TV one day.
“I saw a comedian on TV. Seeing somebody walk out and just talk and be funny – It’s hard to put into words how that hit me. It was the only thing I wanted to do,” explained Butt.
As a teen Butt said he had a list of four possible careers including being an NHL goaltender, something he knew by 13 he wasn’t going to achieve.
“I didn’t have the skill set to do that. I wasn’t willing to put the work into it,” he said.
Comic book artist was on the short list too. In fact, Butt would partner with Colin Oleksyn and produce a short-lived two issue comic book Existing Earth when still in Tisdale.
The experience had Butt crossing artist off his career list.
“I realized I didn’t want to draw comic book panels all day,” said Butt.
Comedy was different.
“Stand up comedian was always number one,” reiterated Butt. “. . . Everything about it resonated with me.”
Butt recalls his first time on stage, again back in Tisdale.
The high school was having a variety night and Butt decided to audition.
“I thought it was the perfect place to try it out and see if I could do it,” he said.
The audition though was a challenge, him on stage before a panel of one teacher and two other students.
“Nobody had tried doing stand up before, but I did the stuff I had written and got some laughs,” he said, adding with an audience of three “it was hard to tell if I was doing well.”
But he was accepted, and the show put him solidly on a career path.
“It went gangbusters. It was very encouraging,” he said.
A year later he was in Saskatoon, following his comic book partner there as Oleksyn was in university.
“I was just selling advertising and worked on the comic book at night,” said Butt.
But he would soon muster up the nerve and headed to a comedy club and in February 1988 he did his first legitimate show.
Even when Corner Gas was at its height, Butt said he literally craved opportunities to do stand up, to the point of occasionally heading off during lulls in shooting to do a set on stage.
“I just get super titchy if I don’t do stand up,” he said. “. . . It’s something if I wasn’t doing it I’d be super miserable.”
And what about Corner Gas and how even today years after production wrapped up has legions of fans.
Butt said he hopes people always follow the show.
“It’s something I’m very, very proud of,” he said. “So much of what I have now is because of Corner Gas. For me I know Corner Gas will always be what I’m most known for.”
And that success opens doors to do what he still loves most.
“It helps me do more stand up,” said Butt. “Everything spokes off stand up.”
So how has he managed to find material for decades?
“I started coming up with something new long ago,” he said, adding he has never forced his writing. “I never really made writing stand up a thing where I sit down for three hours and have to come up with two bits.”
Butt said that while that might be the process a comedian takes, it rarely is.
“Most take a more organic approach,” he said, adding when he started out he carried a notebook to jot down “germs of ideas”, which he would then “sit down and try and hammer into a bit.”
Now Butt is embarking on a new project releasing his debut novel later this year.
It won’t be the funny book many might expect, but rather it is a dark psychological thriller.
Butt admitted being an author was something different for him.
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” he said, adding he at least has script writing to draw upon, although that is highly structured writing.
But said a novel is far more freeing, likening script writing to being a wild animal constrained by a fence and novel writing to the gate being open and he could run where he wanted.
“There’s so much less structure to it . . . I absolutely loved it,” he said, adding he had an 87,000-word first draft in 12 weeks.
So does Butt worry ‘fans’ might not buy a dark tale from a favoured comedian.
Butt suggested Corner Gas worked because they wrote the stories they wanted, and it found its audience, adding on the surface who would have thought a comedy based on a small Saskatchewan town would work?
Initially a humour book was what publishers wanted, “but it wasn’t what I wanted to write. It was not in my heart,” he said, adding he is confident by being true to himself, “it will find an audience.
Fans can get updates on the book’s release at brentbutt.com
While the TV show was a huge hit opening many doors, and the book a new venture to embark upon, Butt said he will always be a stand up comedian, adding that is enough for him.
“I would have been completely happy as an unknown working comedian,” he said, adding that was what he was before Corner Gas and he still thought he had “made it” because he was travelling doing gigs. “. . . I was making a living as a stand up comedian. I was living the dream.”