‘Like comfort food’: Trailer Park Boys cast reflects on 20 years of life in Sunnyvale

Nova Scotia

Twenty years after the Trailer Park Boys debuted, the show about a foul-mouthed bunch of petty criminals from the Sunnyvale Trailer Park has become a part of Canadiana. CBC News spoke with some of the cast members to learn about the origins of the unlikely hit.

The Trailer Park Boys have been a staple of Canadian culture for the past 20 years. From left are characters Ricky (Robb Wells), Bubbles (Mike Smith) and Julian (John Paul Tremblay).(Trailer Park Boys)

It's been 20 years since the loveable lugs known as the first hit Canadian television.

Set in Nova Scotia's fictional Sunnyvale Trailer Park, the mockumentary focused on the lives of petty criminals Julian, Ricky and Bubbles, their bizarre exploits — which included lots of dope growing and even kidnapping Rita MacNeil on one occasion to help harvest the crop — as well as frequent drug and alcohol consumption.

"It was really like with guns and drugs and liquor," said actor Mike Smith, who plays Bubbles.

In honour of the show's anniversary, CBC News spoke to some of the cast members about why the show continues to connect with people worldwide, and its unlikely origins.

Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Mike Smith (Bubbles): I was playing in a band called Sandbox. We were signed to EMI and we toured Canada and the U.S., and that's basically what I did for a living.

Robb Wells (Ricky): Right before the show, I was actually working for a company called Maxx and I had Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island as my territories. I was in sales selling bathtubs and whirlpools and showers."

John Paul Tremblay (Julian): I was in Prince Edward Island, I had started up a pizza business with Robb Wells and a year into it, Pat Roach (Randy) came on board as a partner. We were sending stuff back to [ creator] Mike Clattenburg.

This undated photos shows a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of a Trailer Park Boys episode.(Submitted by Sarah Dunsworth-Nickerson)

Wells: [The videos] were all over the place. There was one sketch we did about a guy that was selling cats door to door.

Tremblay: Quick Talk was another one that we did where we go to door to door to try to, you know, sign up people that want to take a course on talking faster. It was just a lot of , , Tom Green stuff.

Lucy Decoutere (Lucy), left, and Sarah Dunsworth-Nickerson (Sarah) on set in 2002.(Submitted by Sarah Dunsworth-Nickerson)

Dunsworth-Nickerson (Sarah): It was Robb Wells and J.P. Tremblay just being silly, just making up characters and just sending them to their friend just for their own entertainment. And Mike said to me, "I'm going to teach them how to act and I'm going to make a show."

Tremblay: He was watching this crazy stuff we were doing and he said, "Let's get together and do a short film."

Smith: It was just a character I had sort of always done just goofing around, you know, when I played hockey and stuff. I'd be doing that character in the dressing room just to make guys laugh. He never had a name at that point. The glasses came from a yard sale in Texas that a girlfriend at the time bought. Mike Clattenburg saw it and thought it was a funny character, and I think he named him Bubbles.

The character of Bubbles, centre, stemmed from an impression actor Mike Smith had done forever to entertain hockey teammates in the locker room.(Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Tremblay: And then when Showcase was interested in picking it up as a series, we had to basically shoot a small short film showing the character Bubbles because on paper they were uncertain of this character.

Wells: They thought that we were making fun of somebody.

Wells: They were looking for new original Canadian content because they just started up their network and they thought we were a good fit.

Director Mike Clattenburg, left, and actor Jonathan Torrens (as J-Roc) arrive for the Canadian premiere of Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day in Toronto on Monday, Sept. 21, 2009.(Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Tremblay: And they actually needed some East Coast content, so we were the perfect fit.

Wells: And it was cheap, very cheap.

Dunsworth-NickersonThe smoking and all the swearing, the guns and just the ridiculous stuff that happens, I never saw anything like that on TV. And when we were making that stuff, it was like, "Are we actually going to do this? Like, we're actually going to do this and get away with it and it'll be on television?" It felt like something special and weird in a good way.

Mike Volpe, left, Barrie Dunn, centre, and Mike Clattenburg speak onstage during the Afghan Luke premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. While Clattenburg created Trailer Park Boys, Volpe and Dunn served as co-producers in the show's early run, although Dunn also played Ray on the show, Ricky's father.(Jag Gundu/Getty Images)

Dunsworth-Nickerson: We were a tiny crew, and so for the first few seasons, Mike Smith did sound and [played] Bubbles. He did sound with the sound gear strapped to him and holding a boom, a one-man sound team. Mike Jackson, who played Trevor, was our grip. There's a bunch of people who were on the crew that ended up sort of in the background of the show.

Dunsworth-Nickerson: I know people have accused the show of making fun of people in a certain circumstance. For me, it was never about that, it was always just sort of cherishing and kind of honouring these characters. I think the Randy-Lahey relationship was huge.

John Dunsworth (Mr. Lahey), left, and Pat Roach (Randy) on the set of Trailer Park Boys in an undated photo.(Submitted by Sarah Dunsworth-Nickerson)

Dunsworth-Nickerson: I think they were one of the first characters that were ever not a stereotypical gay couple. They were not a stereotypical anything. Nobody in the park cared about them being gay and it wasn't even really part of the storyline, it was just a fact.

Smith: I thought it was one of the greatest love stories in Canadian [television].

Wells: We went on tour with Our Lady Peace and Seether and Finger 11 back in 2003 and the first show was in Kelowna, [B.C.]. We were nervous as hell going on stage. And we were like, "OK, if 10 per cent of the people in here know who we are, this would be OK." And as soon as we went on stage, the entire place just erupted. It went nuts. And I was like, "OK, I guess pretty much everybody here knows who we are." So then I started to realize that we're reaching a broader audience than just, you know, Nova Scotia.

Mike Smith throws out the ceremonial opening pitch at a Toronto Blue Jays game on April 8, 2005, as Tremblay and Wells look on.(Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Tremblay: We'd be at the Toronto airport and we'd have, like, seven nuns, the youngest being 72, coming up, wanting our autographs and to take a picture with us. At that point, we're like, "Wow, this is reaching a lot more than just people our age and younger people."

Smith: Nobody recognized me back then because I didn't look like Bubbles at all. I could pretty much operate [incognito]. I would only get recognized if I was standing with [them].

Dunsworth-Nickerson: Nobody came, and it wasn't that it wasn't publicized. It was kind of embarrassing. We felt like losers. And then the next year, we showed up and there was a lineup around the block.

Actors Shelley Thompson (Barb), Sarah Dunsworth-Nickerson (Sarah), Cory Bowles (Cory), Lucy Decoutere (Lucy) and Tyrone Parsons (Tyrone) pose at the premiere of Trailer Park Boys: The Movie on Jan. 23, 2008, in West Hollywood, Calif.(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Dunsworth-Nickerson: It was nice to see my dad get famous because he was always Halifax famous, but he was such a gregarious, open person who loved to talk to people, so that was kind of cool watching.

Smith: I think people will always come back to shows that are based around family, love, that kind of stuff. I think shows like that will always resonate with people and they just become so familiar with the characters, they almost think of them like family. I guess we're like comfort food or something.

Some of the Trailer Park Boys cast dropped in on Pittsburgh Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby in 2018 for a very Nova Scotian photo.(@MSmithBubbles/Twitter)

Wells: We got to see a lot of wonderful places. Some of the greatest memories for me are meeting a veteran that said we were the only thing that helped get them through over in Iraq, different stories like that. And that's what really makes it worthwhile for me.

Tremblay: This show has done a lot for people with mental health issues and we've talked to so many soldiers and people that have mental health problems. A lot of these people have reached out to us and told us so many different stories over the years that that's been one thing that's motivated us to continue.

Tremblay: The lowest for us have been the death of some of our cast, especially John Dunsworth and Phil Collins [played by Richard Collins]. And Shitty Bill [played by Brian Huggins], that was a tough blow and it was hard to pick up the pieces.

Wells: It's been challenging getting through some of the lows, for sure. But we've all stuck together and we've got through it.

Tremblay: We just hope that people will continue watching the show and we hope we don't disappoint them.

Wells: Right now, everybody needs laughter, and it's definitely the best medicine. As long as they keep enjoying it, we'll keep trying to put out content.

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