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‘Funniest at the table’: comedy peers remember SCTV’s Joe Flaherty

Noted comedian dead after a short illness at 82
Former cast members of SCTV are reunited at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival on Saturday, March 6, 1999 in Aspen, Colo. From left front row are: Dave Thomas; Catherine O’Hara; Andrea Martin; Eugene Levy; and Martin Short. In the back row are Joe Flaherty, left, and Harold Ramis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/E Pablo Kosmicki

Joe Flaherty earned guffaws among fans of “SCTV” and “Freaks and Geeks,” but the comedian was also a “mentor” and the “funniest” among his pals, famous friends said Tuesday as word spread of Flaherty’s death.

Martin Short, Andrea Martin and Dave Thomas were among the “SCTV” alumni to pay tribute to the American-born actor and writer for helping shape Canada’s comedy scene – from the nascent days of a Toronto-based Second City stage to teaching students in the comedy program at Humber College.

“At a dinner or an occasion, Joe was the funniest at the table — and the brightest as well,” said Short, who first met Flaherty in 1972.

Flaherty, who was born in Pittsburgh, spent seven years at The Second City in Chicago before moving north of the border to help establish the company’s Toronto outpost.

He went on to become a founding cast member of “SCTV,” a sketch series about a fictional TV station that was stacked with buffoons in front of and behind the cameras. He was part of a team that won Emmys in 1982 and 1983 for writing on the show.

Flaherty’s most famous characters included network boss Guy Caballero and the vampiric TV host Count Floyd.

Short described Flaherty as a sort of leader, helping newer cast members — including Short — get their bearings on set.

“I’d be in the edit bay, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d say, ‘Joe, get in here!’ and he’d come in and go, ‘That’s the take!’ and ‘Oh, look at that!’” Short recalled.

“And he’d be laughing. You know, some people in comedy don’t really laugh at other people. They’re too competitive. Joe was never that way.”

Short said he and the rest of the SCTV cast had several video calls with Flaherty over the last month, when it became clear his health was declining.

Flaherty died Monday at age 82 after a brief illness, his daughter Gudrun Flaherty said. She called him “a kind, sweet soul who blessed all who knew him and those who loved his work.”

Andrea Martin, who was also on the calls, said they reminisced about their time on “SCTV” and how lucky they felt to have been a part of it.

“Joe was really the motor of the show, so we were all too happy to talk about it,” she said.

“He also had been in Second City longer than anybody. He was older than all of us, so he was our teacher. He was our mentor. He was our fellow cast member in acting as well as writing. So we looked up to him.”

Flaherty also helped pioneer a particular style of comedy, said fellow cast member Dave Thomas.

He recalled one early sketch that was all at once a parody of the TV show “Fantasy Island,” and the films “Casablanca,” “Road to Morocco” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Weaving all of those elements together in one sketch, it was a long sketch and it was very ambitious, but it was the beginning of a style of writing on TV that Joe and I pioneered together in the second season (of ‘SCTV’),” Thomas said.

Even after The Second City was set up in Toronto in 1973 and “SCTV” aired its final episode in 1984, Flaherty continued to have an impact in Canada, helping to found Humber’s comedy writing and performance program back when it was still just a summer workshop.

He served as its artistic director, and later as an artist-in-residence.

“People were auditioning for the program and he was so compassionate and open and that really blew me away,” said Andrew Clark, who heads the college program.

“I knew he was funny, so I expected all of that. But it was so interesting to see…he treated these auditioning students as if it were ‘SCTV.’”

Flaherty was introduced to later generations through memorable turns as a jeering heckler in the 1996 film “Happy Gilmore” and as an old-fashioned dad in the TV comedy “Freaks and Geeks,” which ran from 1999 to 2000.

Adam Sandler, who co-wrote “Happy Gilmore,” said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that he “worshipped Joe growing up” for the characters he played on “SCTV.”

“The nicest guy you could know. Genius of a comedian. And a true sweetheart. Perfect combo,” Sandler wrote.

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