Who knew Susan Kent was a metal head? I certainly didn’t when she and I started to chat about the 22nd anniversary of This Hour Has 22 Minutes. That was just part of our conversation about the behind-the-scenes preparation that goes on during a whirlwind week on the set of the veteran CBC parody program.
The Corner Brook, Newfoundland, native describes a collaborative writing squad that churns out a shocking amount of content that never sees the light of day and the breakneck speed needed to create a skit like last week’s parody of Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass,” repurposed as a PC attack ad about Justin Trudeau called “Just a Pretty Face.”
Congratulations on the show’s milestone.
Susan Kent: Thanks, it’s great to be involved in something that I had nothing to do with! I totally lucked out.
Do you still feel like you’re the newbie on the cast?
Not so much anymore. I feel pretty integrated now. Every now and again I’ll get one of those twinges that I used to get. ‘Oh my God, what am I doing? Why do I think I can do this?! This is the big leagues!’ And then I’m like, ‘It’s just me and these people having a good time.’
How does the writing process work for 22 Minutes? Do you all come up with ideas and then bring it to the table? Walk me through a typical production week.
Monday is the live show, so we do all of our prep stuff throughout the day. Sometimes Mark will do a satellite interview with a politician during the day. Monday nights we do the desk stuff and show everything we’ve shot the previous week and that morning to the audience.
We come in Tuesday morning for the next week’s pitch meeting. It’s all of us together and we just go around the table and pitch ideas and riff on each others’ ideas. And then [executive producer] Peter McBain either says, ‘Yeah, go ahead,’ or ‘No, don’t waste your time,’ and we all go away and write as much as we can. I write for myself and for other people as well. We all do that. We all like to write for each other. We do all that until early-ish on Wednesday and then Peter makes the choices for what sketches will be read out of the book and that’s usually about 40. And then everyone who works on the show gathers together in the studio and we read all of those sketches. Out of that read and based on the response and hearing things aloud he decides what will be shot. We get the rundown for Thursday and Friday and everybody starts sewing costumes and hitting Walmarts to make things.
We shoot all day Thursday and all day Friday. Oftentimes Mark Critch will go on road trips to do interviews on the Wednesday or sometimes on the weekends. He doesn’t stop. He is insane. Our director and our editors start work on Friday, editing stuff. And then Monday is the live show all over again.
Do you work the weekend too, or do you just sit and worry for two days?
Yeah, I sit and drink wine and worry about what’s going to happen!
How many writers are in the room besides the core four?
There are about eight writers right now and out of that crew there are a few who work from home because they have new babies and stuff like that. They call in during the pitch meeting and write from home.
You guys are creating a ton of content every week.
Oh God, it’s insane. It’s insane the amount of stuff that gets written. Let’s say each writer writes six sketches and each sketch has three or four jokes. Once those jokes don’t make it to the read, those jokes are burned and can’t be used again. The jokes that make it into the read but don’t make it to what gets taped are burned too. And the jokes that are shown in front of the audience but don’t make it to air are burned too. You can only imagine the amount of really quality stuff that never sees the light of day. For all of the desk jokes that you see on TV, we’re written double that for the show. Those guys are pumping out an insane amount of stuff, yeah.
On top of all that you have to be timely.
When all the bananas stuff was happening with Rob Ford last year, oftentimes we’d arrive on Monday and something we were going to do for the live show was trumped by something that had to do with him. That happens quite a bit.
This past week’s episode featured the PC attack song. Whose idea was that?
Well, Meghan Trainor gets the all the props for that. I think that idea was an idea between Peter and Mike Allison, the guy who wrote it. Mike has a really extensive history with music and he’s really good at it and he’s very good at parody songs.
Were you really singing it?
Yeah, that was me singing. I did all the back-ups and everything. It was cool. We have this music genius named Mike Farrington that comes in and does all of the music for the show. I didn’t know that song–I listed to more metal and punk rock–so I listened to it a bunch of times before the read. It was the first time I had listened to the song all the way through and we learned we’d be shooting it the next day. That meant recording it that night. I listened to it a whack of times and then Mike and I worked on my phrasing. Mike Farrington found out at 5 o’clock that we were doing it and was in the studio by 6. By 6:05 we were laying it down. It goes fast and luckily the two Mikes are so talented.
As a fellow metalhead, I have to ask: who do you listen to?
Right now I’m into this band named Midnight. They’re like an awesome cross between Venom and Motorhead.
Oh jeez, when you say metal, you mean thrash metal.
Oh yeah, thrash metal is probably my fave. I love metal hybrids. Zeke is one for my favourite bands.
When you said metal I was thinking of Van Halen and Poison. Now I sound like a wimp because I was thinking of hair metal.
I love hair metal! I love party metal. It’s just so fun. Some if it is garbage and but then again some thrash is garbage.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes’ retrospective special This Hour Has 22 Years airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBC.