It's the end of an era... For almost five decades, multiple generations across Canada have tuned in. After an illustrious 46-year run with top-rated, award-winning hit shows on radio and television, Royal Canadian Air Farce, one of the most enduring and iconic homegrown comedy troupes is winding down with a final one-hour farewell show on CBC, December 30, 2019.
What began as a topical sketch comedy troupe in 1970, morphed into the Royal Canadian Air Farce skewering Canadian politics, current affairs and pop culture in 1973, with founding members Don Ferguson, Luba Goy, the late Roger Abbott, John Morgan and Dave Broadfoot. The troupe grew into a successful franchise. A CBC radio series ran for 24 seasons, from 1973-97, spawning national concert tours, live stage productions, home audio and video releases, a book, and several television specials. A weekly CBC television series ran for 16 successful seasons, from 1993-2008. The annual New Year’s Eve special launched in 1992 and has been a ratings hit throughout its run. Royal Canadian Air Farce has received numerous awards and accolades. It was the first Canadian inductee into the International Humour Hall of Fame in 1992. It received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 1998. In 2000 it received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and at the Gemini Awards that year, it received both the Earle Grey Award for its body of work in Canadian television and the viewer-voted People’s Choice Award for favourite television program. In 2001, it was inducted into the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Don Ferguson and find out his thoughts on the ending of Royal Canadian Air Farce and what he has plans for in the future.
Did you ever think the show would become as big and as long-standing as it has been?
Absolutely not. Interestingly enough, the show’s actual germination took place in Montreal. In 1970, a group that included Roger Abbott and John Morgan were part of five people who did improv at a theatre that no longer exists downtown. Sunday nights when the theatre was closed they did a little improvised comedy show eight times, and then they decided to try it in Toronto. They were called the "Jest Society" and they did the show three nights a week and went back to Montreal, and that's when I joined it. The name was changed and started on CBC Radio, so the seeds that became Air Farce germinated in Montreal.
Tell us about the last show for New Years.
It's a small wrap-up. CBC isn't doing one-off specials anymore but gave us enough to do a goodbye and farewell. It was 15% of our usual budget so there's not much you can do with that in TV, and we wanted to keep it contemporary so we did it in a special way, like using things like virtual sets. Part of the show is a look back at some of our favourite pieces that audiences responded well to, and there's of course a salute to Roger Abbott and John Morgan, who have gone to the big Air Farce in the sky. We also take a moment to say goodbye and thank you to fans.
What’s next for you?
I wish I knew (laughs). Many people have asked me that, and I really don’t know - maybe it's time to lay it peacefully to rest. It had its 46 moments (the longest moment in history). I have a little production company and we’re shooting a half-hour comedy at the end of January. It's not a big show, but it keeps the wolf from the door.
Do you ever make it back to Montreal?
I've lived in Toronto for many years, but I grew up in NDG. I don’t have any family there so I seldom go. Me and some of my classmates went to Rome to the ceremony to be there when another friend became a cardinal in October.