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Host Darrin Rose, standing, and the Match Game panel.

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Host Darrin Rose, standing, and the Match Game panel.

TORONTO -- Some of Canada's best standup comedians, plus the revival of a classic game show? You fill in the blanks.

The Canadian remake of Match Game -- which ran for more than 4,000 episodes on NBC, CBS and ABC between 1962 and 1991 and lifted names like Charles Nelson Reilly and Brett Somers to prominence -- kicks off its second season on The Comedy Network on Monday. The original show's popularity perhaps lies in the simplicity of its premise: contestants complete a phrase by filling a blank and try to match their answers with those of an ever-changing celebrity panel, their edgy banter filmed in front of a studio audience.

For the comedians involved, it's something of an ideal situation.

"Mostly, it's us and our friends, hanging out and being drunk and occasionally playing the game," jokes Darrin Rose, the show's host, who describes his job overseeing the panel as "like herding cats."

"It's basically a comedy show that happens to be a game show," says Sean Cullen, one of the regular panellists. "It's an opportunity for people to be funny and that's a huge element of the show. If it was just a quiz show, it would be a really boring quiz show."

"I think comedians want to just always be ourselves," added Debra DiGiovanni, another regular panellist. "So it's pretty much just basically showing up and letting it happen, and that's what all comedians really want in a way. We can say whatever we want, we can do pretty much whatever we want -- the only thing we haven't done is murder a man on camera."

"That's coming," Rose interjects. "It's going to be so good."

While Cullen insists that serving as a panellist does nothing to hone standup material, it's clear there are still lessons to be picked up along the banter-filled way.

"It's a funny thing about the show -- saying something right on the nose, a dirty word, isn't as funny as a euphemism," says Rose.

While Rose admits he was too young to watch the show in its first incarnation, both DiGiovanni and Cullen grew up with Match Game.

"There was a time where we were growing up and you'd come home from school and you'd watch the same TV as your parents," says Cullen, 47. "There were only like three or four channels...and this was one of the things that was on, and it was racy and weird, but you watched it with your parents as you ate your dinner or whatever you did. And these things are really a great memory for me."

The show captures some of that campy retro appeal, replete with a brightly lit spinning wheel and fluorescent orange booths for the panellists. It's part of a greater revival of game shows that the three credit to the desire for a simple kind of satisfaction.

"I love watching people win," says DiGiovanni. "Seriously, we don't give away tons of money, but we give away some money. Watching a 23-year-old girl win $6,000 -- oy, I can't believe I haven't cried yet, to be honest."

"It's like sports," adds Cullen. "Instant drama, things happen, you watch it unfold, and you develop a story. And it's all random and weird, and you can scream at the TV and go, 'You stupid idiot, (the blank) is CATMONKEY!"'

And while Who Wants To Be A Millionaire it's not, the higher production values of the remake take aim at Canada's reputation of producing the campiest kinds of game shows with the dreariest of prizes.

"It's always been that way," Cullen said. "We used to watch Bumper Stumpers and you'd win upwards of $100. Or on Definition, you'd play the whole game, you'd win a golf umbrella and a couple T-shirts."

Still, despite the low payouts, nearly 70,000 people tune in every weeknight, according to the network -- and it's attracted some top working comedians. The upcoming season is set to feature Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall fame, the rapper Ice-T, Canadian comedy legend Catherine O'Hara, the Gemini award-winning Russell Peters, and Daily Show correspondents John Hodgman and Kristen Schaal.

The chemistry between the regulars is already palpable; many of them have worked together on shows like MuchMusic's Video On Trial or know each other from the standup circuit.

"There's already a sort of built-in chemistry right away," says DiGiovanni. "I think this year we're having a lot of fun because it's a lot of people we already know."

Season 2 of Match Game will air weeknights at 7:30 p.m.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2013 D6

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