Dépflies. Here’s the Canadian Oxford Dictionary definition. “Lost souls habitually given to hanging around dépanneurs (Quebec equivalent of convenience stores). See also ‘barflies.’”
Actually, the word hasn’t quite made it into the C.O.D. At least not yet. There’s every possibility, however, that Dépflies will soon be a household name across Canada. Even as I write, Alan Mercieca and the rest of his ragtag army of improv comics, poets and dreamers from Le Nouveau Theatre Ste Catherine, are sweating it in the finals of Comedy Coup, a new initiative put together by Just For Laughs, Toronto’s CineCoup and the CBC.
Having beaten off hundreds of other entries, Dépflies is down to the final five, so is guaranteed being optioned for production even if it doesn’t take the top spot. The one that’s chosen (by a combination of public and industry pros during this weekend’s Whistler Film Festival in BC) will get $5000,000 towards production, a guaranteed half-hour pilot on primetime television, and the chance to change the face of CBC comedy.
Lord knows CBC need a facelift right now. But the fact is that Comedy Coup began long before a certain news item hit our collective consciousness with a sickening thud. Le Nouveau, which Mercieca runs with Mark Louch, hosted the launch of the initiative one night in September.
By that time, Mercieca (who ironically wasn’t even aware of the event – see below) was already writing, directing and starring in Dépflies, a monthly stage sitcom and part of a series of anarchic Mercieca shows (one of which a local critic memorably described as being akin to “a beautiful train wreck”) which began in 2008 at the now-defunct Theatre 314.
I spoke to Mercieca a few days before the results were in (SPOILER ALERT: They’re at the bottom of the page).
How did you first get involved in the Comedy Coup?
I’d just got back from vacation and I got an email from Mark saying, “See you tonight at the theatre”. I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, bud. I’m just hanging out with my family tonight.” But I check the website and, sure enough, there’s this thing on called the Comedy Coup. I was in a really grumpy mood that I had to come to the theatre and get everything clean. Then I met the guy behind it all, Jason Joly, a super-nice guy who made some really great points. He said ‘We’re just trying to make something new and different to change the CBC comedy landscape. Do anything you want, we’re not giving you any technical parameters about what your content is. Whatever you think is funny, do it.’ And I decided I wanted in.
Do you think the rough-and-ready element of the show will survive the process?
It’s kind of a sink-or-swim for me. They’re either gonna accept that it’s bilingual and punk rock, or they won’t, in which case we’ll move to a different network or we’ll try a different medium. They mentioned that they wanted to return to that whole Kids in the Hall type of thing, which I think could be described as very punk. I think if they’re serious about wanting to change things, this is the perfect opportunity to get an edgier show onto the network.
Given the improv element of the show, is it possible a joke about CBC’s current troubles will slip in?
Somebody’s already made one. We were like, who’s gonna be the first one to do it? I don’t think they would tolerate anything like that on their actual airwaves though. But I understand that. It’d be the same for me. I’d find it a bit cheap.
Is Dépflies based on a real dep?
It’s sort of based on a collection of deps in St Henri, but one in particular that’s really close to my house. My character dresses exactly like the guy that works there. He’s kinda…not a douchebag, but a jock-ish kind of guy. He just sort of resonated with me. And his sister’s very miserable, always listening to this weird kind of music. But very nice, y’ know? She would keep it open a little later if you needed to get some extra beer. She’s always talking about how she worked 16-hour shifts, then had to go work another shift somewhere else. To me she was kind of the grinder, and he was like the laid-back delivery guy. So that became the heart of our story.
Do they know they’re currently being immortalised?
I’ve never told them. I worry that I’m sort of perverting the sanctity of their life. I think if it gets aired on CBC and they saw it, they’d know there’s some inspiration there. But I think the fact that we look so different, physically, I hope they might not.
What’s going to happen to Le Nouveau once you hit the big time?
Well, the theatre will always be the incubator for whatever projects we have coming up or whatever people want to put on there. It’ll always be a place where creative dreams are celebrated.
Stop Press: The winning show of the Comedy Coup, which will be screened in Fall 2015, is Humantown. However, Dépflies, along with the other three runners-up, will be optioned for possible production.
STOP STOP PRESS: Dépflies has now been chosen to go into development as a CBC show.
Jim Burke is a playwright and arts journalist originally from England, now resident in Montreal. Amongst his plays are Cornered and an adaptation of Moby Dick. He has written plays for BBC radio. In England, he was Theatre Editor for the arts and lifestyle magazine City Life. Jim currently teaches creative writing at Dawson College’s Centre For Training and Development.