NOTE: After this story went to print, we were informed that this event was postponed until Friday, February 16th, 2018, 8pm.
They met as teenagers at an improv comedy club called Lucifer’s in Calgary, Alberta. Now, more than two decades later, they’ve just launched their seventh season performing together weekly for a coast-to-coast-to-coast audience.
Peter Oldring and Pat Kelly are the brains – and voices – behind This Is That, a half-hour program of legitimately illegitimate interviews and mockumentaries that airs Saturday mornings on CBC Radio One public broadcaster’s AM band.
Think of it as a faux version of As It Happens, with a soupçon of Sunday Edition and Ideas thrown in for good measure.
But is it satire, or spoof?
“No one’s ever really asked us that. When we started the show, I don’t think we necessarily came at it with the intention of having a satirical point of view at all,” Kelly said.
“Our love, as comedians, was to mimic and mock some familiar sounds that we had grown up with on CBC. We just really wanted to do an impression of some of those tones you hear.”
While there is a satirical undercurrent to what he and Oldring do, Kelly said they aren’t interested in doing topical political satire.
“That just doesn’t excite us much. But the internet age has informed our satire. Everybody’s opinion is being heard nowadays on the internet, and I think that really does provide us with a ton of inspiration for things we can satirize,” he says.
In an era obsessed by the notion of “fake” news, when the unwary frequently find themselves sucked in by mock-news sites such as The Onion, Beaverton and The Manatee, Kelly is unapologetic about what he and Oldring serve up to CBC listeners.
“I don’t think people are spending the time to really critically analyze what they’re consuming. That’s not our fault,” he said.
“If some of our stuff sneaks into that wheelhouse, that’s okay. I think it’s a testament to the deadpan nature of our show, and that’s something we still appreciate doing. Hopefully, it’s our believable performances that are tricking people, as opposed to the salacious headline.”
Kelly spoke with What’s Up Yukon just moments after CBC aired a This Is That sketch involving a Las Vegas entrepreneur announcing plans to open a casino for children aged eight and over.
“You know you’re going to catch holy old hell for that one, don’t you?” WUY asked.
“There are certainly some stories where you just get the feeling it’s definitely going to push some buttons. And that one, I believe, will,” Kelly admitted.
One of the show’s regular features is to play listeners’ responses to what they’ve heard on a previous show. But are those comments planted, or legitimate?
“They’re all legit. Those are all real people. And Chris Kelly [the show’s producer, no relation to Pat], poor bastard, has to get in front of that answering machine every Saturday and listen to about two hours of calls.”
Many people still get upset when they hear an outrageous interview they think is the straight goods.
“There’s certainly still people who are being reactionary in a completely legitimate way. I think that’s a result of them getting into the car halfway through, or whatever,” Kelly said.
But, after six years, most listeners have figured out that the show is a spoof.
“There’s some very talented Canadians out there who know what the show is about, and they take great pleasure from calling in, pretending to be people who are irate,” Kelly said.
“If somebody puts on a good performance, and we can’t really tell if it’s a real person or not, they definitely make it into the show. But the calls have always been real.”
And, while some of each week’s show is scripted, Kelly says most of it is impromptu.
“Generally, we improvise I would say 90 per cent of the dialogue. We have the premises. We write down the introduction and maybe a couple of questions, but then the entire thing is improvised,” he says.
“We maybe do two takes of it. If the first one is a colossal bomb, or we’re not finding the right shape of it, then we’ll talk about it a little bit and do it again, then maybe chop together a five- or six-minute interview out of it.”
Recently, Kelly and Oldring have moved beyond the confines of the CBC studio in Vancouver, where they record each week’s episode, to take live versions of the show on the road.
“We’re able to unleash it a little bit and have a little bit more fun. They [live audiences] are really amazed to find out that Peter and I do, like, 80 per cent of the voices. The live show is just these two guys bouncing around and having fun with each other,” Kelly says.
“It’s quite rewarding for the audience. But for us, as comedians, it’s fun to get in front of a crowd and get the laughter. When you’re working radio, you don’t get that luxury.”
This Is That will perform at the Yukon Arts Centre at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 16th, 2018. For more information, go to www.YukonArtsCentre.com.