The Fogged Clarity Interview
In a truly classic interview, Canadian actor John Dunsworth drifts in and out of character to discuss politics, liquor, and the inspiration behind his signature character:Trailer Park Boys’ Officer Jim Lahey.
Ben Evans: What are you working on now? Where are ya?
John Dunsworth: We’re in Peterborough, Ontario and were doing a show here tonight. Were going to zip over to Lindsay and do a show at the university.
BE: Is this an offshoot of Trailer Park Boys, or is this something different?
JD: This is Randy and Lahey doing a live show. We’ve been traveling around Canada for about five or six years now.
BE: So, talk to me about the live show, what’s it like, what does it entail.
JD: Well, ordinarily its two 45-minute sets and it can go well over that depending on what time we start and how voracious the audience is, but essentially its physical comedy; we have a lot of props, we play songs, and involve the audience as much as possible. We’ve discovered that audience participation is golden. When you get people from the audience up on stage, for some reason it makes the show better in the eyes of the audience, I don’t know if its because they feel represented or if you need to embarrass people to have fun nowadays, I mean that seems to be almost the new ethos in television entertainment, someone has to take it in the face or something.
BE: Do you find there to be some general thematic and conceptual differences between the American and Canadian comedic approach?
JD: Well, I’m not that up on it, but if I had to say…and I read an article in the paper today saying that they relaxed the rules in Canada for CRTC, the Canadian Radio Television Commission, they relaxed the rules so that you don’t have to be accurate in your commentary; and one of the comments was made was that the American style radio has turned to hate radio. Now I haven’t heard a lot of American radio, but I know what that means. But when I put it up against the republican attacks- Sarah Palin-type crosshairs, and I compare that to our own prime minister Stephen Harper, who is really – I don’t know if its him – but certainly he’s in charge of what goes on in this country and he keeps a very tight rein, and he is going, pushing as much as possible toward the American style. And to me, we are different here…Last week this new arrangement between Obama and Harper about having a unified protective agency around both of our countries…that’s the kind of thing that is going to marry us. But, if I can be specific, the reason that the trailer park is appreciated north and south of the border is because its not derivative, it isn’t Hollywood, it doesn’t copy, it doesn’t have the shoot-em-up, ugly nature of the….it doesn’t have races…you know, go on for fifteen minutes with these stupid car races and high speed crashes and impossible events, nowadays we’re into things that can be presented as truth, and they’re not truth at all, its just fiction. And Trailer Park Boys… it’s a mock dock, but you look at it and you think “that us, that’s who we are.” We’re losers trying to do little plans and always getting screwed up doing them.”
BE: So, let’s talk about your character, Jim Lahey. How much of an influence was Hunter S. Thompson in the creation of that character?
JD: Ya know, I know about Hunter S. Thompson, and I think his ashes are probably circling the earth as we speak; but, very little, I know so little about him. When I was a kid I knew about Lenny Bruce, and he was quite influential in terms of the anti-establishment stance that I personally have. The thing about Trailer Park Boys is there’s no politics, there’s no evil intent. I would like to think that… its so hard because John Dunsworth wants to be political, he wants people to be taking a look a look at the given circumstances in the world and saying “why is this happening? This goes against every single grain of common sense; and why do we allow the American military to dictate whats going on in the world?”… That’s what I would like to do; but what I find myself doing as an entertainer is completely ignoring that and talking about bullshit things like over-consumption of alcohol and shit jokes and things, and I find myself feeling like I’m pandering to the masses when I do that.
BE: Ya, I imagine it must be frustrating for someone who is politically informed and who has a platform from which to comment…
JD: Well, when I say frustrated… its not that I’m frustrated because I do find vent, ya know, like I just did right now, but its hard for me to hold it back. For example, we did a show last night here, and I think it was our funniest show we ever did. I mean, there was some politics there, I was poking fun at the Pope and all kinds of things; but I really was playing as drunk a Lahey as ever there was and really, totally enjoying it; and enjoying it because the audience was cracking up… I think I love to be; I love to perform. I mean you said that 1987 was the start of my career. I started way back in the 60’s at the University of Guelph playing Charles Manson and Shylock, and started my a theatre way back when I went to Halifax in 1970. I’ve done mostly theatre until the 80’s, live theater, and I still do it today when I’m lucky enough to get involved in a good production. But I’m kind of a will-o-the-wisp, I go where I’m wanted. People tell me that there’s a movie, and I go and audition for the movie. Only lately have I decided, have I been able to pick and choose. I had an offer today to be a spokesperson at a certain function and it didn’t appeal to me, so I made an excuse and said I wasn’t available. But for years…I mean, I ran for politics because I was asked, I did everything. I did writing commercials and directing and teaching at university and work-shopping and producing; anything that came along I would do. Now I’m 64, (and) there’s a luxury here because I get to choose a little bit.
BE: I didn’t mean to sell you short in the intro there.
JD: No, no, I’m just pointing out that I’ve been around a long time, and I’m still like a kid and I’m not jaded at all. I look at the world as a very exciting, wonderful place and I’m just wondering why we have to be hamstrung by so much bullshit, like the drug industry and the fear factor, and the people who are fighting over religion. Have you ever heard of something more ridiculous in your life than people who believe in a great creator wanting to kill someone else who believes in a great creator? It just sounds ridiculous.
BE: Well, its incredibly contradictory. It’s very easy, I’ve found, to become apathetic when you look at all of this, all of what takes place in the world. But there are great things, and there are funny things, and Jim Lahey is certainly one of them, and we thank you for that.
As you said your 64, what do you think the advantages are of finding the success you’ve achieved with Trailer Park Boys later in life?
JD: Well, I give in to any creative urges that I have now, including painting and sculpture, building with granite rock and writing stories. I just finished a book that’s being printed right now in the States and were going to get it in the first week in March.
BE: Is it fiction?
JD: I just put out a CD in December of 16 stories that I wrote and it’s an audio book, I’ll send you one if you like. You can go to johndunsworth.com and download it; matter of fact if you go there you can checkout some new stuff, see a couple of pilots we just put up over the past two years. Me and Randy did one of them, its called “The Lot,” and (we’re) getting really good reviews and reception on that. But a lot of the stuff I do now, I’m not doing it to make any money. I’m doing it because I really enjoy doing it.
BE: Talk to me about how your relationship with Randy developed.
JD: Well Pat and I never, Pat Roach, never knew each other before Trailer Park. He was a friend of Ricky, of JP Trombley and Rob Wells, and they had a pizzeria over in Prince Edward Island, which is a small province in the gulf…
BE: Anne of Green Gables
JD: Exactly. And they used to, for entertainment, used to make videotapes, and they’d send them to Mike Clattenburg who was their friend in Halifax who was making films and things; and he thought they were hilarious and he said “lets make a movie.” So when they found success in their first film, which was called One Last Shot, which nobody can see because its never been released, well it was a small release but…when we finished editing it a half an hour before the drama festival, the film festival, he got best director and I got best actor. So when he decided to do the Trailer Park Boys he thought, who would be better to run the park then old Jim Lahey the drunk? So that’s when I got involved and I’m so happy that I did, because it was the best ten years of my life.
BE: Ya, and we touched on this, but you’re a talented actor and I know you’ve worked very hard at your craft. Do you ever feel that as a comedy actor, especially playing someone as funny as Jim Lahey, that the skill and attention you put into the character, I guess the craft of comedy itself, is under-appreciated or overlooked?
JD: Well ya know, I don’t have any great insights into it. As I said, I played Charles Manson, but I didn’t play him as evil; and, and Shylock. I didn’t play them…I played them as human beings. I think that…same thing with Jim Lahey, I didn’t play him to be funny, I played him to be a guy who was seriously interested in trying to quash the recalcitrant, recidivist reprobates who live in the park. And, because you know yourself… I’m going to speak as Jim Lahey right now…When you give vent to what it is that you truly believe…sometimes I have to admit that alcohol gets in the way a little bit…I think that I have a mission in this life and ill be damned if I’m going to let those guys wreck this park, cause I am the park.
BE: Mr. Lahey, is that you or the liquor talking?
JD: Randy, I am the liquor.
BE: (Laughs loudly) The best line, perhaps, ever spoken in contemporary comedy.
BE: I don’t know if you understand why that character resonates with so many people; its because we’ve all been that fucked up, that belligerent, and that, I guess, unconcerned. There’s this disregard, that I’m sure comes with drunkenness with Jim Lahey, that just seems to be… its pathetic, but it’s also freeing…it is truly the most pure form of escapism with Lahey.
JD: Well, I have to give credit where credits due here because Mike Clattenburg…the most disparaging thing you could call actors nowadays are meat puppets… and if you actually look at the industry and you see what people have to do to be a success in the in industry, whether its (being) beautiful, like Jolie and all those, ya know, the movie stars… But Mike Clattenburg actually said, “John, give me a six on that for drunkenness and give me a four for anger.” Ya know, he actually told me what it was he wanted and that’s what I did. I taught a lot at the university and directed a lot over the years and I never minded giving readings— because, two people cant… there’s no way, I can say like “I love you” in a certain way and you can say the line with the same cadence that I said it, but when people see them (on stage) its meaning is totally different. So somehow there was this lucky coincidence between Mike Clattenburg saying “John do it this way” and me doing it that way; and then he would laugh and then I would know that I hit the right note. But I just really have to give the credit to the script and to Clattenburg…uh, because I’m an actor and, to the best of my ability, I do what I’m directed to do. It’s a diarchy, it is. It is two people contributing to the role.
BE: Well one looks at you play that role, and I know you’re not much of a drinker, but I’d have to imagine that you’d spent some time in that state to know it and portray it as well as you do.
JD: I can’t remember anymore than a couple times I got drunk in my life, and I only did it once on purpose when I had 16 draft when I moved away from home and went to Toronto, Ontario, and I got arrested that night for jumping on a policeman’s motorcycle and going “Vroom Vroom.” But, another time I was on a Russian ship and they were plying me with orange juice laced with vodka, and another time I got drunk inadvertently, but… a half a dozen times in my life. And I don’t enjoy being drunk because…I love playing drunk, and I tell all my audiences (Lahey voice): “Look boys, its more fun to pretend to be drunk than it is to be drunk ya know why, cause you get to say stuff to people. Ya get to say, “Listen you know that hundred bucks you owe me? Ah fuck I shouldn’t have brought that uh ah cause I’m drinking.” or you can say, “Ah listen honey, I really, listen, please excuse me, but I think you’re the most beautiful woman I ever saw.” You can be very, I think ingenuous is the right word here. It’s fun to pretend to be drunk because you can get away with anything and then you can drive someone home. But people phone my daughter, my daughter Sarah who plays Sarah on Trailer Park (Boys); every once in a while one her friends will say, “I saw your dad on the street driving his car, Sarah he’s drunk out of his mind you’ve gotta do something.” But I value my license, I think that might be one…I mean, I don’t like the taste of beer. It’s an acquired taste and I never acquired it.
BE: You’re a liquor guy.
JD: I like a little Blackstrap rum with my Coca-Cola; but I love Coca-Cola. My favorite drink is a chilled glass with ice and a freshly popped tssssh, Coca-Cola.
BE: Nice are we talking glass bottle or can?
JD: Oh I don’t care.
BE: Really well you have to go with…the bottle is phenomenal.
JD: I can tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke and I can tell the difference between Coke that’s been open for three hours and Coke that’s fresh.
BE: You’re a connoisseur
JD: Ya, I am. I started drinking it when I was two years old. My dad was a psychiatrist and worked in Topeka, Kansas at the Menniger Institute there way, way back when I was a kid. And so we’d drive back and forth to Nova Scotia, which was thousands of miles I guess, long ways, and I’d go into the service station at two years old and say, “Coke, man.” And I still have all my teeth.
BE: Well, what do you think the perception most Canadians hold of Americans is?
JD: Pepsi and Coca-Cola
JD: Um…which one’s are the republicans the Pepsis or Cokes; and which ones are in Russia, Pepsi or Coke; and one’s in China, tell me. I mean, if you start drawing the lines down between Republicans and…, or Catholics or Jews, it just seems to me that there’s just too much combativeness. Ya know, the United States prides itself on freedom of thought and stuff, but it doesn’t; it isn’t; it doesn’t wanna be. People are convinced, and I think that that’s the problem that’s wrong. Canadians aren’t convinced of anything, except, in the winter it gets cold, and, if you can you go south. And the thing about it to me is, when you’re convinced, “My country right or wrong,” then you’re going down a path to perdition. You have to say right comes first, and than family.
BE: I think there are…though it might not appear so, I think there are many different sects in terms of what people believe and how they’re reacting to the U.S. government and really the ideology that we seem to be purveying to the world. But, I know that a lot of us get lost in art, and, as I said, some of us have become so apathetic that we get lost in things we can control. Because when George Bush got elected the second time you really felt helpless, and then with Obama there was this onrush of hope and ambitiousness, and then…we’ve been kind of disappointed. I can’t speak for all Americans, obviously, but I have… I thought there was some real, for lack of a better word, change coming.
JD: When the American people will put up with lies, knowing they’re lies, but lies told by guys on their team, whether it’s the Packers or the Steelers, then, then your in trouble. Because, if you can’t say the truth is more important than the team, than your in trouble. And that’s the zeitgeist in the states right now for me, is that although they know that its right to do this…I mean how many people are still saying there’s no such thing as climate change? Tell me. And when there are things happening in the Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana gets inundated with oil, which, probably in three or five years from now, probably… I mean… I don’t know how many people down there made a lot more money saying they lost money; but the thing is that over in places like Somalia or places like that they report; there’s a spill over there every year, every two years. So why is the environment of the U.S. more important than the environment of the world? Because aren’t we world citizens, isn’t the world important? Doesn’t America believe in equality for all? Or is it just equality for Americans? I mean, its not fair. I mean, I think that the government…and I’m not trying to pull anything here, I don’t think Canadians are superior for a minute, but I just think that if you dumb down a population on purpose, your going to get a dumbed-down population. And the education system, unless it embraces the truth as something that’s sanctified, unless we are allowed to tell the truth…people here…I was in a town the other day, its called Swastika, during the second world war the government came in and tore down all the signs and put up a sign calling it Winston, Winston Churchill of course, not Swastika. Swastika was named after…it’s an Indian name and it means a meeting place. When these guys go down to the states wearing there Swastika shirts they almost get killed. Now why does a symbol, why does a word…Why do people get so upset with things that really, in and of themselves, are not threatening at all?
BE: Whereas, they don’t become angered at all by things that truly are?
JD: Exactly, why do we have all of these people being hired to repress our citizenry at the airports, at… ya know there’s stories of people a hundred miles from the border being pulled over with plates on and being run through the mill students at universities down there from Canada who are being thrown in jail for days…Why is it in Canada right now are we training ten times more people that we need to do security? If I wanted to go on an airplane and bring that plane down, I could. Why do they pretend that they can protect us? They take away my little jeweler’s screwdriver from my little jeweler’s screwdriver set from my sunglasses and I can’t go through. I’m allowed to take one of them on the plane with me but I can’t take the set of three. There’s a tiny little blade about an inch long on it, but when I sit down in first-class and I have breakfast they give me a stainless steel knife with a serrated edge. Now you tell me what the hell is that all about? It doesn’t make any sense. All of that is based on this kind of let us assuage the population and let them think that we are taking care of business, when we in reality… the future is the future and there’s no way you can… You can’t defend yourself against a hurricane that hits and inundates New Orleans. You know? You can make political hell out of the aftermath, but the things that are happening in the world are things that you have to, aw, man…
BE: I don’t think there’s the level of political activism. It peaked a little bit when Obama was running for President, but I just don’t think we’re a very politically engaged country.
JL: Who isn’t?
JL: Are you kidding?
BE: No. In terms of being heard and standing up. Well, look. We declared war on Iraq in March of 2003. The true outcry didn’t begin until, I want to say, January of 2007, when people would actually go protest the war. We’re very late actors, it seems. So in terms of maybe partisan engagement…:
JL: We’re delayed because who controls your media? That’s why you’re delayed. People that were saying there’s no weapons of mass destruction did not get a platform in the United States media, and they didn’t get a platform because it wasn’t au currant. It wasn’t what…. Oh, man. There’s so many things. I mean you hear about the fall flag and you realize that the USS Maine that blew up in Havana harbor… I mean, who made the money on that? I mean, who started the newspapers down there? What was that chain of newspapers… Hearst. I mean it all comes down to money. Who’s making the money out of the Iraq War? Who? Halliburton and Dick Cheney, and don’t I hear that. Oh, man. When you say that the American people are not politically engaged, you’re absolutely right, but they’re convicted. They have conviction. “My party is right and nothing you can say or do is going to change my mind.” Period.
BE: And there is opposition. Not all Americans are like that.
JL: Oh, I know. Are you kidding? I know. I absolutely know.
BE: It’s incredibly frustrating. Isn’t it interesting, the dynamic that’s there? Whereas most Americans couldn’t tell you who the Prime Minister of Canada is, and yet here you are, with insight on every significant historical event that’s taken place here? Educated insight. I just think it’s interesting.
JL: Well, I love the American people, and I love the Canadian people, but I hate the politics of both countries because…
BE: Do you feel that Canada and the Canadian government is kowtowing to the Americans?
JL: I hate politics. If you… In Canada, right now, there are attack ads by the conservatives against the liberals, IE the Republicans against the Democrats. And the conservatives win every time, because they scare people. They say, “We’re going to get rid of crime in the streets!” And who doesn’t want that? But they lie about the crime in the streets. In Canadian politics now, the lies that are being told and perpetrated… We have a Prime Minister that stole two-million dollars from the Canadian people. Karlheinz Schreiber, of Germany, talked the Canadian government into buying the Airbuses. Right now, I’m going to deviate for a sec, the F-35 or whatever that new plane is that cost eighteen billion dollars, and don’t forget there’s going to be a hundred percent cost overrun. It’s going to be over thirty billion. We have a Prime Minister that stole money from us who’s walking the streets! And they say there’s no double standard in the world of politics and free democracy. It’s a sham. Don’t get me wrong. Winston Churchill said democracy is awful but it’s the best possible form of government, and I agree. But true democracy is when people have a government that represents what the will of the people is. I mean that stolen election down there in Florida or New Jersey or wherever it was… It’s sick! And yet American people, when they look abroad and see people stealing elections in Haiti or wherever, they stand up and say, “This can’t be!” but why can’t they do it in their own country? Because they’re afraid. Because there are so many people who will bat them down.
BE: All your points are well-taken.
JL: It’s the same thing in this country. The only difference in this country is that you might get a brick through your window, but no one’s going to shoot you. And when they do have something, like we had in Nova Scotia last year – a couple young guys put a cross in somebody’s lawn and burned the cross – now the person that they put the cross in the lawn of was black, and with a white wife, and so people immediately said it was a hate crime. These guys are going to jail. They’re talking about it in the papers, making a big case of it. But instead of talking about the true racism that exists, they take this little incidence, which isn’t racist at all, and they pretend that that’s what the essence of it is.
BE: Well, back to Jim Lahey.
JL: What we can do is we can ignore the last twenty minutes, and we can move on, and we can talk about art, because I think that that’s where it’s at. All of these people in the States right now and in Canada who are out of work, who have nothing to do, who spend their time watching TV and wanting to have the latest gadget, and not being able to afford it, and who are all sucked in by twenty-three percent interest rates on their Master Cards instead of being told and warned and educated… I mean the government of Canada, right now the provincial governments are killing people in this country by getting them to buy lottery tickets and to play the electronic gaming machines – we call them VLTs – there’s thousands of people in Canada who kill because of their addiction to these machines, the government knows the machines are addictive, but the governments themselves are addicted to the money and the revenue that they get, and that is the problem in a nutshell. The government… In democracy the government is supposed to stand up for the rights of people, and protect them against hawks, and that’s what’s wrong in North America today: the hawks have taken over, and Eisenhower was right when he called it the industrial-military complex. So let’s move on from this into something wonderful, like art!
BE: Well, I think in a way what we have been talking about relates very closely to art, because art is a response to political and social turmoil, but also because the funds are being suffocated and choked off because of a lot of poor political decisions. I know the state of Michigan, where I live, our arts budget went from 19.6 million in 2005 to 2.4 million.
JL: But here’s the thing: populations under attack are much more fecund. If you take a tribe and you start to oppress it, there will be way bigger birthrates, and it’s the same thing in art. I actually read it in The New Yorker last month, and it compared the amount of money that is given by different governments, and it turns out that countries that have less money have more artists. And I could be misquoting this, but what I’m simply suggesting is that in this time, when so many people are out of work, and in desperate situations, they can improve their lives by being creative. Because this thing that is called dopamine that makes us feel good about ourselves, I think there is a paucity of dopamine in North America. I think it’s drained by the negative aspects of our reportage and of all of our media. Even when you look at reality television, it isn’t real at all. It’s pretending. Like when we present our guys from Trailer Park Boys as losers, and depicting that as the reality, it feels good because it’s true! These other things about these big busted or blond beautiful or Angelina Jolies or Sean Penns or the successful people, when we hold up Two’s Company or… I don’t even watch television, I don’t know, but there are so many people living vicariously through these dreams that are not true. Like I talked to a guy last night. He wants to be a porn star. I said, “Do you know what the chances of you being one and what the rewards are of actually being one? Buddy, look at the given circumstances in the world.”
BE: Was he in school?
BE: Was he a college student?
BE: I bet his parents are going to be happy with his career choice.
JL: Well, he’s not going to get to be one. He’s probably under-endowed. The thing that I’m getting at is that if we are taught in school that creativity and following your bliss, if you like, that’s not one of my words, but if you know what you can do to help other people and to make yourself feel good, then that’s the way you should go. If that’s what we’re taught, instead of “You’ve got to make lots of money” and “You’ve got to be like these people who you watch on TV”, that’s why Trailer Park works: because it doesn’t say that. It doesn’t make you unhappy with your life. It makes you happy with your life, because you say, “Hey! I’m not that bad.”
BE: What do you think art’s primary function is?
JL: Oh I couldn’t tell you. I just know that I push myself in every direction that I can, that I feel comfortable, from sculpting to painting seascapes. I do it. Last week I engaged in all of it. Writing and painting and sculpting…
BE: Do you find that when you spread your talents out, and I guess your intentions out, that the quality of your work suffers?
JL: Well, what they say about multitasking, and you read the studies on it, and you can’t do anything when you’re multitasking, you lose thirty percent efficiency – I disagree. I think when you can go from one thing to another thing, to another thing, you’re carrying with you as you move through that a kind of inertia, a kind of confidence, an ability, and the ability to express yourself… Some people don’t have it verbally. Some people have it in their hands. I find that if you don’t express yourself that just taking that first step sometimes is impossible to do because you have no dexterity at all. You don’t have the ability, but if you do it, if you say, “What I want to do is I want to create in me a feeling of feeling at home in my community, or in my environment, and I would like to…” Shakespeare said it best. You hold the mirror up to nature. That’s what art is. Of course, life mirrors art. It’s what’s happening now. And that was Oscar Wilde who said that a hundred years ago. And he was right, and now days, they say, “Big Brother is Watching You”, well that might be true but worse than that is that we are watching Big Brother. All of our values are being inculcated by the silly… I mean you watch television now days and you get programmed. There’s not any question that that is true.
BE: I couldn’t argue with that.
JL: But television done well is art. I’m in a series now called Haven, and I think the guys that put it together decided they were going to put together a hit show. That’s what they did. Now, some people decide that they’re going to write what’s in their heart, and they’re going to follow something that they sincerely believe in, and that’s what happened with Trailer Park Boys. How it became a hit I have no idea, because it was Michael Clattenburg following his heart.
BE: Well, that happens, and I think that that’s when the best work occurs – when someone follows their heart. Well, at least the best results, and it’s adopted by a larger audience. So where did your legendary shit analogies originate?
JL: The book I told you we’re working on, it’s called Dick-shit-nary. It’s a hundred and twenty-four pages hard cover with gold emboss, and it’s illustrated, and we did it. We decided to spend one month on the project, kind of as an homage to Lahey. It’s strange because although I’d like to re-brand Lahey to Dunsworth so that I can continue to work as an actor, former lecturer, teacher, whatever, because everyone knows Jim Lahey but no one knows John Dunsworth, what we’ve done is that we’ve gone all the way, we’ve pushed the envelope as far as possible. Although the book does not have any grothy shit stuff in it. It is an attempt to be clever with the word that wasn’t even in dictionaries until ten years ago. For some reason, this thing people can call it ca-ca, or feces, or excrement, or poo-poo, or whatever it is, but the word shit for some reason is not as accepted as… I can go around staying, “Jesus Christ!” I can go around saying, “Oh, God!” But to me, that’s way more blasphemous than saying shit, because everybody shits. Does the word… Like people can say frig instead of fuck but it means exactly the same thing, and if you say excrement instead of shit, why is it more polite? And the reason it’s all right is because of O Tempora O Mores. For some reason, that little word, that little word shit gets so many people so upset. “Listen, honey. I’d like to watch the show Trailer Park because my friends like it, but I just can’t get by the language.”
BE: Here I am thinking you said, “Oh, I write short stories and I sculpt and you said, ‘I have a book’” and I’m thinking it’s this novella, this work of literary fiction, and here it’s called the Dick-tionary.
JL: Dick-shit-nary. If you look up dictism, it will say, “A word coined by John Dunsworth to describe his philosophy or religion of dictism,” and I totally believe it. I mean, with tongue in cheek. But if you take any dictionary, and you ask a question and point at random, nine times out of ten it gives you some really insightful, specific word, and I discovered this way, way back in university. I started. I looked up the word theater, and I noticed that the word before theater was the, the most specific word in the English language, and then one day I just looked it up in a different dictionary to see where the word theater was, how they described it, but it was the theater of politics, the theater of education, or the theater of the absurd, and I discovered that there’s a word between the and theater, and that’s theanthros,or theanthroplogoy. It’s the combined study of god and man. And that really got me interested, because I decided that if I ever have to play a character, he needs to have a spiritual as well as a physical being. So when I’m playing a character, I like to ask the question, “What does my character believe in?” And when I do that, I have to ask myself, what do I believe in? But how many people actually… one guy today I was talking to… I went to an antique store and I found this beautiful white tiger, ivory tiger, and I was showing this guy and I asked him if he was happy. I said, “Are you happy?” and he said, “Well jeez, I don’t know.” I said, “Oh. If you could have anything in your life right now, what would you want?” He said, “Ah. You mean physical or emotional?” And I said, “You pick.” And he said, “My head hurts.” I said, “No, it doesn’t hurt. It loves it. You’re just misinterpreting it. Think about it for a second,” and he thought about it, and he said, “Can I want something for someone else?” And I said, “Now you’re talking, buddy.” Because what are your values? Like, nowadays we talk about what’s selfish. What is it we want? What is it we desire? What is it we have? And a lot of times it comes down to the exclusion of everybody else, and when that happens the world becomes a frightful place where everybody’s just moving ahead, trying to accomplish their own goals, and if you extrapolate that, what it comes down to is that we have a society that needs growth. It needs growth for progress, and that is the wrong paradigm. We need to make sure no one in the world is starving. That’s what we need to do. But it doesn’t become a principle in this free world, because we are the ones with it, and everything that we are doing here is to preserve our way of life, to go back to the old days if we can, put let us not let those other heathens, those other people who want what we have, we can’t let them have that. Anyway, I get political here. But what I wanted to simply say was about creativity, that this dictionary, if you don’t have an imagination, and you need one, you point at random and the dictionary will give you lots of food for thought.
BE: Do you think people would be surprised to know, after watching you play Jim Lahey, that you seem to posses a real, intellectual curiosity. You think people would make that connection, or people do make that connection?
JL: I like playing Scrabble. I like playing bridge. I like chess.
BE: I love chess, too.
JL: And I don’t know if that’s intellectual curiosity or not, because it is a pastime…
BE: Well, no, you’re engaged. Just listening to you speak, you’re clearly someone who’s thoughtful and engaged.
JL: But I’m only half-there. I mean, it’s a constant, constant thing. Even today I heard on the radio someone talking about the contemporary state of the art in philosophy, which is the same as it has been since Alan Watts suggested it in the fifties, is that you have to be in the moment, which is a zen thing. But the truth of the matter is you have to know where you are. You have to know what’s going on in the world at this moment, and if you’re not then you’re living in a dream-state and so you’re not connected and to me people can live that whole way through their life in sort of a dream-state and they can live and die and they haven’t missed anything, I suppose. But that’s not what I want to do. I want to feel like I’m in charge of my destiny. I want to feel like I’m the star of my own movie, that I get to choose where I go and who I hang with, what I read, and what I eat. And when I drive somewhere I want to drive down a different route. If I’m going downtown I like to take different streets every time just because, to me, the most important thing to my life is variety. I think that is the spice of life. I have not excelled in any particular… I mean I think I’m a better stage actor than anything, and I think that I’m a really good voice for radio, I like doing very strange voices and I really appreciate playing different characters, that is from England or Russia. I didn’t do a Russian one there, but all you do for Russians is you go down deep into your chest, and you say “I’m drinking a lot of vodka until they doubled price last year. The Russian government changed the rules on what could consumption because sixty-four percent of Russian men are alcoholics. That’s why the Russian women are all going to the poor Chinese guy.” There’s four-hundred million extra Chinese guys now than women. Where do you think they’re getting their ladies from? These big strapping blondes from Russia coming down there boys! Ha ha ha.
BE: How’s Barb?
JL: Barb’s got great breasts. I want you to know, but she run off, she’s run off with that caveman. Now see talk about creativity here. You know Sam Lasko from the show? They gay man? His real name is Sam Tarasco. Well, a couple weeks ago, Sam phoned me and he said, “I need you to do me a favor.” I said, “What’s that?” He knew I was making little documentaries, like I have a young videographer that hangs around with me. He’s making a doc on me so I put him to work and we’ve made a whole bunch of little docs on some interesting people, like three-stringed guitars with electrical hook ups. So I bought one and I’m teaching myself how to play it.
BE: Are you funded at all by the Canadian government?
BE: Could you apply for funding?
JL: I have advice to anybody who wants to apply to funding for anything: don’t.
BE: Why’s that?
JL: Because it’s a waste of your time and talent. The people that you apply to are all getting paid to make you rework your stuff, and then they’ll move on and the program will be discontinued. Do you know how many thousands of people do prep only? They get money to develop a script and then the script never ever ever makes it past… maybe they might get a pilot made. But there’s ten thousand, a hundred thousand in Hollywood, a hundred thousand scripts a year, ten thousand get played with, one thousand get done, and one hundred are good. But regardless, if you want to, you could buy a video camera for two-hundred dollars, and you could put something on that video camera, and you can download it and put it on the internet, and you can share it with the world, and that to me is the new way to express. This other thing about having millions and millions of dollars to put a program on prime time television, for people to actually… if that’s what they really want to do, that’s why they do when they’re going out and asking for funds to do stuff. I mean it’s so much easier to get a group of people – I think the most important thing is the people you’re working with – that they’re progressive and they share your ideas and they share your enthusiasm, and nowadays if you are hanging with a group of shit apples or shit weasels or shit monkeys or shit birds – birds of a shit feather flock together – if you’re in a morass or living in a dead end community and nobody has any dreams, move. To be able to express yourself in your own art, in your own way, is way better than going to somebody with a proposal and saying, “Hey! Check this out. Can you give me some money for this?” I learned when I went to the Canada council back in 1972, when I had a theater in Halifax called Pier One, and I applied for some grants, and, man, it was so disappointing when they turned me down and all the work we did toward it, and then again I applied. I had a publishing company, and it was called Solid Image, and these guys got in touch with me out of the blue from the government and said, “Hey! We’ve got funds. You should go to the stationery and variety show in Toronto and show your wares. If you fix them up like this and you do this and you make some business cards and you do this…” We only had about ten grand in the bank, but we weren’t drawing anything. We were putting all our profits there. I was traveling around the province when I was directing and acting, and we had a whole product line. We went to Toronto to a trade and variety show, where nobody came except for the exhibitors, we came home, gave them our bill, they didn’t pay it, they said their criteria had changed, it cost us all our profits, and we swallowed up in our own self-pity and closed down. And that has happened so often. I went to CBC with a great idea for a script about Wilhelm Reich, who was one of your American FDA victories when they shot him down because he said he had a cure for cancer, and I wrote this great little script, and they reported after I did three rewrites that it was still too turgid, so I put it away and about six months later didn’t I hear a program on Wilhelm Reich.
JL: I get so disappointed when I hear people saying that they’re going to do this and all they need is the funding to do it. Just do it. I mean if you think you’re a great director go to grade three, and get the third grade kids together, and write a little play with them, and put it on for their parents, and charge ten bucks and move on. And if you’re good at it, if you do what you love to do and what you want to do and you just do it for that reason, like when people come to me and say, “Do you want to help me do this?” and I say, “What is it you want me to do?” and they say, “I’m auditioning for a part in a movie,” and I say, “Great. Why are you auditioning? Why do you want the part?” And they say. “I want to be a movie star,” I say, “I don’t want to work with you.” If you want to do this audition to do the best work that you can, and get better at doing auditions, and act, then I’ll work with you. But I don’t want to… People come to me all the time and say, “I want to go to LA.” Well, go. How many people there, how many broken dreams… stay in your own community. That’s what I learned with Trailer Park Boys, that in Nova Scotia, in this little backward place on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, there’s so much art and creativity going on there by people who not only are from there, but have come from all around, at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and there’s a feeling, kind of a renaissance feeling of freedom that you can express yourself there, and I just love being a part of it.
BE: Well, hey, John it was an absolute pleasure talking to you.
JL: We haven’t finished. We haven’t even scratched the surface. I wanted to make a point.
BE: Go ahead.
JL: It’s this: you can, I can, I have, I have spent a lot of my capital, my energy on lots of things that – they’re disparate in nature. But every time I’ve attempted one of them, I learn skills in that area, and every single time that I’ve discovered that I’m not good at something, that’s a revelation too, and the ability to know that the world is a place of amazing potential and possibility, but that we have to sometimes chose what it is we don’t do. That’s where I started in this conversation. Now I’m sixty-four years old. I get to be a little more selective in what I do, and what I try not to do is to do it for the money. I try to do it… I try to do it now because I’m going to enjoy doing it.
BE: Absolutely. And I think you have. At least, what you say suggests that you have.
JL: I’m thinking of putting my seascapes up…
BE: You know what I was thinking about as we’re having this conversation? I think it would be neat to put up all of your art, at least selections, maybe a short story, and a portrait, or a gallery of portraits you’ve done and just kind of illustrate your diversity as an artist, and I think it will help people relate to what you’ve been saying.
JL: You know, when people ask me – I’m an actor; I like to say I’m an actor – but more than that I know in a kind of faux-humility, I know that I’m a student of the theater. I know that, and I know that every role I play is a brand new experience, and I take with it all the doubt that’s from the very beginning at every audition I do. I have a doubt, and I have found in my career that the plays and the performances that I’ve had the most doubt over are the ones that are really the most successful, because it propels you and pushes you further than if you’re confident. The worse thing that can happen to me when I’m halfway through developing a role in the theater, say after a couple weeks rehearsal, is for someone to say, “You’re really great,” because it takes the drive away. Only incrementally, but it does. And this book, if anyone wants to back, this Alan Watts book from 1958 I think, The Wisdom of Insecurity, I call it the wisdom of doubt, is way better than conviction. Like for you to be convinced of something that is black and white, is really unhealthy, I think.
BE: Oh, I agree. There is no true objectivity, and you have to always be willing to reformulate your web of beliefs if new information should enter, and there’s a real unwillingness to do that.
JL: And the sad thing is if I was in a room right now with George Bush, after an hour I’d leave thinking, jeez he was right to go in there. It’s true. It is sad, but I have fun.
BE: You have a show tonight?
JL: Yeah, I have a show.
BE: What time?
BE: So do you go out and hang out with the audience when you’re done?
JL: Well, the reason we’re going to have a full house tonight is because, when we did this show here last year, we went out afterward and partied with them, and so they’re all calling the venue saying, “Are they going to party tonight?”
BE: Better strap on your Lahey shoes.
JL: Well the thing is that since I don’t drink, I can outlast any of them. They’re only twenty
BE: What’s your favorite line you’ve ever uttered as officer Jim Lahey if you had to pick one.
JD: The next one
BE: The next one?
JD: The next line… The reason I’ve loved touring with Pat Roach is because we change every night. Like last night, ten different things happened that never happened before at any of our other shows. When I have tears running down my face, or he has to turn away from me because he’s laughing too hard, I know that we’re doing it right.
BE: What do you think the compliment Randy provides is? How would you best characterize it?
JD: This guy in Britain wrote a book on Laurel and Hardy and he compared us to Laurel and Hardy.
JD: I don’t know any secrets about comedy. When I have a good script, If it’s an… that’s a different kind of comedy. I love when Mike says “Trip over the lawnmower” and I just pretend it’s not there and just go for it. I get used to the lawnmower first and I step on this wheel and I step on that wheel and I step on the top of it and I see what happens if I push down on that handle and then I just go for it and whatever happens. Or I’ll catch my bathrobe on the door, you know. I’ll put it on there, hook it on and pull away a little bit at it and see it go, but when I’m directing people for comedy, I have a really good eye for physical comedy when I’m directing people, but when I’m doing it myself, it’s kind of mechanical and I don’t see it as funny.
JD: I just see it as kind of interesting because that’s what it comes down to.
BE: When you’re giving the speech and the lectern is moving and you’re pushing it along. (laughs)
JD: I did that the other night too. We were in a beautiful theater up in Kirkland Lake, which is… I drove for seven hours straight to get there through the snow and it was wonderful. A stage, a theater, I started doing Shakespeare because I loved that theater. But, the acoustics were incredible; you could turn your back to the audience and 50 seats away, they could hear you whisper. That’s how good the acoustics were.
JD: And when you’re in a theater like that, you can control the audience because you go “shhhh” and there won’t be a sound and you can say “Randy, can you feel how the shit clings to the air bud?” People love it when I go shit barometer. I don’t know why but I think it’s because in a way we’re all bad little boys and we like to talk about poop and stuff.
BE: It’s injecting the creativity and the spontaneity and using it with a very otherwise dull word.
JD: Yeah. Like the shit abyss, when you think about it, everybody who hears that term will have a slightly different idea of what the shit abyss actually is. There are some people who are truly anal, you know, they’ll know exactly what it is to them. The way I envisioned the shit abyss and the way I say it, you know… or if I talk about a shit spark, and say “Ricky grew up as a shit spark he started as a shit spark and fanned by the flames of his monumental ignorance, he grew into a raging shit firestorm Randers.”
JD: You know, what makes that funny? I have no idea. Or, shit moths. Like, to me, shit pupas or talking about the metashitmorphosis. (Lahey voice): “I’m telling you buddy, when I get control of this park, I think it’s gonna be the shit spark that is gonna change the world because, just by example, one utopian trailer park. It will ride like a wave of righteousness in the world. And Randy, ya know bud, I’m thinking of running for prime minister of Canada. Who knows? Like, I could say I was born in Hawaii and then I could be president of the United States of America. Kenya just imagine that?”
BE: Do you guys ever perform in Windsor?
JD: Kenya. Was that the country?
BE: Yeah, it was Kenya
JD: There you go, I am funny and I didn’t even know it. Yeah I do, I’ll tell you one thing… What was your question?
BE: I’m wondering if you guys ever perform in Windsor, near Detroit.
JD: Yes, several times.
BE: Really, do you have anything coming up there?
JD: No, but there’s a good chance we’re doing four venues in the states this fall, me and Randy. And then there’s a chance that we’re doing a Christmas show with the boys. But I can’t tour after the end of March because I’m in two different television series in Nova Scotia this summer. Haven…
BE: Yeah, what is Haven?
JD: Haven is a sci-fi Steven King thing. We’ve done 13 episodes and we’ve got a really great fan base already. The guys that are putting it together are out of LA and they really know what they’re doing. It is so much fun, I mean, I drove three minutes to get to the set from my house. They’re shooting on the south shore of Nova Scotia and they picked the most beautiful place to shoot. The whole team is really very excellent, I mean, the director of photography, to the directors that they get in, to the producers, the whole thing is just top notch and what a joy.
BE: Are you familiar with Tim and Eric? Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim down in the states?
BE: I think you would be perfect… They do this comedy like you’ve never seen. It’s absolutely hilarious. And we just talked to another songwriter who works a lot with them and I think it would be something interesting to hook you guys up.
JD: Well, you know, I love working. I’ll go to the ends of the Earth to do a play. I’ve been so lucky in my life that I’ve had so many fantastic experiences in film. You know, I got to be in a film this year with Michelle Williams?
BE: Oh, Blue Valentine?
JD: No, amazingly, I don’t think it’s out yet, it’s a film… the title just escapes me. It’s one of Leonard Cohen’s song titles.
BE: “Chelsea Hotel?”
JD: No, keep going. Good for you. I love Leonard Cohen
BE: As do I.
JD: See though, that guys a flaming narcissistic, oversexed, piece of poop. But I saw him in 1967, in the very beginning, at a university, him and Joni Mitchell.
BE: Oh wow. I just got Blue on vinyl today.
JD: The guy’s an inspiration, He was a poet… But, I can’t remember what my point is.
BE: You went and saw Leonard and Joni. I mean, look who Canada’s churned out. It’s phenomenal. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Do Make Say Think, Broken Social Scene, so many, you know? Mmm… I’m throwing in a plug of tobacco. So, did you used to gamble? That’s what I saw on Wikipedia.
JD: Well, my brother-in-law stole a half a million dollars from my wife’s family and gambled it. And I started doing a little bit of poking around and I found out that 80% of the billions of dollars that the government are taking is from people that are stealing money from their families. And I thought that maybe I should, since I played the machines myself and have probably lost over 50 grand over the years. I think I did that for the dopamine, I’m sure. But, I never spent anything more than what I had in my pocket. I didn’t use credit cards or spend rent money or anything like that but I decided to set myself up as a little bit of a poster boy if I could. And I did. I’ve done several documentaries. One of them was on CBC last year, and it was very effective. I deal with quite a few people who call me every once in awhile and talk about their problem and give them a little bit of help here and there. I’m a very poor gamble but I love cards. I like bridge… I love bridge. I play duplicate competitively and I find the most incredible thing about when you’re playing bridge is that all the other things in the world go away because it takes all of your concentration to do it. And the difference between that and gambling, it’s a tiny difference, but somehow it pulls you out of everything and puts you in this state. So that if I had two hundred dollars in my pocket, the whole thing can go in the machine. I’ve done purposeful studies going in with a hundred dollars in my pocket and said, “I’m only going to spend twenty,” and walked out spending the whole hundred. I’ve never been able to not do that. The only time I’m able to do it is when I have a camera crew with me
BE: When you able to stop?
JD: Yeah, I’ll say, “We’re going to go in and I’m going to put twenty bucks into the machine and we’re going to time how long it takes.” The last time we did it, about three weeks ago, I put a twenty-dollar bill in and it lasted two and a half minutes. And that was just a $2.25 bet. I could go on for days about the government being culpable. In the same way that residential schools and the priests abusing people and how that has come to be criminalized and recognized. The same thing is going to happen, I think, with gambling. It’s going to be recognized. It’s murder, it absolutely is, its government-sponsored murder.
BE: Wow, this is unanticipated, really interesting.
JD: You know what? I just looked at the clock. 6:24. We’re leaving in 20 minutes to drive over to the university and set up the show. I’ve got to do a quick shave and a shower and I’ve got to get into my Jim Lahey duds.
BE: Alright, well hey, John Dunsworth. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks so much for taking the time
JD: You know, I love the opportunity
BE: Send us out with some Lahey
JD: Alright. (Lahey voice): “You have to know what’s going on around you. You can’t stick your head in the sand. You have… ych… if there’s some… Randy! Bring me double cheese… yeah. No no no, the other forget it. Listen. Wait a second bud. You know what I gotta run right now, I gotta go. Who am I talking to?”
BE: This is Ben
JD: (Lahey voice): “Buzz Aldrin? Asimdlg? Holy shit! Hey Randy! George Sheppard or whatever the fuck his name…” (hangs up the phone)