[14 June 2012]
When the case of Francesco Schettino made news a few months back, many simply shrugged their shoulders and changed the channel. Schettino is reported to have abandoned the Costa Concordia cruise ship while it sank off the Italian island of Giglio.
After all, Schettino is just another in a long line of those, including religious figures and politicians who were entrusted by normal citizens to protect them but ultimately failed. In 2012, questioning authority is much less a revolution-driven ideology a la the ‘60’s. Instead, it’s more an “Every man for himself” notion, in which people are becoming more and more likely to only look out for the person they see in the mirror every morning.
So if nobody is shocked when dependable become criminals, perhaps it’s a natural conclusion to trust the criminals. The Trailer Park Boys, three of Sunnyvale Trailer Park’s most notorious citizens could have the answers. Sure, they’re known for growing marijuana, arranging small time schemes including robbing liquor stores and siphoning gas. Yet, the Boys were raised in a small town and continue to echo small town values. They haven’t let their recent celebrity confuse their principles. If we’re all going to be selfish, perhaps we should follow the Boys, and have a good time while doing it?
They have transcended basic cable television and have turned into something of a worldwide cultural phenomenon; after seven years on the air and syndication worldwide, the Boys were part of two full-length feature films and have as of late toured the world as part of their “Drunk, High and Unemployed Tour” and recently their “Ricky, Julian and Bubbles Community Service Variety Show,” in which they perform as part of mandatory community service. As their original television series was shot in a mockumentary style, the Boys blur the lines between fact and fiction, doing their interviews in character. It’s scared off some. Yet it’s also comforting in a way: these are people who believe in the good of what they’re doing, against the odds. (Namely, their arch-nemesis, Sunnyvale Trailer Park supervisor Jim Lahey and his comically obese assistant/lover Randy.)
Though they speak in a harsh, Eastern Canadian dialect that is at once intimidating and authentic, the boys have become the kind of underdog heroes that many love to root for. Even if they propagate images and stereotypes of below-poverty line living that many crack jokes at below closed doors. The boys don’t need much; a few sizeable joints for Ricky, (Robb Wells) the family man who’s still struggling to gain a high school education, a few kitties for Bubbles, (Mike Smith) the frog-eyed philosopher of the bunch. And Julian, (John-Paul Tremblay) the de facto leader of the bunch, as it’s he who usually concocts the small-time schemes, is never seen without a rum and coke in hand.
As the boys are reached on the phone from Sunnyvale, it’s worth wondering if anyone in the park treats them differently now that they’ve amassed a certain level of fame.
“Some people do,” says Ricky. “Some people are dicks to us now, but for the most part, everyone’s still pretty good. They give Julian a hard time because they think he’s showing off now, trying to look good for the cameras and stuff.”
Ricky is often the one to call bullshit on others. His intolerance of anyone who tries to pull the wool over his eyes is remarkable, considering how many attempts are made.
Unfortunately, it’s Julian who usually grows tired of the Boys and the manner in which they constantly foil his plans. And after Ricky’s insinuation, Julian shows ire.
“People that think I’m showing off, they can fuck off. Because it’s called survival. When I’m pulling a scam it’s so I can make money to eat and drink, that’s it. I don’t know where this showing off stuff comes from.”
Rough around the edges, sure. But a no less legitimate approach to daily life. Never have the boys enjoyed immense riches and if they did, it’s hard to imagine them showing it. Instead, they’re focused on looking out for one another, as Bubbles, the eternal optimist proved. A recent tour to Australia had the boys griping about the length of the flight; yet it was Bubbles who relished in the opportunity. (Smith is a recent Canadian co-finalist in a contest to be sent into space. Legitimately.)
“Oh fantastic!” he says in his colourful drawl after being asked about the flight. “I was in the cockpit, up there for awhile. They had a little trouble over the Pacific, but I stepped in there, rerouted some things, flicked some switches and it was all good.”
“They were asking if anyone on board knew how to reallocate systems and what not, and of course I did know.”
It’s good to have a guy like Bubbles on your team. Ricky, however, kept things simple.
“It wasn’t easy,” he says of the flight. “I did have a couple smokes in the bathroom and I got drunk three different times. It was a weird one though, I don’t remember much.”
Ricky and the Boys are completely comfortable with breaking the law. And why shouldn’t they be? They’ve been doing it since they were children. Jail has become a second home to them, and for most of them, that suits them just fine. In an age when many try to hide who they really are for fear of being lambasted, the boys are able to own their personalities.
“I mentioned [the idea of doing a show in jail] to Julian and Bubbles,” says Ricky. “But Bubbles doesn’t seem to be into it. I love jail.”
And what does Bubbles miss when he’s in jail?
“Well, the partying and the banging. When you’re in jail, there’s not much of that.”
“But jail sucks though,” he continues. As he speaks, chuckles are heard from Ricky and Julian in the background. “There’s all this weird stuff going on. My cell had this little hole cut in it, and all it said was “Glory hole” above it. I kept trying to look through it, but something kept poking me in the eye.”
Surely, one of the others would step up and inform him of the truth?
“I don’t have the heart to tell him,” says Ricky. Apparently even the Trailer Park Boys know some things are better left unsaid.
Yet onstage, without any editing from the television crew, the Boys are free to let it all out. It’s a prospect that excites the criminally undervalued Ricky, who feels he never got his fair due on the television show.
“Oh totally,” he says after being asked if he doesn’t get enough credit. “Those camera dicks always just show the times when I’m not really being as smart as I could be. But I’m definitely the smartest one in the park. I think people can learn a lot from me.”
Yet even for the never bashful Ricky, getting onstage can be difficult at times.
“I don’t like getting in front of crowds, so I usually try to get extra drunk and high. But this tour’s going to be a little more difficult. It’s part of our community service and we’re supposed to be saying that drugs and liquor are bad for you.”
“We have to do (the Ricky, Julian and Bubbles Community Service Variety Show). All the time we spend time up onstage, it goes towards our community service time. We made a deal that if we did this tour, we’d be off the hook again.”
Yet responsibilities for the Boys only stretch so far.
“But we’re not on tour right now so I want everyone to know that drugs and liquor are awesome.”
Anyone who’s gotten close to the Boys can attest to this. The Trailer Park Boys have rubbed shoulders on camera with some of Canada’s elite, proving that they won’t be swayed by promises of Hollywood fame and fortune.
“Everyone we meet smokes dope, so we get along with all of them,” says Ricky. “There’s a couple dicks, but they’re all cool mostly.”
“The Hip took all my weed,” he says after being asked about being part of the music video for The Tragically Hip’s “The Darkest One,” also featuring legendary Canadian hockey commentator, Don Cherry.
“Not too happy about that. And Don Cherry, he took some of my weed. We actually got into a fight about that. He beat the piss out of me. I was pretty surprised about that. People definitely try and take my dope. They try and trade their shit for it. It’s nuts.”
The Boys seem to be able to admit when they’re in the wrong too. It’s a quality that many wish would exist in more of society’s trusted figures.
At their very core, The Trailer Park Boys stay true to a core value of beliefs which has kept them not only in business, but able to survive for over ten years. They’re the same people they’ve always been, and their number one rule, as far as how they live their lives, is a rule that certainly we can all endorse: no dicks allowed.
“It’s home for us,” says Ricky of Sunnyvale, after being asked what keeps bringing them back to the sight of so many of their follies. “It’s where we grew up. And everytime you leave, you just run into a bunch of dicks. Sunnyvale’s got a couple of dicks, but not as many as a subdivision or something like that.”
Joshua Kloke is a music writer and hopeless Toronto Maple Leafs fan who splits his time between Melbourne, Australia and Canada. He's contributed to The Vancouver Sun, Exclaim!, Beatroute, Beat Magazine, Time Out and veri.live.