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Comedian revisits standup roots before his big-screen debut

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Brent Butt (above, and below left with Amy Smart) plays a wannabe PI in No Clue.

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Brent Butt (above, and below left with Amy Smart) plays a wannabe PI in No Clue.

Beyond Brent Butt's usual penchant for self-deprecation, there is a reason his cross-country standup comedy tour is titled the Almost a Movie Star Canadian Comedy Tour.

Butt is the guy who proved a Canadian sitcom could actually be funny on its own terms with his much beloved Saskatchewan-set series Corner Gas (2004-09). With this tour, which stops at the Burton Cummings Theatre on Feb. 28, he is simultaneously revisiting his standup roots and reminding Canadians of his formidable comic chops in advance of his first feature film, No Clue, which opens in theatres on March 7.

At least, we assume the tour is partly promotional. Why else would a guy -- raised in Saskatchewan and familiar with the extremities of Canadian weather -- choose to travel across Canada in February and March?

"Maybe that wasn't the smartest thing," Butt says on the phone from a tour stop in Kingston, Ont. "But I can take it. I have a generous layer of winter blubber."

Should the title be prophetic and Butt becomes a movie star, he says he'll never abandon the stage -- unlike, say, Steve Martin, who recently wrote in his autobiography, Born Standing Up, that he gave up standup gigs altogether upon securing a movie career for himself.

"For me, I can't ever imagine walking away from it. Everything spokes off of me being a standup," Butt says.

Martin, Butt points out, ended up doing his comedy in arenas where "he would go out and it would just be people screaming. So for him, it started to not mean anything anymore."

That's not a problem for him, he says.

"I'm playing nice big theatres where everybody is focused and it's fantastic, but even if I had that situation, I think I would probably never stop doing that. I would just pop up unannounced at clubs and do 10 minutes," he says.

By contrast, doing comedy on a TV or movie set is like working in a quiet lab, but even then, he has a 26-year history of live comedy that has given him a pretty strong sense of what's funny.

"I do appreciate the controlled environment of movies and TV, but it's just two different sides of the same coin," he says. "You're still trying to get laughs.

"When you're in front of a live audience, there is something completely engaging and engrossing, and I think I'm funnier in front of people than I am when I'm sitting at a kitchen table at two in the afternoon, trying to write a script.

"But the other side of the coin is, when you get into the situation of creating a show or a movie, there's so much sculpting that goes on, there's so much crafting, where you really have time to shape or hone a joke, or alter the timing of a scene in editing, and I like that, too."

Butt scripted and stars in the movie No Clue, a comedy rooted in his enduring love for the mystery genre. He gets to play gumshoe, after a fashion, in the role of Leo Falloon, a novelty ad salesman mistaken for a shamus by the beautiful dame (Amy Smart) who mistakenly walks into his office, instead of the private eye's premises across the hall. Intrigued, Leo agrees to try to help find her missing brother anyway.

While Falloon tries to solve the mystery, Butt says the audience is invited to play the sleuth too.

"It was important to me to use the 'fair play' method used by the guys who created Ellery Queen, where you can't spring anything on the audience," he says, promising that both Leo and the audience will be interpreting the same information.

"It's contemporary. It's not like we're trying to do something from the '40s, but we definitely try to use the standard tropes from old detective murder mysteries, just as a tip of the hat to the genre."

If the movie is a hit, it may yield another mystery, but Butt is keeping his options open, including contemplating another TV series after Corner Gas and the subsequent series Hiccups, two of the highest rated shows broadcast on the Comedy Network.

"I always have ideas for shows, and I sometimes write them out and some of them get me excited," he says. "I actually have one in mind right now that has got me excited again. I could really see this being a funny and different show. I'm writing that right now."

 

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2014 C1

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Updated on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 6:35 AM CST: Replaces photo

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