Dir. Norman Campbell
Starring Johnny Wayne, Frank Shuster, Fletcher Markle
Wayne & Shuster in Black and White (1997)
Dir. Trevor Evans
Starring: Johnny Wayne, Frank Shuster
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster were Canada's premier comedy duo. In fact, they were probably the only comedy team from the Great White North beloved on both sides of the Canadian and American border and across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom.
They met in high school and discovered they had an immediate rapport. Throughout both secondary and post-secondary studies, the lads performed in stand-up and sketches. They were eventually hired in the 1940s by Toronto's CFRB to present a comedic household hints show and soon after were given their own radio show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
They enrolled in the armed services and throughout both World War II and the Korean War, they performed for the troops fighting abroad. With the advent of television, their careers jettisoned into the stratosphere with a regular series on CBC, followed by regular comedy specials on the same network. They were hired for a series of BBC comedy specials and even starred in an American summer replacement series produced by Jack Benny.
Their biggest success was appearing on the legendary Ed Sullivan show. Ed loved them so much, they broke the show's record of any comedy duo appearing more than once. Wayne & Shuster appeared on Sullivan's ratings hit an astonishing 60+ times. To this day, such multiple appearances by any comedy act on American TV, has never been beaten.
In spite of many offers dangled before them, they refused to make the permanent move to America. They loved Canada and preferred to live in Canada. This didn't really affect their careers in any negative fashion, but given their popularity, Wayne & Shuster could have joined the ranks of all the legendary 60s comedy variety shows on the U.S. networks.
It was not to be. They were Canadian, through and through.
* * * * *
One of the psychotically prolific programs Wayne & Shuster produced and starred in was called "An Affectionate Look at . . ." wherein the lads would sit back, relax and introduce the audience to some of their favourite comedians. Here they're about to launch into an appreciation of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby until they're freeze-framed, stopped and chided by obnoxious host Trevor Markle who tells them it's high time somebody created An Affectionate Look at Wayne & Shuster. What follows is all under the aegis of the extremely light 1965 CBC-TV public affairs program Telescope.
The value inherent in this program is clearly nostalgic. In addition to a lot of very cool period locations in both Toronto and London, it delivers plenty of interviews with supporters and fans and eventually with Wayne & Shuster.
Most of the show is devoted to "documentary" footage as they prepare to celebrate 25 years in show business. They're doing a comedy special on this theme in England with the BBC. So far so good until we're treated to a seemingly endless stroll through Toronto's airport with Wayne, Shuster and their entire families in tow (including a family pet wiener dog) to see them off. The boys kibitz around with their family, ticket girls, stewardesses and finally settle into their seats in the transatlantic jet.
Once they get to dear old Blighty, there's some shenanigans involving a breakneck car ride through London, scenes wherein they plan their special and eventually, in one of the more genuinely funny bits, they collect their BBC producer and go in search of a steakhouse that all three dined at over two decades earlier. When they get to the proper location, our boys are genuinely shocked that their favourite steak joint has been shuttered and turned into the local bookie's office.
Back home they prep and perform in a major touring show that premieres on Prince Edward Island and continues across Canada. Trevor Markle informs us that the fellas are on their way to Winnipeg. The show ends with Wayne & Shuster costumed as voyageurs, travelling from Toronto to Winnipeg by kayak.
If you're a Wayne and Shuster fan, you'll bust a gut. If not, you'll still enjoy the nostalgia of it all. It also looks grand because it was shot at a time when such programs were captured on black and white film. It sure beats the crap out of videotape and even digital.
|The Wayne & Shuster Glory Days|
Wayne & Shuster in Black and White is a three-part special from 1997 hosted by Frank Shuster (Johnny Wayne died of brain cancer in 1990). The emphasis is upon sketches from the 50s and 60s, which are not without amusement value (more so for fans) and perfectly representative of the literate, laid back Canadian humour the duo specialized in. The sketches include classic spoofs of movies like Ben-Hur, Shakespeare plays and old westerns.
As a kid in the 60s, I pretty much thought Wayne and Shuster were the dullest, most unhip comedians on TV. That said, I watched all their programs anyway and got a special thrill whenever I saw them on the decidedly uncool Ed Sullivan Show.
It's decades later now, though, and no matter what I thought as a kid, I have to admit to getting weepy and nostalgic over both of these programs. And yes, I laughed a lot. That's ultimately what any comedian wants.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** Three Stars
An Affectionate Look at Wayne & Shuster and Wayne & Shuster in Black and White are part of the stellar archival lineup that the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2016) excels at like no other film festival in Canada.