Frantically devoted
By Sean Davidson

It looks like any other office meeting. Four middle-aged guys, dressed business-casual, are sitting at a long desk in an off-white room, sifting through files and pecking at laptops. They look like sales reps or CPAs labouring over god knows what kind of dull and endless spreadsheets when, in fact, what they're working on is a comeback and their name is The Frantics.

It's been 15 years since the comedy troupe — best known through the '80s for their CBC radio and TV shows, and for their 1987 album, Boot to the Head — suddenly broke up, ending their shared career shortly after one of their most successful shows. Rick Green, the silver-haired one with a knack for playing awkward nerds, went on to host Prisoners of Gravity, a show about sci-fi and comic books for TVO, as well as History Bites. Peter Wildman stayed on radio while Dan Redican went to the US to produce for MTV, although he recently returned to do Puppets Who Kill for The Comedy Network. Paul Chato got a straight job.

Late last year, the troupe quietly reformed and, since spring, the guys who gave us "Bill from Bala" and "A Piece of Pie" have been trying out new material in monthly shows at the Tim Sims Playhouse in preparation for a tour this fall.

"We're going to put a few thousand volts through the corpse," says Redican.

Green is sitting across from him, sorting through a thick stack of file folders — one for each of their skits. "Every show will begin with a 'Clear!'" he shouts and laughs, miming a pair of defibrillator paddles. "You thought Dave Broadfoot was old? Check out these guys; together we add up to Luba Goy."

The Frantics rehearse in the east-end offices of an internet company owned by Chato. He sits at the head of the table, tuning a guitar, and says they got back together to see if age, and the wisdom it supposedly brings, translated into new or better material.

"When we started out we were just a bunch of dumb amateurs," says Redican. "We didn't know what we were doing, we didn't know anything about sketch comedy. We just wrote stuff that made us laugh. We did it for fun. And then we started making money. We still had fun, but it was a business. Now we're back to the fun."

The experiences of the past 15 years show up in the material — there's more about offices and family life. One of their newest and most successful bits is about a father, on a cellphone from a crowded GO train, coaching his daughter through the experience of her first period, to the squirming horror of everyone around him. )All of the Frantics now have daughters.)

"We were never able to write with that kind of acuity when we were 25," says Chato.

Other material has been shelved. Tastes have changed since the late Mulroney era and some of the old stuff — a bit about the phallic properties of the CN Tower, for one — just wasn't funny anymore. Absurd comedy still works, one of them offers, but the once-edgy "eyebrow raisers" don't.

"That's OK," says Wildman. "It doesn't have to be controversial. If it's funny, that's good enough."

Ironically, it sounds as if The Frantics have calmed down, on the inside at least.

They speak at length about the craft of comedy and say they work better as a team now than in their greener days. They don't talk much about why they broke up — Green blames it on the cancellation of their TV series, Four on the Floor — but it's clear from how they step around the subject that towards the end, The Frantics had also been getting on each others' nerves.

There's more goodwill now, says Chato. "I feel it now. I mean, there's always competition, you need ego to survive this business, and I guess some of it came to light after working together for 10 years."

"We were fried," says Green.

eye Weekly
June 29, 2004