By David Bienenstock
“Listen buddy, I need you to do us a favor…”
That’s John Paul Tremblay, in the dark goatee, better known as Julian, the self-described brains behind the illicit operations of the Trailer Park Boys, who currently sit three-across at a nice table by the window, patiently waiting for the main course to arrive at a steakhouse in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island—the quaint seaside tourist destination where Canada’s founding charter was signed, and where Tremblay and his longtime partner in crime (and punishment) Rob Wells, better known as Ricky, first joined entrepreneurial forces to run a pizzeria, then a greasy bar called Goodfellas. At times it’s tough to tell the characters Ricky and Julian from the actors Rob and John Paul, especially as the later instructs the unnamed operative on the other end of his cell phone to do us the favor of somehow acquiring a glass blender at ten at night, neglecting to mention the reason behind the strange request. Basically, the boys want to whip up a quick batch of homemade “trailer hash” back at the hotel before heading out for a few drinks. Like I said, life sometimes imitates art. And vice versa.
The boys are back in Charlottetown to act as celebrity guest hosts of the annual East Coast Music Awards (ECMA), a four-day festival culminating in a live broadcast on Canadian public television. At their side sits Mike Smith, better known as Bubbles when outfitted with his iconic inch-thick glasses. Smith, a rock guitarist himself once nominated for an ECMA, proves easy to tell apart from the orphaned, eternally childlike trailer park philosopher he plays on TV. Equally likely to quote Plato, act in a porno, nurse a sick kitty back to health or use the word “cocksucker” to describe the aforementioned kitty, Bubbles is the heart and soul of Sunnyvale Trailer Park, a mythical world unto itself that has existed for five seasons and running on Canada’s Showcase television, where the boys cultivated an early cult hit status that’s now grown into the most popular Canadian show on television, a mainstream phenomenon that will soon jump the border and arrive in theaters everywhere when the Trailer Park Boys star in what promises to be the stoner movie of the year.
Before and during dinner, John Paul forgoes Julian’s ever-present rum and coke—never absent from his hand, including the scene where he emerges unscathed from a car the boys overturned trying to outrun the cops while pulling a trailer full of weed plants—in favor of a concoction called a Johnny Shit Rocket, composed of Kahlua, Vanilla Vodka, milk and a shot of Pepsi, an elixir meant to act as an alcoholic antacid after a stressful day of dress rehearsals just two nights prior to the big show. John Paul admits to enlisting a liquorman and occasionally a first-assistant liquorman while on set to ensure his alter-ego’s rum and cokes stay fresh during filming, while Julian offers advice on avoiding spills during a shootout. “Just keep your drink arm loose and move it with your body. It’s not that difficult.”
After dinner, in the lobby of the hotel, the boys sign autographs and pose for pictures with a throng of eager fans while the show’s director and head writer, Mike Clattenburg, discreetly asks the concierge to kindly put our newly acquired blender into a deep freeze immediately and keep it there for twenty minutes before bringing it up to the room. Ricky, now fully in character, explains that we’re planning to prepare a batch of a special drink called Johnny Shit Rockets, and even after all the crazy stunts these guys have pulled off on TV—including but not limited to growing weed, selling weed, buying weed from cops, stealing bar-b-ques, running a brothel, operating an illegal gas station, and bootlegging Russian liquor—still, nobody suspects a thing about making hash.
Freezing the blender and putting the weed on ice helps the THC crystals more efficiently separate from the plant matter when you zap it in the blender. Collect the resin stuck to the glass with your fingers and you can then press the trichomes into potent, import-style hash in minutes. The boys learned the technique from an old friend named Carlito, Robb and John Paul’s onetime roommate who first pointed a camcorder in their direction, capturing the sketch comedy scenes they started making up stoned on the couch after Clattenburg initially infected them with the acting bug.
“Robb, John Paul, and I have been friends for fucking years. After high school we all went our separate ways, but later we hooked up, caught up on old times, smoked some good dope and laughed our asses off.” Clattenburg recalls, already an up-and-coming director at the time. “The boys complained the pizza racket was driving them crazy, so I suggested they try acting just for fun. They sent me some tapes, which were crude to say the least, but I saw that they were pretty good at engaging each other. They were so willing to do bizarre, outrageous characters.”
Ricky and Julian made their official debut in a short film that won fans at the local Atlantic Film Festival in 1998, followed by a self-produced feature that lead to the Showcase series in 2001. Mike Smith joined the TV crew prior to that first season as a sound technician, working behind the scenes until one day, for fun, he resurrected “Darren,” a googly-eyed doppleganger he’d first created to entertain his bandmates out on the road. After an impromptu screen test, Darren became Bubbles, and Clattenburg wrote him into the show, complete with a new backstory and a job repairing shopping carts.
Still, despite their high level of commitment to spontaneity, never doubt how hard this troupe works to make it look easy, shooting twelve hours a day to finish an episode every four days, while burning the off hours by constantly writing, rewriting, rehearsing, shooting and reshooting on the kind of digital video equipment you could afford if only you sold your car, took out a loan or grew about four pounds of weed and got a good price for it. The show’s conceit involves a low-budget documentary crew capturing a slice of Julian’s life after he’s released from prison (the first time), with the hand-held look and feel of Cops seen from the other side of the story. Every season begins with the boys getting out of jail and ends with their inevitable return, but given the volume of crimes they commit in the interim, it’s amazing they ever manage to stay free for as long as they do. When it comes time to talk to the police, they rely on Ricky, who has honed his skills at dealing with law enforcement into an art form since he first started growing weed in Grade 7.
“You gotta always believe that you’re smarter than the cops,” The man in the improbable pompadour advises. “Be very confident.”
As the boys move on from their blender hash demonstration to a symposium on the ins and outs of rolling a six-paper joint, our HIGH TIMES video cameras rolling all the way, Clattenburg stands just outside the shot, hands buried deep in his pockets, occasionally tossing out lines like “What the fuck kind of joint is this?” He’s the guardian angel of Sunnyvale, who can tell you secrets like the fact that the giant outdoor ganja field in Season 4 was actually hemp grown for an experimental pig feed, Bubbles’ glasses were accidentally broken by Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson while filming the episode where Ricky kidnaps him, and the hash driveway in Season 5 was really made from lambshit, sheep manure, and canola oil after the original blend of licorice and molasses attracted hornets. Clatty makes sure that it’s always summer in Sunnyvale, that when someone gets shot it’s never worse than a flesh wound, that if you fall down drunk in the street and piss yourself nobody runs you over and most importantly that no one in the park is ever left all alone. Trailer Park Supervisor Jim Lahey has his shirtless assistant (and lover) Randy. Perennial sidekick Corey has his perennial sidekick, Trevor. White rapper J-Roc has his posse the Rock Pile. Bubbles has his kitties. And Julian and Ricky have each other—what the malapropism prone Ricky describes as a “plutonium kind of love.”
It’s this sense of community, of drawing a clear line between those inside Sunnyvale and the harsh world outside and then taking care of your own that elevates the show from a foul-mouthed lark to fully-realized, and often deeply moving, vision of a stoned state of being in which laws are meant to be broken, every day brings a fresh adventure, and the people you love are never further than a few trailers away. As the tag line for the new movie puts it, Trailer Park Boys is “baked on a true story.”
After our impromptu video shoot, the boys smoke the six-paper joint, followed by the blender hash, and then hit the town to check out an ECMA rock night showcase featuring a few of their favorite local bands—Wintersleep, Mat Mays and El Torpedo and The Novaks. The next time I see them it’s on stage at the Charlottetown Civic Center, opening the awards show with a bit about how hard it’s going to be to keep from swearing now that they’re live on CBC. Normally, their dialogue raises profanity to heights not seen since Shakespeare, on a series showcasing a running stream of shit metaphors that started with one brilliant line (“When the shitliner comes in to port, I’ll be there to tie her up.”) and admittedly got out of hand. In “If I can’t smoke and swear I’m fucked,” Ricky convinces the judge in his criminal case to let him smoke and swear in court as part of his right to a fair trial, eventually winning an acquittal.
“I love bluegrass,” He reveals in one of the night’s opening sketches. “I smoked some of that stuff once and hallucinated that I was hosting an awards show.”
Meanwhile, seated front row and center for the ECMAs—Stephen Harper, Canada’s freshly elected Conservative Prime Minister, who ran on a platform of getting “tough on drug crimes,” touting harsher sentences for growing and selling marijuana, including American-style mandatory minimums. Harper flew in direct from Ottawa for this photo-op with the Trailer Park Boys, hoping to prove that he’s a regular guy like you and I—except, of course that instead of buying some weed off Ricky and wishing him well, Harper would rather lock him up for a long time, never mind the effect on his daughter Trinity. Not to mention Julian and Bubbles.
“I know you,” Ricky stops in the middle of announcing the next set of nominees, calling out the cardboard-stiff Prime Minister from stage. “Helix concert. Parking lot. 1982.”
He goes on to compare the jobs of cannabis cultivator and Prime Minister, noting that they both have a lot of people depending on them. Bubbles diplomatically cuts off his friend before the monologue gets any more incriminating, leading the crowd instead in a rendition of the Beatles “Don’t Bring Me Down,” subversively changing the lyrics to “Don’t Let the Country Down.”
After the awards show wraps, there’s a big party back at the hotel’s ballroom, with a few of the winning bands performing into the early morning. Harper doesn’t make it, but the celebrity guest hosts drop by—late night, drunk and stoned.
“Let’s go boys,” John Paul instructs me and my photographer friend when he spots us among the crowd, leading us upstairs for a joint. Or is that maybe Julian?