Butt tickled to join his heroes

Brent Butt is humbled to find himself in the company of comedy legends such as John Candy, Bob Newhart and John Cleese – all previous winners of The Comedy Network Sir Peter Ustinov Award for outstanding comedic contribution.

‘That’s a huge part of it – just looking at the names associated with the award…these are all heroes of mine,’ Butt told Playback while on break from filming the final season of his hit sitcom Corner Gas in Regina.

Susanne Boyce, CTV’s president of creative, content and channels will present Butt with the Ustinov award on June 9 at the 2008 Banff World Television Awards ceremony.

The 41-year-old native of Tisdale, SK says he learned to be funny at home as the youngest of seven children.

‘My family was one of my biggest influences…the big training ground was the dinner table,’ he says, though professionally, Butt is quick to point to Candy as one of his favorite comedians of all time.

‘He could, at the drop of a hat, be the most charming person or be a total jerk like [the SCTV character] Johnny LaRue. He was also great at playing the seedy, greasy guy, like in Splash…yet you loved him,’ Butt says.

The stand-up comic and TV star, who has become one of the most recognizable faces on Canadian television thanks to the success of Corner Gas, is currently plotting the final episode of the beloved CTV comedy. Butt, who stars as gas station owner Brent Leroy, and also serves as writer and exec producer, announced in April that the sixth outing of Gas would be its last.

He insists that he feels ‘absolutely’ confident about his decision.

‘I think the timing was perfect on it…doing it a year before would’ve been too soon, and doing a seventh season would’ve been one too many,’ Butt says, joking that the only reason to do another season would be a ‘shameless cash grab.’

‘That’s never the proper motivation,’ he adds.

The show was developed and aired from the start on CTVglobemedia specialty channel The Comedy Network, but got its big break on conventional TV when it premiered Jan. 22, 2004 on CTV to 1.1 million viewers. It has been a consistent ratings winner for CTV, garnering one million-plus viewers for every episode.

Gas has won five Gemini Awards, including best comedy series twice. It has sold to more than 25 other countries, including Australia and Greece, and airs in the U.S. on Superstation WGN.

Butt says his Gas costars, including wife Nancy Robertson, who plays quirky retail assistant Wanda, understand his decision.

‘Some of them would have loved it if [Gas] went for another year, but none of them think it’s not the right decision,’ he says. Gas is coproduced by David Storey and Virginia Thompson.

The comedy is currently filming the first two episodes of its 19-ep final season and is scheduled to wrap production in mid-September.

There’s a bit of nostalgia on set, yet Butt says he doesn’t get time to reflect a lot.

‘When you’re in production, you put your head down and plow through…but there are those moments when you realize ‘this is the last time I’m doing this or that,” he says.

As for what the final episode of Gas might be, Butt says he’s ‘kicking around some ideas,’ adding his goal is to end the show in such a way that everybody gets the feeling that life in Dog River goes on.

‘Cheers did that very well,’ Butt says. ‘It had a significant, satisfying ending, but you knew the next day the bar would be open and people would be sitting around shooting the breeze.’

The funnyman will be ‘in and out’ at Banff, adding it was difficult to get the time off from production. ‘We had to do some creative scheduling, [because] I really wanted to attend…it’s an honor,’ he says.

Butt is also busy developing a new series, it was announced at the CTV upfront earlier this month. This one will be shot in his native Vancouver.