Canada's Pop Culture Source

News > Animation

Brent Butt interview: ‘Corner Gas Animated’ star talks about his hit TV revival

Canadian comedian was careful to not do anything that would 'damage the legacy' of the original series

Brent Butt voices Brent Leroy in 'Corner Gas Animated'
Brent Butt voices Brent Leroy in 'Corner Gas Animated' Robert de Lint, courtesy of Corner Gas Animated/The Comedy Network

When I catch up with comedian Brent Butt, he’s ensconced in a Toronto production studio, putting the finishing touches on Corner Gas Animated. As creator, co-executive producer and star, he’s under a lot of pressure to capture the spirit of the original sitcom, yet also have it stand on its own in a new, animated format.

The original Corner Gas — set in the sleepy, fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan — ran for six seasons on CTV between 2004-2009. The sitcom was a rare homegrown hit, watched by an average of a million viewers every week. Enviable numbers for any TV series, and particularly massive for a Canadian show. It even led to a theatrical film in 2014, which wrapped up the series, and drew 1.84 million viewers when it was shown on TV.

Comedian Brent Butt as his animated Corner Gas counterpart, Brent Leroy
Comedian Brent Butt as his animated Corner Gas counterpart, Brent Leroy Courtesy of Corner Gas Animated/The Comedy Network

Expectations are high for Corner Gas Animated, and it fortunately lived up to them in its premiere last week, drawing over 280,000 overnight viewers, becoming the most-watched Canadian series debut in the history of The Comedy Network.

Congratulations on the new series, Brent. What was your motivation behind reviving Corner Gas after all these years? Was there something creatively that you felt you didn’t achieve with the show’s original run?
Brent Butt It was the notion of being employed that was a motivating factor. The response to the Corner Gas movie was unexpected and huge, so CTV called up and asked if we wanted to do more episodes. My partners and I didn’t want to grind the concept into the dust, and we decided that if we were going to do something, we were going to do something differently.

So, why did animation come to mind? It’s not the most obvious leap.
Brent Butt We’ve kicked around doing a fully animated moment in Corner Gas years ago, actually. The closest we came to realize it was a LEGO stop motion scene in season three during a dream sequence. We were careful not to do anything that didn’t work or would damage the legacy of Corner Gas. We wrote up a couple of scripts and produced a three-minute demo. Every step of the way, the process felt natural and organic.

In season three of Corner Gas, the character Hank (played by Fred Ewanuick) has a dream sequence, which re-imagines Dog River in LEGO stop motion.
In season three of Corner Gas, the character Hank (played by Fred Ewanuick) has a dream sequence, which re-imagines Dog River in LEGO stop motion. Screen capture

There’s also the issue that Corner Gas: The Movie wraps up the series in a major way. You seem to deal with it by setting the animated series well before the movie. When does the animated show take place?
Brent Butt It’s nebulous. The show takes place somewhere in the middle of the series in terms of where the characters are at. But it’s also present day, you know, the characters have smartphones. It picks up on the show’s main theme that in this small rural farming town nothing changes. On every Corner Gas episode, we could justify almost anything happening, if by the end of the show everything ends up staying the same. Even though it takes place today, it could be as if it were taking place 10 years ago.

The cast of 'Corner Gas Animated'
The cast of ‘Corner Gas Animated’ Robert de Lint, courtesy of Corner Gas Animated/The Comedy Network

What new comedic opportunities exist now that the show is animated?
Brent Butt There were more freedoms and not really any limitations. For example, we couldn’t have done the pop-up fantasy scene between a Sasquatch and a unicorn. I mean, we could with CGI I suppose, but in the live-action show, we were limited by budget, timeframe and the laws of society and physics. In one of the episodes, we have a scene imagining a barren apocalypse with Mad Max dune buggies because the underground gas tanks are empty because Brent forgot to book a refill. It’s a funny idea that we couldn’t realistically do in live-action. It still took a lot of work, a lot of talented artists working late into the night, but we can realize those kinds of ideas now.

Corrine Koslo (voice of Emma Leroy) and Eric Peterson (voice of Oscar Leroy) in the recording studio.
Corrine Koslo (voice of Emma Leroy) and Eric Peterson (voice of Oscar Leroy) in the recording studio. Robert de Lint, courtesy of Corner Gas Animated/The Comedy Network

One of the lead cast members, Janet Wright, who played your mother on the series, passed away in 2016. How did that effect the production?
Brent Butt When Janet passed away, it blindsided us. We didn’t know what to do. My first idea was talk to Janet’s husband and ask how he thought she would want us to proceed. Should we keep her in the series or should we write her out? He was emphatic that she would want the Emma character to live on. He also suggested that we audition Corinne Coslow, a good friend of hers, who has a similar timbre, and knew Janet really well. During her audition, we wrote a typical scene with Oscar and Emma arguing about something, and another with a more heartfelt moment between them. The chemistry between her and Eric Peterson, who plays Oscar, worked. She not only sounded a lot like Janet, but brought her own take on the character.

Corner Gas Animated cast in the recording studio (clockwise from back row left): Lorne Cardinal, Brent Butt, Eric Peterson, Fred Ewanuick, Tara Spencer-Nairn, Corrine Koslo, Nancy Robertson and Gabrielle Miller
Corner Gas Animated cast in the recording studio (clockwise from back row left): Lorne Cardinal, Brent Butt, Eric Peterson, Fred Ewanuick, Tara Spencer-Nairn, Corrine Koslo, Nancy Robertson and Gabrielle Miller Robert de Lint, courtesy of Corner Gas Animated/The Comedy Network

You also united the cast in the recording studio. Why was that important, especially since you can now record each of the actors separately?
Brent Butt Some of the cast lives in Vancouver and the other in Toronto, so we set up the recording to do it in the real time with the entire cast. They link us up with phone lines and internet and stuff. You can’t overstate how much the chemistry of the actors acting together was responsible for the success of Corner Gas. We tried to capture the lightning in a bottle of having each of the characters together. I think without that, you’d lose the magic.

More Info

Corner Gas Animated airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The Comedy Network.

Share This

About the Author

Robert Ballantyne

Robert Ballantyne is Popjournalism's Editor-in-Chief. Previously, he was a producer at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star and other media outlets. In addition to leading the Popjournalism team of writers, he built and designed its website.

Related Posts

Fungi take centre stage in new doc, ‘The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World’

Biologists Rob Dunn and Anne Madden explain the secret world of fungi and how it dramatically effects our everyday lives from antibiotics to beer

Robin Gill shares her top Vancouver cultural spots

The 'Global National Weekend' anchor reveals her favourite restaurants, wines, and what kind of art she collects at home.

Jully Black interview: ‘The next album is ready’

Canada's Queen of R&B is releasing a new record and readying Canada to read 'The Marrow Thieves'

Breakthroughs Film Festival accepting submissions from emerging female directors

Canada's only festival dedicated to showcasing short films by emerging female directors is looking for submissions.

Looking back at 25 years of Air Farce on TV

Air Farce founding member Don Ferguson shares the behind-the-scenes story about how the troupe made the leap from radio to TV.

Art Gallery of Ontario members frustrated by Infinity Mirrors exhibit ticketing

Overwhelming demand for Yayoi Kasuma’s upcoming March exhibition leads to long online queues for advance tickets.
Celebrity

Being Ben Mulroney

In a candid Q & A session, Mulroney talks about fame, family and the new season of 'Canadian Idol'
Books & Publishing

Meet Jann Arden, best-selling author

The prolific singer-songwriter talks music and chats up her latest collection of personal journals
Industry

Meet two people who invisibly influence the future of CBC

CBC union presidents Kam Rao and Jonathan Spence are presenting opinions from the public broadcaster's workers to decision makers
Comedy

Jessica Holmes makes a big return to CBC’s Air Farce

The comedienne dishes on impersonating Céline Dion & Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, opening for Seinfeld, Ellen and Oprah
Music

Mae Moore’s real life

The Canadian singer-songwriter reflects on her 'Collected Works 1989-1999'
Music

Canadian hitmakers Wild Strawberries get deep

'90s pop-rock radio duo thoughtfully evolve in their latest album, 'Vesper 50'
Journalism

One-on-one with Global National anchor Dawna Friesen

The Winnipeg-born journalist talks candidly about sexism, news bloopers, and the fine line between family and work
Industry

Inside the mind of Canadian radio’s most important executive

A one-on-one conversation with Susan Marjetti, CBC's executive director of Radio and Audio
Television

It’s not easy being Wendy Mesley

The CBC journalist talks about her TV newsmagazine 'Undercurrents', being a homebody and, yes, we went there, her bad hair days
Comedy

Inside the Mind of Rick Mercer

We speak to the comedian and Canadian icon, in the midst of the second season of his news satire show, 'Monday Report'