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Photo by Robert de Lint. Courtesy of CORNER GAS ANIMATED/Bell Media

Interview: Brent Butt at the Ottawa International Animation Festival—09.27.18

By Asim B. on September 24, 2018

Brent Butt will be visiting Ottawa on Thursday September 27 as part of the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF). He will be giving the keynote address as well as taking part in the panel discussions at the end of the conference portion of the festival. The event will happen at 4:15 pm at the Chateau Laurier.

He’s donned many different work hats as part of a very full career, which includes being the executive producer, creator, showrunner, and star of the new hit show Corner Gas Animated. It’s a cartoon version of the iconic show Corner Gas, but re-imagined and expanded with a freedom that can only be allotted within the animated world.

Since its release on The Comedy Network, the show was an instant hit, becoming the most watched show ever on the network. Many of the original cast return to voice their cartoon selves, along with a slew of new characters that are introduced through cutaway scenes that include (but not limited to) an epic battle between Bigfoot and a unicorn.

From a very young age, Brent has been pursuing a career in stand-up comedy, before turning his sights on television production and writing. He became a household name as the creator and star of Corner Gas and Corner Gas: The Movie, which included an Emmy nomination, as well as a Golden Screen Award for the highest-rated scripted program in Canada, at the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards.

After logging in some studio time where he’s recording parts for the second season of Corner Gas Animated, Apt613 had a chance to sit down and talk with the comic/actor about what he’s been up to lately.

Apt613: What’s it like working on an animated show and do you find it more work than the original scripted show?

Brent: Well, it’s a lot of different kinds of work. I don’t know if it’s more work, but it’s different work. It’s very satisfying and very gratifying. You know, we didn’t know when we were getting into (the animated) show if anybody would like it or how people would respond to it or whether it’s something we should even try doing. You know, you stick your neck out and try something different and you don’t always know how it’s going to go, but the response has been hugely satisfying.

You stick your neck out and try something different and you don’t always know how it’s going to go, but the response has been hugely satisfying.

The audio production is based out of Vancouver, where you live. Is the animation studio also based out of Vancouver?

The animation studio we use is based out of Toronto, (and is) called Smiley Guy (Studios). The initial idea was to use a studio right here in Vancouver, because it’s where I live, but we had such a short turn around… we interviewed 4 studios out here and all of them wanted to do the job, but when we told our timeline, they said: “Yikes! We can’t do that”. So anyway, Smiley Guy was the company we initially did the demo (cartoon) with. We made a 3 minute demo to see if we thought it would work and just want back to Smiley Guy and said: Do you want to do the whole thing?

Courtesy of CORNER GAS ANIMATED/Bell Media

I know that you draw yourself, so did you design the characters on your own, or did you hire someone to do the original concept art?

I had designed characters initially, but they don’t look anything like the (current) designs. The character designs were really created by an animator in Vancouver named Josh Mepham, who works with Slap Happy (Cartoons). He’s the guy that I sat down with to design the characters. He’s hugely talented and he’s the one that really created the look of the show. I mean we both sat there drawing: I had my pencil, he had his pencil, but at the end of the day, it was his experience as an animator that formed the look of the show.

I know you’ve published your own comic book with a friend when you were younger, so I’m wondering if you’ve continued to draw throughout your life or did you leave it for a while when pursuing stand-up and television?

Well, I’m doodling as we talk right now. I’m a big doodler and a lot of my thoughts come when I’m sitting and doodling with pen and paper. It’s something that I always do (for fun), but I’ve only done it on occasion as a living.

You went to school for animation, is that when you realised it wasn’t something you wanted to do for the rest of your life?

Yeah. You know I always wanted to be a stand-up comic, but the notion was always that you need some plan B, something to fall back on. The only other thing I imagined I (could) do as a living was animating. So I got accepted into Sheridan College, but I left before orientation week was over… somebody said: “well you went to Sheridan College”, I said no I didn’t, and they said: “but it’s on your Wikipedia page. It says: “education: Sheridan College.” Honestly I didn’t take a single class there. It’s one of those things… with a platform that the public can edit, you can never be sure of everything (on Wikipedia).

What made you want to get into stand-up in the first place?

When I was 12 years old, I saw a guy do stand-up (comedy) on TV. I’d never seen that before, and that was the first and only thing that ever made sense to me. That’s all I wanna do and that just became my life focus. The first time I did stand-up was when was in highschool, when I was 17 and then again at 18. Then (I) did it for the first time at a club in 1988. I think when I was 21.

Where were you in 1988 when you did stand-up?

There was a comedy club in saskatoon that had amateur night so I called down and started the process.

When did you know you wanted to do stand-up for a living?

The thought for me was: “I was going to do this.” If I had the ability to get laughs, I’m going to do this. And if I could pay the bills doing it, then I won’t do anything else. If I can’t pay the bills doing it, I might have to do something else, but I’m still going to continue to do (stand-up). Because like I said, it was the only thing that made sense, it’s the thing that makes me happiest, still to this day. But I just happen to come along at a really good time. The late (1980’s) was a real boom for comedy. There were a lot of really low paying gigs. They were low paying, but there were a lot of them. So just squeaking out an existence was doable.


Brent Butt’s keynote is open to all OIAF passholders. For tickets and additional information on the Ottawa International Animation Festival, please visit: www.animationfestival.ca