Comic Stripped: Just give ’er school of comedy comes of age

Jared Keeso’s small-town southern Ontario roots inspire surprise sitcom smash Letterkenny


Jared Keeso says ‘Letterkenny’ began as a Twitter handle

Television sitcom Letterkenny is a bona fide Canadian comedy success story. It began a few years ago online and migrated to CraveTV as its first original production. The second season just premiered on Christmas Day with a third underway. The show stars pride of Listowel, Ont., Jared Keeso — who also created the show — as tough-guy hick Wayne, and Toronto’s Michelle Mylett as his little sister Katy. I spoke with Keeso, who created the show.

What real town inspired the town of Letterkenny?
It’s Listowel, Ont., a couple hours west of Toronto, where I grew up. We took a lot of small-town stereotypes and embellished and exaggerated them. At my high school there were hicks, skids, hockey players and Christians. I was a hockey player. I dated hick girls in high school and would test drive different lifestyles. I even went to Christian youth gro­ups but found them to be too extreme.

How was the series created? 
It started as an anonymous Twitter account with my best pal Jordan Beirnes in my hometown of Listowel. We tweeted problems we faced growing up there that people there still face. The account had 1,500 followers, and 5,000 people lived in Listowel. 

What changes did you have to make as you moved to TV?
Actually, there was no push back from Crave. The show has gotten filthier since we moved.

The characters may be “hicks,” but they speak in a kind of unique poetry. 
Yes, alliteration is a favourite device of mine. I throw it in as much as I can, and it’s become a signature of the show. I use a lot of slang from back home in the show. “Tits” means “good,” “mint” means “good,” although it’s pronounced “ment.” We try to keep the dialogue authentic.

Hoser comedy has been a big part of Canadian comedy since Bob and Doug McKenzie. Were you conscious of that tradition?
We may be a comedy from Canada, but we’re not a hoser comedy. We don’t like the show to be defined that way. We made an effort to make it accessible to everyone in the country. Letterkenny could be any small town in the country.

How do you connect with Wayne?
I knew those characters growing up. I was scared of them. Hicks do heavy lifting and have a handshake that will lift you off the ground.  Rarely were they bullies, but they would turn it on when provoked.  My fear of them was paralleled by my admiration for them. To be a hard worker and demand respect is a code to live by.

You were a hockey player who became a theatre student — not a journey many young men take.
I was 18 years old, playing junior B, then I got sick with mono and stayed on the couch while the swelling went down. I saw the movies Rushmore and Snatch and thought about how those guys got there. I proceeded to drama because it was the only thing I was good at in school, and I just knew I wasn’t going to be a hockey player. 

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Post City Magazines’ humour columnist, Mark Breslin, is the founder of Yuk Yuk’s comedy clubs and the author of several books, including Control Freaked.

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