Q&A: Jared Keeso on why Letterkenny is a phenomenon
He’s an unrepentant hayseed, a Canadian symbol of small-town defiance, who mixes it up with meth-head “skids” and thick-skulled hockey players in a rural community that bears a suspicious similarity to tiny Listowel, Ont.
A cross between William Butler Yeats and a scatological Mr. Spock, his eloquently robotic rants — “Here’s a tip: don’t fart in a spacesuit!” — have made filmed-in-Sudbury Letterkenny a cultural phenomenon since its CraveTV debut two years ago following three years of YouTube shorts.
Meet Listowel native Jared Keeso, 34.
With a flair for linguistics and an engagingly taciturn manner, his TV alter ego has become as iconically recognizable as Bob and Doug McKenzie and the Trailer Park Boys, a Canadian Seinfeld obsessed with burping etiquette and the correct pronunciation of “L.A.” (”L. Aye? L. Aiii? L. Ayyyy?”)
Because he was born in feisty, unfussy Waterloo Region, the winner of multiple Canadian Screen Awards remains as refreshingly down to earth as a mud-encased tractor wheel or mashed yellow corn husk.
Beer and hockey. That’s all I hear about Letterkenny. When are you gonna tackle more refined subjects like opera singing and interior design?
Tough to beat beer and hockey. What’s this about designing opera interiors?
How much can you mine your real life and hometown for inspiration? At what point do you have to start fabricating plot lines?
Letterkenny is fiction, so whatever I think is funny on any given day when I begin writing.
Describe the typical Letterkenny fan.
When we toured the live show across Canada this past spring, there was no consistency whatsoever in age or race with the folks who came through. That made me feel pretty damn good. Everyone knows someone from Letterkenny. There’s accessibility there.
You seem smart, intelligent, thoughtful. Why are you so good at playing dim-witted, vulgar barbarians who think with their fists?
I don’t think I’ve ever played a character like that. Wayne (in Letterkenny) is smart, intelligent and thoughtful. He’s the product of his surroundings. People drink and fight in Letterkenny. There are worse things.
Sorry, that was my description of you in your 2010 miniseries, The Don Cherry Story. Did I get it wrong?
Don Cherry is a national treasure. Don’t provoke me.
The show is a TV juggernaut and cultural phenomenon. After years of struggle, the gravy train has arrived. What’s next for Jared Keeso: stretch limos? Fur coats? House servants?
The dog’s food is so premium I could eat it. I may have to when luck inevitably swings the other way.
Letterkenny recently got the green light for 40 more episodes. Even top-flight shows on American networks don’t get pickups like that. How did you pull this off?
Full credit to our producer Mark Montefiore. It didn’t even cross my mind to ask for that. Forty episodes means job security for the next three years. The fact I didn’t have that for my first 10 years in this business is not lost on me.
Every time I read about Letterkenny there’s a comparison to its profane, subversively ironic predecessor, Trailer Park Boys.
Trailer Park Boys is one of my favourite shows of all time. I love that world. It makes me feel good. The goal with Letterkenny has always been to create that good feeling for our audience by stepping into our world.
Trailer Park Boys had a lot of rock star cameos. Now that Rush has retired, what Canadian legends can you get to fill the gap: Bryan Adams? Goddo? Shania Twain?
Here’s a good story. I was at the Junos two years ago and Bryan Adams was introduced to my wife and I. We chatted for a few minutes and then he asked me to come with him. We went into his dressing room where he had a photography studio set up. He took my photo for five minutes and then went back onstage. Turns out he was creating a photo album of Canadian personalities while simultaneously hosting the Junos.
Good story. Nothing to do with what I asked you.
But what a legend.
I get the impression your sojourns to L.A. to audition for American TV shows were less than productive. What happened?
Nothing happened. I couldn’t make anything happen. Young actors get a lot of pressure to go to L.A. because the most opportunity is there. Though that is true, humans must first decide where they are happy. I am happy in Canada.
Given the show’s distinctive Canadian character, how likely is the humour to translate to an American audience?
Letterkenny has been working in the U.S. since we started the web series. We’ve sold merch to all 50 states. Like I say, everyone knows someone from Letterkenny.
When does the next season start and where can we watch?
We released six new episodes on the Canada Day long weekend. Next six-banger comes out Christmas Day.
Joel Rubinoff writes for the Waterloo Region Record. Twitter: @JoelRubinoff