By Nancy MacPhee
SUMMERSIDE - It's hard to believe that before last year, comedian Steve Smith, a.k.a. Red Green, had never done a live cross-country tour.
Smith had gone from teaching right to television, spending more than three decades entertaining Canadian audiences on the small screen, first on "Smith and Smith" with wife Morag and then as the man in plaid who believed duct tape could fix anything on "The Red Green Show."
Then in 2007 after 15 seasons and 300 episodes Smith retired Red Green, a role at the time he said he'd never reprise.
But loyal 'lodgers' and a need to expend his creative energy prompted the 65-year-old performer to dust off his flannel shirt and bring Red Green out of retirement for the Wit & Wisdom Tour, which is stopping in Summerside this month.
"It was a bizarre set of circumstances," Smith said in an interview from his Hamilton, Ont., home. "It's not like I'm a stand-up comic or was in a theatre group and went on television. I missed that step. This is brand new for me. It's unusual for a man my age to be doing something new that's not a medical procedure."
Although off the air for more than four years "The Red Green Show" has enjoyed a new life in syndication, capturing new audiences and maintaining a loyal fan base. Repeats air regularly on CBC, The Comedy Network and on PBS.
"Certainly the material is timeless. We weren't talking about political things of the day or anything... because we didn't know what was going on," Smith said of the show's continued popularity. "Our comedy is pretty mainstream. The show could have been on in the '50s.
"I'm meeting kids who are fans of the show that weren't even alive when we started doing it," Smith said. "They don't care that it is reruns. It's not a rerun for them."
It was PBS that helped convince Smith to bring Red Green to the stage.
"PBS has been running the show since '93. It's a good fundraiser for them," he said of the Wit and Wisdom Tour. "They thought if they put me on tour it might help them raise some money."
The tour started last year in the U.S. and sold out in most cities.
Why does the iconic Canadian character resonate with an American audience?
"'The Red Green Show' is kind of like the flu, not everybody gets it," Smith said with a chuckle. "The ones that do get it, really appreciate it. They... probably have a different sense of humour. This particular mix of some physical humour along with some pretty subtle stuff is unusual."
Fans come out dressed in their best plaid, often with duct-tape tips in hand.
"Every performance looks like a lodge meeting," quipped Smith.
Smith never imagined that the character, created for he and his wife's sketch comedy show mocking Red Fisher, the father of Canadian fishing shows, would resonate with so many.
"When she retired I just didn't know what to do. I always enjoyed being Red Green so I thought let's see if we can get a series for six months until we find out what we want to do," admitted Smith. "The fact that I've been able to have fun and it caught on is just a miracle."
He hopes the success of the American leg of the tour carries into Canada.
"The one-man show is very unlike the Red Green Show except that the attitude, the point-of-view is the same. I tell stories about the lodge and the show. I give handyman tips and talk about how to get along with your wife and how to avoid her when you're not, how to raise your kids and how to apologize when you blow that," added Smith.
"For 90 minutes you can take a time out. People like to laugh. It's therapeutic."
The Wit & Wisdom Tour stops in Summerside on Oct. 12 at Harbourfront Theatre. Tickets are available at the theatre's box office or online at www.harbourfronttheatre.com.