By BERNIE FLETCHER
Second City Toronto celebrated “Fifty Years of Funny” this summer. The sketch comedy troupe nurtured so many talented performers including Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, Martin Short and John Candy.
In the Second City complex on York Street, the John Candy Box Theatre is dedicated to the memory of the beloved actor.
Candy is remembered for his humour and big heart, but he was also a mentor to other upcoming actors who trained with him at Second City and on the hit show SCTV which first filmed on Pharmacy Avenue in 1976.
Growing up in East York, Candy dreamed of a football career while playing for Neil McNeil Catholic High School, but the Argos’ loss was comedy’s gain.
The rite of passage for young actors often led through Second City. Not all went on to become big stars, but you may know their faces from playing memorable characters on shows such as Seinfeld.
Candy helped teach improv skills to Brian George (Babu Bhatt in The Cafe) and John Kapelos (The Sniffing Accountant).
Brian George was born in Jerusalem in 1952 to Jewish parents with Indian, Lebanese and Iraqi roots. When he was an infant the family uprooted to England, then to Toronto in 1966. George attended high school here, then the University of Toronto before joining the Second City touring company.
“You very, very bad man!”
Before The Finale on Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld came up to Brian and told him “You’re the man,” meaning it was Babu’s finger-wagging testimony that sealed the fate of the New York Four at their trial. Babu had his revenge!
Brian George has gone on to hundreds of roles on TV and film, including Austin Powers with Mike Myers.
Myers joined the touring company of Second City the day he graduated from high school and brought along his Scarborough basement character “Wayne.”
Seinfeld writers often based stories on true events such as a failing diner across the street. Jerry’s accountant really did steal $50,000 from him leading to the episode where John Kapelos plays Barry Prophet.
London, Ontario’s Kapelos credits John Candy with helping him learn comic timing during Second City workshops: “Well my teacher at Second City was originally John Candy. He really was a wonderful person and obviously a great performer. Sadly he is missed after dying way too young. He was also a really, really good teacher.”
You can watch John Candy’s daughter Jennifer interview Kapelos on her podcast ( https://www.secondcity.com/catch-up-couch-candy ).
Kapelos said he was walking down the street and just walked into the Old Firehall. There was John Candy writing new material. Candy advised him to “do everything, don’t turn anything down.”
Kapelos told Jennifer that her dad was “very, very kind, very generous” and “really exemplified a lot of the good things at Second City.”
He described Second City as “an incredible place to work” and “a breeding ground for comedy.”
After appearing on SCTV, Kapelos went on to spend eight years with Second City Chicago. Like Candy he was a favourite of director John Hughes.
Elaine Pope grew up in Scarborough with her older sister, singer Carole Pope of High School Confidential fame. As a teen she got her start as a server at Second City Toronto before becoming the only female writer on Seinfeld during its first two seasons.
Pope won an Emmy for writing The Fix-Up (1992) and co-produced 21 episodes.
Christine Cattell played a flight attendant on Seinfeld. She was raised in Toronto and not only was crowned Miss Toronto of 1978 but was also an Ontario Scholar and University of Toronto grad. She had a recurring role on SCTV.
Kevin McDonald of The Kids in the Hall studied drama at Humber College and pursued improv comedy at Second City. He’s the “denim vest” guy on Seinfeld.
Jeanne Elias (Myra on Seinfeld) was also a member of Second City.
Toronto-born Terri Austin (Knot’s Landing) worked with Eugene Levy on Second City skits. She played George’s fur-coat wearing co-worker Ava on Seinfeld. Ironically, Austin now runs an animal activist organization in California.
There are so many other Second City-Seinfeld “Canuck-tions” such as Beacher Peter Keleghan, Toronto’s Linda Kash and Winnipeg’s David Steinberg.
How time flies! Can you believe it’s been 25 years since the finale of Seinfeld and 50 years since Second City Toronto set up shop here?
Let’s hope the laughs just keep coming and we’ll always have John Candy’s legacy to remember.