BRENT BUTT: GASSED UP with guests Jamie Hutchinson and Elvira Kurt . Presented by CTV at the Winter Garden (189 Yonge). Monday (March 29) at 8 pm. $tba. 416-872-5555.
It takes a lot to shake up stone-faced stand-up comic Brent Butt. But even he raised an eyebrow and cracked a smile when his sitcom Corner Gas began pumping out big numbers in the Nielsen ratings.
The series, which stars Butt as the owner of a gas station in Dog River, Saskatchewan, has drawn in more Canadian viewers than Will And Grace and Malcolm In The Middle.
After its January debut set a record for the highest-rated episode of an original Canadian network series - 1.15 million viewers - it's since gone on to crest the 2 million mark.
"All this means is that I'm paying my hydro bill on a more regular basis," deadpans Butt from his home in Vancouver on the eve of a nation-wide stand-up tour that brings him to Toronto's Winter Garden Monday (March 29).
Butt, who is co-creator, writer and producer of the show, admits that Corner Gas's success is the result of a strange alchemy.
"It's a genie-in-the-bottle thing," he says. "There've been funny shows in the past that have been cancelled and shit shows that have done huge," he says. "I've always been a fan of shows that have little premise but quality jokes and characters, from The Honeymooners on. I like shows that are about people and their day."
From the start, though, he wanted creative control. And why not? One of the problems of recent flawed shows like the now defunct The Holmes Show and the current, dreadful Comedy Inc. is that the executives seem to be making the artistic decisions.
"I wasn't interested in doing it unless I had control over the funny," he says. "There's nothing worse than to see something get killed because of bad decisions. What's been great is that the network executives, like me, are TV babies.
"They love TV. They work all day with TV and then go home and watch it. We bonded over that."
Butt also faced no obstacles when he insisted the show be filmed in his home province of Saskatchewan, although it's far from the hub of the country's entertainment industry.
Turns out the big-city reaction was one of the unknown factors when planning.
"The network and producers were concerned that because of the setting this wouldn't play in the cities, just the small towns. But our highest percentage of viewers is from downtown Toronto. I've always claimed that people are more alike than different."
On- and offscreen, Butt remains as laid-back as ever - a quality that comes across hilariously in his stand-up act, one of the best in the country.
After a rare headlining gig here two years ago, he easily made NOW's top 10 comedy acts list in 2002.
Does he never get nervous, even before a stand-up show?
"I'm a lousy actor, so I have no choice but to be me," he says about his onscreen persona.
"And at the end of the day, we're just horsing around. This is all monkey business. It's not like open-heart surgery. If it doesn't work, you don't have to tell someone their kid just died."
Speaking of deaths, how does Butt feel about the recent ousting of talk-show host Mike Bullard?
"The news did and didn't surprise me," says Butt, who'd be a good TV host himself. "I knew the numbers weren't good, but I didn't expect it to go. I have lots of friends who work on that show. It's too bad."
Any advice for him?
"I'll wait till my own show gets cancelled. Then I'll have a better perspective."