CJAD: Right now we are going to talk to a comedy troupe. You may have seen them on the CBC. If you have one of those satellite dishes with an illegal chip, you might see them on Comedy Central. And through the wonders of technology, we have the members of the Vacant Lot. The comedy troupe just had a run on the CBC and right now they are in our Toronto studios at our sister station CFRB 1010 Toronto. How are you doing guys?
VACANT: (Myriad of hello from four voices).
CJAD: Introduce yourselves please.
VACANT: I'm Paul Greenberg....I'm Nick McKinney....I'm Rob Gfroerer....and I'm Vito Viscomi.
CJAD: And the four of your make up The Vacant Lot and can be seen on the CBC.....actually not seen right now because you had six episodes of your show on the air on the CBC.
VACANT: That's correct.
CJAD: And you are now currently writing more?
VACANT: 13 more. We're on hiatus.
CJAD: When will we get a chance to see the next set of shows?
VACANT: Well, if you live in the United States, which you don't, probably sometime around April, May, and there'll be back on again on the CBC next September.
CJAD: What about the six that recently ran. Will they be rerun on the CBC?
VACANT: In January, I believe, they're being rerun. I might be wrong.
CJAD: For those who haven't seen your comedy on the air, describe what you do, if you could please
VACANT: Slightly bent. Occasionally surreal. Playfully evil....playfully evil is a good description. Musical and dark. How's that?
CJAD: That's broad enough?
VACANT: Boy do we give good interview or what! (laughter)
CJAD: Whenever people describe comedy, they always try to pinpoint or pigeon-hole people based on what has gone by in the past. The most current example would be The Kids In The Hall....
VACANT: Kids In The Hall.....jinx!
CJAD: And one of you actually is from the same genetic tree.
VACANT: That would be Rob Gfroerer.....yeah he's Mark's dad!....(laughter)....we're very proud of Mark and we wish him all the best. (laughter)
CJAD: Nick, your brother is in Kids In The Hall, right?
VACANT: HE IS!!!!! Holy smokes, wow! Go figure, two guys in one family...geez.
CJAD: Mom must be proud.
VACANT: Yes, she is. I think they both are. They're wondering what my mother was drinking, I think, when she was pregnant with the two of us, but beyond that, yes, very proud, for lack of anything better to be.
CJAD: Do you mind the comparisons?
VACANT: No, it's weird, because I think the comparisons between Mark and myself are much like the comparisons between us and the Kids. I mean, it's flattering. I think Mark's talented. We all think the Kids are very talented. We'd like to maybe some day be the troupe that other up-and-coming troupes are compared to.
CJAD: Would you say the comparison is accurate? Would you say that what you do is very similar or kind of similar to either The Kids In The Hall, or for that matter Saturday Night Live?
VACANT: No, it's really nothing like it. I think once the show...once people have seen enough shows and gotten used to the kind of stuff we do they're going to see there's really no comparison. We're pretty well completely apolitical. We don't do drag. We don't really do topic stuff so much. It's more sort of social weird Warner Brothers kind of humour.......I think the one thing we all have in common is that we are all doing sketch comedy and that's basically it. The different styles are evident.
CJAD: Now that you are on in the United States on Comedy Central, do you have to think about the different audiences in Canada and the United States or do you just do your comedy and it goes on the air in Canada and it goes on the air in the States and you don't worry about it?
VACANT: Well, our comedy is pretty generic in itself. I mean we do whatever it takes to get a laugh and it's kind of borderless......Yeah, it's more universal....I mean a Canadian slipping on a banana peel and an American slipping on a banana peel are both funny. There's nothing really specific about our comedy geographically speaking......Plus it's such a common pool culturally speaking now, that really we're all making fun of the same things. The only advantage is, Canadians aren't ultimately responsible for a lot of the stuff that we see in movie theatres and on TV, so it's a little easier for us to make fun of it.
CJAD: But there are a lot of Canadians involved in the American media, primarily in comedy. Why do you think that is?
VACANT: There's no jobs up here, (laughter). I think there is a grain of truth in that. Canada is a really limited market compared to the United States, unfortunately. The audience is huge down there. You should see them, (laughter), they're all 300 pounds......Big genes....it's all that pork and potatoes and stuff.
CJAD: Based on that theory do you think once you guys become major stars......
VACANT: We're going to invest in pork and potatoes
CJAD: ...that we'll lose you below the 49th parallel?
VACANT: I don't know. Toronto is home and Canada is home for us. We like the distance that it gives us from the American culture. Yes, actually, we're going to move to the States as quickly as possible, (laughter).....We're all from Toronto, we're all Canadian. I think we like it up here......We've got the best of both worlds happening right now. I mean, we get to stay home and make our show and everybody.....get paid in American dollars, (laughter).....yeah, and everybody......do you know American money is gold bars? They call it bullion.....we get to make the show here and it gets aired in the States. It's a very comfortable situation.
CJAD: So you're going to stick it out like Wayne and Shuster. Oh, there's a comparison you want, right?
VACANT: Actually yes. (laughter). We actually met Frank Shuster. A really sweet guy.....so we feel awful saying anything bad about him.
CJAD: Where does the name Vacant Lot or The Vacant Lot come from?
VACANT: I stole it from a guy. I hope he's not listening. We were looking. The troupe formed and we didn't have a name and I had some stupid job and I was working with some guy who didn't have a band but had a good name for a band and I said well I have troupe with no name and you have a name with no troupe, can I have it. And the phone rang, or something and I just took it.
CJAD: How did you four guys meet?
VACANT: Three of us went to Ryerson here in Toronto and we realized we had the same sick sense of humour and then we sort of meet Nick at a party and he was in the corner drunk. We woke him up and he was funny, and we just sort of took it from there.
CJAD: In writing the material you all collaborate, I assume in the material together?
CJAD: Is there a sort of lead writer? How does the process work?
VACANT: Well there's all sorts of different combinations and permutations. I mean sometimes one person will write a scene, but basically by the time it gets to air it's been through all of us a couple of times.
CJAD: And the music involved. You also do parodies.
VACANT: Yup, that's all of us as well.
CJAD: Obviously you have musical backgrounds.
VACANT: No obviously you haven't heard the music (laughter)....We have non-musical backgrounds....collectively we're kind of average musicians.
CJAD: Where does your inspiration come from for the parodies that you do? What do you see when you watch television or movies or listen to music that the rest of us don't because obviously you take that and twist it.
VACANT: I think we look at trends that are happening and things like that and whenever something is too big it's very easy to make fun of. Then again there are also subtle things in our parodies. We're writing something right now which is a Pet Shop Boys take off. I think people are sort of sick and tired of the Pet Shop Boys and it's time that they got their comeuppance....Also on that we also have Ace Of Base and Aha. We just think they're very wrong, those bands and we thought we'd do a parody of that. So we did kind of a Swedish style band and that was called Knee Slap, and that's in one of the shows.
CJAD: Have you ever heard from anyone you have parodied in the past?
VACANT: Well indirectly we heard from Jesus, (laughter). We've been getting a lot of letters from Jesus' friends actually.....that's true....I think they call themselves friends of Jesus.....Solar Temple....no it wasn't the Solar Temple.....oh that's good, it's Montreal. It's kind of close.
CJAD: Careful, careful.
VACANT: Are you asking like specific artists...
CJAD: Yeah, artists or people who are fans of these artists.
VACANT: Well, we never got a chance. We used to do a Paul Simon. We don't really do anybody specifically. That's the problem. We do general parodies.....yeah we kind of boil down styles. One half of it is parodying the style and the other is we try to build up sort of believable characters in these bands who are just as funny as the parody itself.....We did a Paul Simon one. .....that's the only really specific one......That's not in one of the shows. That was on stage. That's as close as we ever got....And we saw Paul Simon once....and he told us to stop doing it. (laughter).
CJAD: You guys have been on television a little while and you're getting a lot of good press. It sounds like you're an overnight sensation, but you weren't doing this just before the CBC show. You been together for awhile, haven't you?
VACANT: Six days, (laughter).....seven years actually.
CJAD: Seven years!
VACANT: And I'm getting real itchy, (laughter)
CJAD: Does it change, doing the television show then what you were doing because I guess before you where doing stage, live shows. How does that differ either in the performing process or the writing process in what you're doing for television as opposed to doing it in front of a live audience on stage.
VACANT: Well I guess the biggest difference is just the scope of the whole thing. I mean, when we did the show at the Rivoli, we'd show up with paper boxes and make hats and sail boats and stuff out of them to use as props and now you can write a scene where you say an elephant steps on Nipsey Russell. And they'll get Nipsey Russell and they'll get an elephant and they'll teach it to step on him.....We still have to make the hats.
CJAD: Do you enjoy performing on stage more than doing....because with the television show you don't have an audience, correct?
VACANT: No, actually, it's not in front of an audience. It's just shot in studio and then we show the final sketches in front of an audience and record their reactions.....They each have their pluses and their minuses. We like doing stage work a lot because you get the immediate reaction of the audience and we like doing the television work because we have complete, kind of, control over what the audience is going to see. And so they're both very nice, thank you.
CJAD: As far as the television show is concerned, what about the censors? Any problems there?
VACANT: Nothing really major......They let us do the Jesus thing....yeah that wasn't any problem....Just language, which is fine. It's something we can live with. In terms of concepts, no. We've been very fortunate. We haven't had any problems with that.
CJAD: And what about over in the United States. Do they differ? Do you have any different problems with censors in the United States as opposed to Canada, or is it exactly the same?
VACANT: Well there was one sketch actually, that didn't run in the States on MTV, which is lovely father and son sketch about the son killing his father.....On demand though.....exactly, the father asks to be killed.....But the CBC ran it and we didn't get any mail. We did get a lot of mail about our Jesus sketch surprisingly.....we got letters about me and Rob dancing together.....yeah because of it's reenactment of anal sex, which just shows where people's minds will go if you give them long enough.....obviously they got the unrated version....the director's cut (laughter).
CJAD: So you're not concerned with the censors on the next thirteen based on maybe the CBC was saying, "well gee, we're not worried about what these guys are doing, but now that we've received mail we'll think twice."
VACANT: I think when they receive mail it means people are watching and reacting to it. No matter what you do I think you're going to receive a certain amount of mail on things. I think people look for things to be angry about sometimes and if it's not going to be that it's going to be something else. So I don't think we can avoid it.
CJAD: Any plans to have more writers on the show, because I would assume with the four of you doing the bulk of the writing, it's one thing doing the stage show but you've got to churn this stuff out now and then it's gone, right?
VACANT: Yeah we've hired a writer and we're looking at hiring other writers, not that that's an open audition for writers. We already have other people in mind, but Gary Campbell, who used to write for the Kids In The Hall is now writing for us and his style meshes really nicely with ours.
CJAD: Is that difficult, bringing somebody else into the group? Even though they're not a performer, they're just a writer, to mesh with what you guys have already done for so many years?
VACANT: I think it depends on the person.....We knew Gary before. We knew what his style was like and personality is also a big thing too, because we all spend the day together looking at each other.....locked in a room.
CJAD: When you guys met did you think this would be something you guys would be doing now in 1994 with your own television show on both sides of the Canadian-American border? What were you guys doing in school, for instance? Where were your careers or lives headed before The Vacant Lot became The Vacant Lot?
VACANT: I guess stalking was a big thing, (laughter). I was stalking Rob too, so that's how we met....That's actually how we all met. We were all stalking each other. It just turned out to be kind of weird happenstance.....Personally, I was always a fan of sketch comedy. I always wanted to get into it. I never thought it would happen, but it was always sort of a dream. And luckily I met the right people and then we broke up and I met these guys (laughter)......I found more and more things I couldn't do. That's what happened to me. And then I met these guys and we ended up doing this.....More than likely it was out of necessity that we're together, I think.
CJAD: What about other jobs that you've had. Have you guys done anything else besides this?
VACANT: Oh yeah, I used to do taxidermy?
CJAD: Excuse me!
VACANT: Taxidermy. Mounting animals.
CJAD: Didn't Norman Bates do that?
VACANT: Yes......you mean stuffing animals.....yes, stuffing animals, not mounting animals. I don't want to give the wrong impression. Yes actually Norman and I were good friends. That was fun for awhile. I used to do it out of my basement. Rob, what have you done?.......I used to be a busboy in a revolving restaurant. I got lost a lot.
CJAD: Boy, a lot of Dramamine.
VACANT: That true, and Nick what did you do.....I was a waiter, I worked as a researcher....I think you were a waiter too, weren't you Nick.....then I was a waiter again, then I was a researcher for awhile, then I was a waiter again.....and Paul?......Let's say I dressed as a pig and played basketball and I carried a big.......
CJAD: WHOA! WHOA, back up, back up! Paul, dressed as a pig and played basketball!?!
VACANT: Yeah, it was for this rich guy, I don't know (laughter) I'd really rather not talk about it.
CJAD: Oh I really rather would.
VACANT: I got to keep the costume. I also dressed up as a little kid and spent all day looking through a fence......yeah, I think you dressed as a reporter and you dressed as a baseball player.
CJAD: Oh, no, no, no this needs explanation here Paul.
VACANT: Oh, you're back on the pig thing.
CJAD: Of course, of course!
VACANT: It was a commercial. I would do anything for money and I got a call saying they need someone under three foot one to fit the costume and it turned out that it was me and three other midgets. (laughter). You couldn't see through the costume and it was for some chocolate bar commercial. And we were supposed to be pigs playing basketball. The director just kept hitting me in the nose. My little snout with the basketball......And what was your joke about it was very hot in the suit, so you were dressed as a pig and what was your joke?......I said I'm bacon in here! (laughter)
CJAD: Where do you see you guys going in the future, would you like to perhaps do movies or.....
VACANT: Sure, okay, you got one? (laughter)......I think eventually. Right now our hands are full with the sketch show. We want to go as far with it as we can, until we decide, hopefully that's it enough. But right now we still have a lot of ideas that we want to get across on television. But after that......we still want to work together, I think well into the future, no matter what happens just because it's fun......I'll need somebody to work with me in taxidermy so......I mean, I'll hold the animals down, (laughter)
CJAD: Is there ever a time when you guys are working together where you're just really sick of each other?
VACANT: Occasionally......yeah, every once in awhile, but nothing major. I think it's like any marriage. It needs tolerance and love and alcohol, (laughter).
CJAD: Well guys, continued success and thank you for talking with us.
VACANT: Thank you for talking with us.
CJAD: Now let's see if I get the names right.
CJAD: Paul Greenberg.
CJAD: Vito Viscomi
VACANT: Yeah........and I dare you!
CJAD: and Rob Gfroerer.
VACANT: WHOA, you've been coached.
CJAD: These guys are The Vacant Lot. If you missed them on the CBC, they'll be back on in September, correct?
CJAD: And for those who have illegal satellite dishes, you can see them on Comedy Central. When is it on Comedy Central for those who have illegal dishes out there
VACANT: Friday nights, 9:30.
CJAD: Not that we would want people to have illegal dishes out there, but just in case. We have some American friends who are just on the other side of the border who listen to us, so we'll let them know.
VACANT: Thank you guys for being with us.
CJAD: Thank you Peter.