Tallboyz tackles the cancellation of Trickster in its season premiere

The third season of the CBC sketch show opens with Vance Banzo going to extreme measures to bring back the lauded Indigenous drama

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      TALLBOYZ SEASON 3 premieres tonight (Tuesday, January 25) at 9:30 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

      TallBoyz returns for its third season on CBC tonight, and fans of the show will be happy to hear the troupe—composed of Toronto comics Guled Abdi, Tim Blair, Vance Banzo and Franco Nguyen—remains firmly in their sweet spot of cultural commentary and character comedy.

      The opening sketch, which was released on social media last week, finds Banzo summoning the Devil—played by guest star Paul Sun-Hyung Lee—and offering to sell him his soul if he’ll just bring back Trickster. (The Devil winces: “Ooh, that’s a complicated ask.”)

      Like a lot of TallBoyz bits, it’s funny because it’s unexpected, and it’s funny because it’s true: a lot of people were looking forward to Trickster’s second season, which was cancelled last January in the wake of the controversy around producer/director Michelle Latimer’s Indigenous identity. (Latimer had resigned from the show a month earlier, but after consulting with the remaining producers and novelist Eden Robinson, CBC chose not to continue with the production.)

      Getting it into the show proved one of the trickier moments of the season, as the guys discuss in this week’s episode of the NOW What podcast.

      “We had to have a conversation with CBC about that,” Banzo says. “They were honestly still, for lack of a better word, reeling about it. They really enjoyed having that content, to be able to put it out there and working with Michelle, I’m sure.

      “That’s something that I fought for, I wanted to plead my case on that. And I had to make it seem like I was more hurt than they were hurt—‘I’m the native one! You’re a corporation!’ ”

      He laughs. “I’m thankful that we were able to speak on that and be irreverent. I grew up watching The Simpsons, and they used to always call out [parent company] Fox; just wonderful stuff like that. So I’m glad we’re able to do that stuff, too.”

      “You know, CBC is this massive corporation, so in our minds we’re just making fun of the logo,” Nguyen adds. “But whether you were a grip or a gaffer or a person in an executive position [on Trickster], you also were working really hard and invested in the show. So there was heartbreak when the show was cancelled, even on their end.”

      So how do you joke about the cancellation of a show without making the show the joke? It’s the same as any other bit, Nguyen explains.

      “You always want to approach the subject matter in a way that’s really honest to you and honest to the room… and [with the Trickster joke], the execs were also in that room as well. So it was really interesting… like, how can we adjust the comedy where we’re still saying what we want to say? Do we adjust it in a more subversive way? Just to be in a position to go to have a talk with them about something, and then moving on from that, was really cool.”

      “It’s definitely one of the first times where I’ve had to actually listen to someone saying they were hurt by the show not working out,” Abdi says, “and being like, ‘Okay, cool, I’m sorry to hear that.’ I didn’t think about that side of it.”

      And having Lee be the face of the CBC in that moment—representing another beloved series cancelled too soon—adds another layer to the joke.

      “He’s a fan of the show, and I think his son is a big fan of the show too,” Nguyen says. “And I think it was a huge gift from [TallBoyz executive producer] Bruce [McCulloch] as well; his wife and Paul went to theatre school together.”

      Abdi slips into McCulloch’s gentle delivery: “‘Paul Sun-Hyung Lee loves the show, do you guys want to have him on the show? Is there something we can write for him?’ And we’re like [laughter] ‘Yeah, we’ll figure something out.’”

      Season 3 of TallBoyz premieres tonight at 9:30 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem. Listen to the entire conversation when the NOW What podcast drops Friday (January 28).