Friday, April 6, 2018

Joe Flaherty

Joe Flaherty, Toronto, July 2004

JOE FLAHERTY WAS BORN IN PITTSBURGH AND BEGAN HIS COMEDY CAREER IN CHICAGO but he became famous on SCTV here in Canada, so we ritually expunge his American roots and claim him as one of our own. In our collective imagination, he was born in Scarborough and grew up watching Country Hoedown and Front Page Challenge and fiddling with the aerial to get the shows from Buffalo.

If you weren't there when it originally aired, it's hard to explain your reaction to SCTV when it began airing on the Global network in 1976. Canadian comedy shows tended to be gentle, even corny, but SCTV was sarcastic and cruel, a world of awkward hucksters and washed-up celebrities jammed together in the confined space of a crummy regional TV station. You suddenly sat up on the couch in the living room and realized that so much of the entertainment you'd been watching since TV went colour was so close to self-parody that it only took a nudge to push it over the line.

Joe Flaherty, Toronto, July 2004

I photographed Joe Flaherty at the Second City Theatre on John Street - now demolished, its facade incorporated into a luxury hotel and condo - for reasons now forgotten. I didn't care; he had been part of a group that had made Canada seem hip and edgy, even if only in fits and starts. (It took three years for SCTV to produce the first two seasons, and new seasons would appear haphazardly, with different names and formats, on different channels.) That's important to someone who grows up in a provincial culture like Canada.

The light was awful for the shoot, and I either couldn't find or didn't have the time to scout out a better location in the building, so I stuck to a tight head shot in what was the least flattering spot under the big window in the lobby. They're not great shots, and I wish I'd either had more time, better light or both. Considering how much I admired Flaherty, I'd even have contemplated trying to do something conceptual with him, using a costume or props - in an ideal world, and not one where I probably had five minutes and a deadline in three hours.

If my affection for Flaherty hadn't already been established with Sammy Maudlin and Count Floyd, he also played Harold Weir on Freaks and Geeks, one of my role models as a father (alongside Robert Duvall in The Great Santini.) When my kids finally saw the show and heard one of Flaherty's dinner table rants in the first few episodes, they looked at me and said "Oh my God, dad, that's you."