People use humor for all kinds of reasons. For comedian Mark Critch it was a defense against bullying. He grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the most eastern point in North America.
“On the playground I would use humor,” he recalls, “when a guy would grab you and want to beat you up or bully you, then you could use humor. I remember one time I was imitating the vice principal for some reason, and this bully laughed. And he called his friend over and said, ‘Do that again.’
“So I imitated the vice principal again, and they forgot about hitting me. And I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I get this. OK, OK, now I can use this if I could somehow be their pal by using humor.”
Critch has been using his humor ever since, and the exploits of that childhood are warmly recalled in the Canadian sitcom, “Son of a Critch,” premiering next Monday on the CW. The series is based on Critch’s own tricky coming-of-age in the ‘80s. “I guess I was picked on because of weakness,” he says.
“I grew up on the outskirts of town next to dad’s radio station where he worked. So there weren’t many kids around, so I didn’t get a lot of references to games. I didn’t play team sports or anything. I was obviously different and growing up in the house with mom and dad and older relatives, all my references were older,” he remembers.
“I liked Steve Martin and I liked Jerry Lewis and Charlie Chaplin. They (the other kids) had all these current references which I knew what they were, I just wasn’t really into it. I remember buying an AC/DC cassette tape and keeping it in my backpack so when people would ask, ‘What kind of music do you like?’ I would just show them that.
“It was like a badge, and then they’d leave me alone. But I was a kid out of time. I was meant for a different age. Then it was just that whole idea of navigating the playground figuring out how to fit in.”
Fitting in was not easy. Critch’s first appearance onstage wasn’t very propitious either. He was in kindergarten and each child was depicting a color. “I was playing the color yellow. I had the yellow sash, the yellow pants on, and they picked me to actually introduce the pageant for the parents.
“All the nuns were there, all the parents were there. And the archbishop was there because it was a Catholic school, so that was a big deal. And I walked out there and I was supposed to say, ‘Archbishop, bishops, fathers, sisters, brothers, parents and pupils welcome to our show.’ And I memorized this.
“Instead of pupils I said ‘poop-pills’ which is how I would pronounce it as a kid. A big laugh. And I had this feeling like, ‘That was nice!’ So I said it again, and I got another laugh. And then I said it a third time, not knowing what happened or why it was getting a bigger laugh. And a nun came out and grabbed me by the back of my shirt and pulled me off. And in that moment, as she was pulling me off, I remember going, ‘Show business!’ I just got that big laugh and so I guess I’ve been chasing that ever since.”
That chase began early. He started his own theater company with a group of friends when he was 15. “We did a late-night cabaret show in this downtown theater. It was a mixed group made up of people who came out to support us and sailors who thought we were a cabaret and something very different. I did an impression of my father, who was a well-known radio person. I put on this red blazer like all the radio people wore, and I got a huge response to that at the cabaret. I’ve been doing basically the same thing ever since. I’ve always written and performed my own work. That’s what interested me,” he says.
“Also I didn’t have a net. I didn’t have anything to fall back on. The arts can be a tough world, especially when you’re trying to make your way, so if you have a net, generally people will fall into it. I thought, ‘Rich or poor, as long as I enjoy doing what I do — writing and performing my own work — I’ll be OK.’ And I’ve been able to make a go of it ever since.”
Critch is the father of two sons, 19 and 24, by his former sweetheart, Sherrie Winsor. His wife, Melissa, is a lawyer. “She’s a sensible person,” he quips. “And she’s a grown-up.”
When they met, they discovered a mutual interest in political history. “We kind of bonded over dusty books,” he smiles.
In spite of its ups and downs, Critch says he never wanted to quit comedy. “Comedy is, I think, the toughest art form because it’s the only one you can’t fake. You know you can be a ballerina and people will clap at the end of the show. You can walk off and go, ‘Oh, I think that went well.’ But with comedy, unless they laugh, unless they make this guttural thing where they lose control of their body — which is a lot like sneezing — you completely lose control, you can’t really fake that. Unless you get that, you kind of know you failed every time.”
Southerners speak their piece
There seems to be something special about the way a Southerner spins a tale. PBS has noticed that and presents a three-episode series called “Southern Storytellers” premiering Tuesday. The show features some of our most outspoken tale-tellers like Billy Bob Thornton, Lyle Lovett, Angie Thomas, and Mary Steenburgen. Actress Steenburgen grew up in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
“The wrong side of the tracks,” she says. She figures her penchant for acting rose from a girlhood of reading. “I was voracious reader and when I read, I read as though my life depended on it,” she says.
“I think when I was 16 there wasn’t much different in acting, and what I did. My sister said she didn’t have to read a book, she’d watch my face when I was reading it, and she could tell everything about it.”
Lyle Lovett grew up in Klein, Texas, a farming community about 30 miles north of Houston. “I grew up on what was left of my grandfather’s farm,” he says. “My mother’s younger brother had a dairy farm when I was growing up. He had cows on the old place. Cows are a little frightening but you can’t let them stop you.
“I grew up around extended family folks who were always supportive,” he says. “Mom would drive me 30 miles from work and take me all the way back downtown for a guitar lesson when I was 8.”
American brands on display Sunday
One of the most interesting shows on television is “The (Blank) that Built America” series that airs on the History Channel. The tales have included shows like “The Toys that Built America,” “The Men Who Built America,” “The Food that Built America” all illuminating our colorful past. These documentaries take us through the labyrinthine paths to success — from the depths of despair and bankruptcy to the peaks of joy and unimaginable wealth. The next edition, “The Mega-Brands that Built America” arrives on Sunday.[ We all recognize commercial merchandise with familiar names like Spalding, Schick, Proctor, Walton but know little about the guys who left their brands on these American goods. Sam Walton, Sol Price, A.G. Spalding, Harley Procter, James Gamble, Jacob Schick, King C. Gillette are just some of innovators who struggled their way to American prosperity. The fast moving series utilizes archival footage, impressive dramatic recreations, and interviews by experts in the field. Unfortunately, it’s also stigmatized by an infinite number of intrusive commercials.[ Sheen shines in divine role
Actor Michael Sheen relishes playing an assortment of colorful characters in shows like “Blood Diamond,” “Master of Sex” and “Quiz.” But a fussy angel who’s a rare-book dealer, that sounds way exotic. Sheen will be back in that role on July 28 in Season 2 of “Good Omens,” streaming on Prime Video.
Sheen plays the finicky angel to David Tennant’s free-wheeling demon. This time their status is disrupted when the archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) shows up to rattle their “paradise.”
“I’ve never suffered with a lack of confidence, not when it comes to acting,” Sheen tells me. “I enjoy challenge. That’s what I like; that’s why I like to have as varied a career as possible. I try to do as many different kinds of things as possible and play as many different kinds of characters. I enjoy the challenge.
“I enjoy looking at a script or a character and thinking, ‘I’ve never done anything like THIS before.’ so I like the idea of doing it and part of why I’ve enjoyed playing these … characters so much is because it’s such a challenge. It’s such a risk. So if I didn’t have the confidence — not necessarily knowing I’m going to be able to do it — but I relish the prospect of doing things that may NOT work.”