After 15 seasons of playing one of TV’s handiest men, comedian Steve Smith retired his alter ego Red Green in 2006. He then moved to Florida because that’s what old guys are supposed to do, he says.
However, it didn’t take long for him to realize that his days in plaid were far from over.
I forgot that if you’re a creative person, that creative energy doesn’t dissipate, Smith, 68, says in a phone interview from Florida. You can get tired of television, you can get tired of the workload and all that stuff, but if you’re creative, you’re thinking of things and it needs an outlet.
What you start doing is entertaining your friends, and they find that incredibly annoying, so then you realize that you better get back to the world and spread the load over a lot of people. Each person only has to enjoy you a little bit to make up for the critical mass.
Smith’s initial retirement has transformed into a one-man show that takes Red Green, a homespun handyman and Possum Lodge president, from his small Ontario town, Possum Lake, into the theater.
The How To Do Everything tour will make a stop at Embassy Theatre on Monday, initiating audiences as Red’s Lodge members before he doles out his insight on men, women, handyman projects and how duct tape keeps it all together.
I’ve been touring these live shows for four years now, and it’s absolutely the greatest performance experience of my life. It’s just so fun because you’re connecting with people, Smith says. On TV, you just don’t know. We had a live studio audience, but they’re kind of intimidated and certainly encouraged to overreact and everything, whereas in the theater, there’s no cameras between me and the audience.
Born in Toronto, Smith held down a number of jobs before he took on entertainment full time. His first big break was Smith & Smith, a comedy duo he formed with his wife, Morag. By the 1980s, the couple produced and starred in their own comedy sketch show on Canadian television, where Smith first created his character of Red Green.
All of Red Green is in Steve Smith, but there are parts of Steve Smith that are not in Red Green, he says. I think Steve Smith is a little more sensitive than Red. Steve has children and grandchildren; Red doesn’t have either of those, but Red is a lot more fun. If I had to ask either one to a party, I’d ask Red.
Premiering in 1991, Smith wrote, produced and starred in the Smith & Smith spinoff, The Red Green Show, for 15 seasons, retiring the show at age 60. The show continues to be broadcast in syndication across the U.S. and Canada.
I pretty much have fun doing everything, because I’m old enough now that people leave me alone, and they also have no idea of how I’m getting away with this, so they don’t know what to say, Smith says. Even when I was doing the TV show, they didn’t know how I was getting an audience. They were afraid to make comments on the script because they didn’t know what was good and what wasn’t. It was all bad to them, but it was working.
Looking for a creative outlet after his initial retirement, Smith was offered the opportunity to write a book in the voice of Red Green for Random House Publishing. How to Do Everything (From the Man Who Should Know: Red Green) was released in 2011 as an homage to Red Green’s know-it-all character wanting to put all of his wisecrack advice into one book and just get it over with, Smith says.
However, Smith found enough inspiration for his next release, Red Green’s Beginner’s Guide to Women (For Men Who Don’t Read Instructions). Although he enjoyed writing the material, the book tour seemed to present a slight snag as he dreaded the idea of traveling to far-off bookstores for people only to buy six books.
I’d buy seven not to go, he says. I thought if I’m going to be touring doing a book tour, why not put a one-man show together and promote the book that way?
Smith says the live show is far more personal as Red Green takes on the audience one-on-one, but he still remains the easygoing guy that audiences know from his years on TV.
I have to be true to myself or I’m totally lost. I know comedians who do vulgar stuff, and they end up hating their audience because they attract an audience that they really don’t like. But they are attracting an audience just to attract an audience – it’s all about the numbers, he says. That’s never interested me. My career is completely wrong. There is nothing about me that should be working in 2014. Not only am I not vulgar, I am not even angry. I think life’s a hoot.
I think it’s probably given me a smaller career. I think I have a pretty good sense humor, and if I had applied it to a different style that was more acceptable to the masses, I would have a better career in terms of money, but I would have had enough of that years ago.
With a replenished source of energy, Smith doesn’t plan to do what old guys are supposed to do anytime soon.
If you have something that you enjoy doing, and you can make more than a living at it and you help people that you don’t even know, that’s lucky; that’s a gift, he says. So there’s no reason not to do it other than I’m getting too old. I don’t feel like I’m getting old; I am what I am. If I still want to do it, then I’ll keep doing it, and if people continue to buy tickets, I’ll keep doing it. If either one of those things change, than I’m out of there.