My immediate family and I recall how much we really liked Patrick McKenna’s work in two shows for which he is well known: despicably ruthless and underhanded Marty Stephens on ‘Traders’ and as loveable nerdy bespectacled Harold Green on ‘The Red Green Show’ broadcast from fictional Possum Lodge. My family and I were impressed at the performance range McKenna revealed in these two opposite characters.
Of most important note is the fact he was recognized for his versatility with 2 Gemini Awards in 1998, for best performance in a comedy series and in a continuing dramatic role for these two roles.
A recent Zoom call with Patrick revealed just how down to earth this guy is, and what a good sense of humour he has. He put me at ease quickly.
He’s extremely thankful for the opportunities he has been given. Like all of us, Covid made Patrick think about what is very important to him as you’ll see from one of his responses.
Patrick has recently completed some voice cartoon work with Sesame Street and YTV. I also learned about his traveling improv group, ‘The Yes Men’, and yes, I do plan to catch one of their shows when they are in the region. I’ve included contact information for ‘The Yes Men’ at the conclusion of the profile. He is a spokesperson for the Golden Horseshoe Marathon for wheelchair athletes, the MS Society, McMaster Sick Kids, Lupus Canada, and Adult ADHD.
Thank you so much for taking the time, Patrick. Very much appreciated:
Tell me about one teacher and one mentor in your life for whom you are thankful who believed in your pursuit of your career as a performing artist.
The teacher would definitely be Steven Gaul; he was my Grade 11 English teacher. He took me to Second City because I was a pretty poor student. I wouldn’t do theatre because you had to wear tights in my mind.
He said there was a lot of different kind of theatre so his wife and he were going to see Second City and he took me and another troublemaker to go see the show. I went, “Ohhhh, oh that’s what I want to do. I want to be on that stage (Second City).” He opened that door.
And professionally, it was Andrew Alexander from Second City who at that particular time, because I have no training whatsoever, none. Other than being the class loud guy (not necessarily the clown, but I was loud). Andrew was the only one who said I’ve got something.
I was the doorman at Second City for a couple of years, and people thought what I was even doing at an audition. I snuck in and away we went. Andrew was the one who said, “Let’s hire Pat.” Andrew was high enough up on the ladder to say, “Let’s put Pat there and see how it’ll go – he’ll sink or swim.”
And luckily enough I swam, which was great.
I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in dealing with Covid. How have you been able to move forward from these last 18 eighteen months on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed on a personal level?
I guess I’m probably more cognizant of personal time and giving my time away to people.
Work can sometimes do that. You get locked in that wheel and just start running and you realize that everybody is happy but you.
I think these last eighteen months have given me the opportunity to say there’s way more I want to experience yet.
Giving my time away to other people – that changed a lot.
I’m slowing down and prioritizing to decide what I want to dedicate my time.
How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally?
Well, quite a bit.
A couple of things happened all at once.
I turned 61 so you’re into a whole new category as an actor to begin. I’m an old white guy so that’s also happening in the new world and making me step back a few in the line.
And Covid stopped production everywhere for quite awhile and made audiences go elsewhere and look for different things to entertain themselves and to fill up their time.
You’re splitting any hope you had of coming back that there was going to be a new normal because everyone found a new normal. By the time we come back say with a new CBC show, audiences might be saying they’re into Netflix or Hulu.
It’s going to be harder to find a dedicated audience, I think.
I also got into a lot of voice work because I have a studio at home. I’m doing seven different cartoons right now. I never really did that before, so that was great.
I was nominated for a couple of Screen Actor awards for voice work which is fantastic for me when you start something and you’re acknowledged for it right away knowing you’re going in the right direction. So this has opened a few doors for me.
I’ve written a couple of screenplays that are floating around out there too. I wouldn’t have done this unless I had the time to follow through on some ideas.
Professionally (and personally), it’s been a hand in hand of walking down the lane and wondering what’s next.
In your opinion, how do you see the global landscape of the professional Canadian live theatre scene changing at all as a result of these last 18 months?
It’ll be interesting because I’m also working with an improv group. We’re called ‘The Yes Men’, we’re three old guys who go out and have some fun. Before the pandemic, we were booked every weekend. It was a lot of fun with crowds.
Even in the early stages of the pandemic, we still had a few crowds even though there were some people who weren’t too sure if they could go out or not, do we wear masks?
As a group, we decided to just stop as did the world.
But watching now when we go back to book the theatres, we hear the hesitation in the voices over the phone of “We’re not sure yet. We’re not sure we can be open.”
So there’s a real hesitancy on the part of the management as to when promotions can start once again. I think audiences are going to be sceptical being nudged shoulder to shoulder.
Will audiences have to be so far apart that artists and the audiences themselves don’t get a community feeling and understanding that laughter and empathy can bring? That magic might be changed a little bit.
I was just up in Iqaluit doing some improv shows and, because of Covid, the audience had to be so far back from the stage and they had to be six feet from each other, there was no laughter, no infectious energy. It became small individual groups around the room who might laugh but there was no collective laugh.
That was a real learning curve of how do you communicate now to these people and will theatre do that?
Can theatre do that?
I think it’s going to be harder for the theatres themselves than the audiences. When they come back, I think shows are going to be huge, glorious shows, a lot of celebration. We saw this in the 20s, 30s, 50s, after the wars. All these big shows in history were a reaction to being shut down for awhile.
It’ll be interesting to see how we’ll all pop back.
From a Second City background, there will be reaction on every level. I think Second City will take a hard punch because it is such a cabaret experience with audiences shoulder to shoulder. There’s also a real division now of what we can laugh at in the real world. Two years ago it was Trump, anti Trump; now it’s mask, anti-mask.
What excites/fascinates/intrigues Patrick McKenna post Covid?
Well certainly audiences – that will make me excited to be in front of an audience and for audiences to be there and who can be there to feel free enough to experience that community again.
Being on a set that doesn’t feel sick. I’ve been on a few sets where everyone has to go through so many protocols, it’s half a day to go through protocols. By the time you’re ready to shoot, some of us are tired on account of the protocols we’ve had to go through to get there. And if you have to leave set to go get something, then you have to go through the protocols again.
I know we’re all over-reacting at times because we don’t want to be that place that perhaps gave Covid to an audience member or to a performing artist. So it makes it so difficult to proceed in an artistic way, there’s no flow. We’re constantly interrupted by reality. The ripple effect over the next five years is going to be felt tremendously within the industry.
And that’s been interesting to watch on a set of how that functions.
What disappoints/unnerves/upsets Patrick McKenna post Covid?
To be honest, I’m going to have say the loss of some friends.
There’s been a line in the sand of where some people stand on vaccinations.
People whom I personally know who have passed away on account of Covid.
I have a lot of close friends who surprised me in the way they are challenging the vaccinations and Covid. They challenged me on who I thought they were, and they were also challenged on who they thought I was. It really brought politics, beliefs and who you really to the forefront, and made you stand there and confront what’s happening.
It’s more of a conservative world right now than my liberal point of view. I have to respect that as Conservatives believe their thoughts and they’re going to have to respect the thoughts and wishes of others.
Post Covid, there are going to be a lot of different groups regarding who has been vaccinated and non-vaccinated.
Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I credit the late James Lipton and “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this idea:
If you could say one thing to one of your mentors or favourite teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be?
“Good eye.” (and Patrick and I share a good laugh). That’s probably too American.
I’d have to say, “Thank you” especially to any teacher along the way who blows support and confidence into an individual rather than negativity. I look back to those people who nurtured strength and confidence in me, thank goodness for them.
If you could say something to any of the naysayers in your career who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would that be?
In an odd way, I’d have to say “Thank you” to them as well. Humour is such a subjective thing and that’s a huge lesson to learn especially if you’re going to be in this business. Just because you said something in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s going to be funny. There’s an audience and there are always going to be different ears.
I remember there were those who did try to belittle me and say I wouldn’t make it, and I don’t miss that, but I have to acknowledge they made me work harder at being funny.
What’s your favourite swear word?
If I’m working somewhere and people think I might use the four letter “s” word, and then I surprise them with ‘shite’.
What is a word you love to hear yourself say?
What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say?
With whom would you like to share a meal and dialogue about the Canadian performing arts scene?
It’s such a big table, really…
What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you?
With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years, what would you now tell the upcoming Patrick McKenna from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career as a performing artist?
“You have everything you need.”
What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally?
Personally, I want to be able to tour Scotland with my wife. We promised ourselves that, and then Covid just stopped everything. That’s our go to right away.
Professionally, I would like to see one of these scripts I’ve written produced. As I said I’ve been lucky with acting and with voice work, and I’d like to conquer this new mountain of writing scripts and getting them produced.
Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while.
Ooooh, there are so many great sporadic ones…
To be completely selfish, I would say a second show doing stand up comedy at Punch Lines in Vancouver in 1988. There’s nobody on the stage but you, and if it’s working it’s because of you.
What is one thing Patrick McKenna will never take for granted again post Covid?
Would Patrick McKenna do it all again as an artist if given the same opportunities?
Yes, but…(and again we share a good laugh)
There are a lot of things that I would do better if given the same opportunities as an artist. The opportunities I was given were great, I might tighten things up a little such as listening more.
To learn more about Patrick McKenna’s improv group “The Yes Men” (with Neil Crone and Kevin Frank), please visit the website: www.yesmenimprov.com or Facebook: The Yes Men Improv Comedy Troupe or Twitter: @TheYesMenImprov.