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Cathode Ray Mission: THREE DEAD TROLLS IN A BAGGIE (1992)

 CanTV expert Cameron Archer navigates the often inhospitable landscape of Canadian television for the CATHODE RAY MISSION, our regular blog column that highlights some of Canadian television’s most offbeat offerings.

So, you’re a sketch comedy troupe. You’re not from Toronto, Vancouver or Newfoundland, yet you’ve found your way onto a national network, CBC Television. You’re even part of CBC Television’s efforts to prove it knows comedy beyond CBC Radio stalwarts like ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FARCE and DOUBLE EXPOSURE, and failed sitcoms like MOSQUITO LAKE. Sound outlandish? It wasn’t such a far-fetched idea near the end of February 1992, when THREE DEAD TROLLS IN A BAGGIE (CBC, 1992) debuted.

The basic formula
THREE DEAD TROLLS IN A BAGGIE  is essentially the Edmonton version of THE KIDS IN THE HALL (CBC, 1988-94). The troupe performs risqué humour in the KitH style. Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie are longstanding Edmonton fringe theatre regulars, so CBC obviously expected THREE DEAD TROLLS to succeed.

Each episode consists of sketches, musical bits, and monochromatic blue transitions, as performed by troupe members here are Neil Grahn, Joe Bird, Wes Borg, and Cathleen Rootsaert. “Mr.” Frank van Keeken is an added attraction…inasmuch as van Keeken was an attraction, in 1992.

The weird bits
This was the era of THE KIDS IN THE HALL, CODCO and COMICS! In that light, there’s nothing weird about this show. THREE DEAD TROLLS IN A BAGGIE has a heavy fringe flavour, and is about in line with what CBC Television aired in 1992.

At the same time, 1992-era CBC looks strange in 2012. Granted, Lorne Michaels outright handed CBC THE KIDS IN THE HALL, and CODCO‘s roots date back to the early 1970s, but CBC actually built around those two shows. I miss that era. I accept that it’s not coming back.

Let’s Watch
“Part two” of the second episode.THREE DEAD TROLLS, by and large, is studio-bound. Compared to THE KIDS IN THE HALL, which benefits from Lorne Michaels’ backing, and elaborately-produced location segments, THREE DEAD TROLLS is a lower-budget affair.

 

“Part three” of the second episode. It’s odd to hear the word “fag” on a CBC program, notwithstanding what THE KIDS IN THE HALL got away with in 1992 (I’m looking at you, Running Faggot.) Granted, “fag” has the modifier “art” before it, but it’s interesting that the CBC of the early 1990s actually let their comedies be crass.

 

Cultural legacy
Wes Borg and Neil Grahn are still active on CBC Radio One’s THE IRRELEVANT SHOW (2003-05, 2008, 2009, 2010- .) Borg and Grahn also launched Canadian Learning Television/BookTelevision/ACCESS’ THE GEEK SHOW, which lasted from 2004-05. THE GEEK SHOW attempted to mine the web for comedy, back in the pre-YouTube era.

Borg, Grahn and Cathleen Rootsaert remain parts of the Edmonton fringe theatre circuit.

Joe Bird died of a heart attack on April Fool’s Day, 2009. He was 41. A well-loved comedian and musician, The Joe Bird Award is named in his honour.

Frank van Keeken is currently the creator/showrunner of WINGIN’ IT (Family Channel, 2010- .) Prior to this, van Keeken was an executive producer on BILLABLE HOURS (Showcase, 2006-08) in its later seasons, and an executive producer on Teletoon’s THE DATING GUY (2010-11.)

His career is a rollercoaster of highs and lows – one minute, van Keeken wrote for THE KIDS IN THE HALL‘s fourth season. The next, van Keeken found himself on the second season of FRIDAY NIGHT WITH RALPH BENMERGUI (1992-93), CBC’s ill-fated attempt to turn a MIDDAY co-host (and former star of TRAPPED) into David Letterman.

THREE DEAD TROLLS isn’t a bad effort, but it had the misfortune of being on the same network as certified sketch comedy smashes THE KIDS IN THE HALL and CODCO. With a five-episode commitment,THREE DEAD TROLLS was expendable to CBC Television. It received decent reviews, if the reviewer wasn’t Greg Quill of The Toronto Star. According to Wes Borg’s online résumé, the show earned an average of 400,000 viewers.

Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie are currently best-known for “The Toronto Song,” a song that appeared on the show’s first episode, and “The War of 1812,” though both songs are commonly misattributed to The Arrogant Worms.

According to Neil Grahn, CBC has the source tapes for THREE DEAD TROLLS, but neither Grahn nor Wes Borg know who currently owns the show.

Summary
THREE DEAD TROLLS’ televised legacy is minimal, and the troupe’s most famous works are sometimes mislabelled, yet Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie helped establish a foundation for current Edmonton sketch comedy troupes and shows (see: Mostly Water Theatre, Caution: May Contain Nuts). There are reasons Edmonton is the true Melonville.

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  1. Allan says:

    I think Cathleen is the only Troll I’ve never had a conversation with. I went to a bunch of open mics that Joe hosted in various venues across the city. At one of them I read a short story I wrote about submitting a piece of erotica to a website. Every time I saw him after that he always pointed out how much he liked it. He was truly a sweet guy and I know a lot of people were devastated when he passed.

    I also remember talking to Wes one afternoon when he was hired to write a book for my then-employer (it didn’t work out). I gave him a copy of SCARY MOVIES, which he thought his daughter would really like. The last time I saw them was at that year’s office Christmas party, which they had been hired to perform at. It didn’t go well.

    In Edmonton everyone was excited about them getting their big chance on the CBC, but somehow the electricity of their live performances just didn’t translate onscreen. I remember in the first episode there were a bunch of sketches I had seen live and they weren’t nearly as funny on TV. Comedy is unfair like that.