Recently the popular Canadian satire site The Beaverton made its television debut on the Comedy Network. I had a chance to speak with Ian MacIntyre, one of the writers for the site and the show about the change from online to on TV and about how he got his start.
Rogues Portal (RP): How different is it writing for the website compared to the TV show?
Ian MacIntyre (IM): One pays you a living wage. Guess which one! But for real, it’s pretty different. One of the best things about the website is the speed and turnaround – a news story happens, and you can pitch a headline and have the story written and posted within a few hours. Plus, right away you get to see people reacting and commenting, or in some cases completely ignoring you. On the other hand, the TV show requires a lot more refining of your work, rewriting and topping jokes with the other writers in the room. Also, while the sensibility of the show is the same as the website, the site can afford to be more dry and premise-driven, while the TV show requires writers to really go for the jokes. Finally, since the TV show was all written earlier this year, we had to work a lot harder to identify longterm evergreen news topics to make butt jokes about.
RP: How did the idea for The Beaverton come about?
IM: The Beaverton was started about 5 years ago by a writer named Laurent Noonan, who sadly passed away last year. He was excited to start a news comedy site that specifically focused on Canada, in depth. He really loved to rail against injustice, and pushed everyone to critically examine their own work. A lot of the more senior writers were closer than I was with Laurent, but we all miss him a lot.
RP: How do you try and separate yourself from similar sites, like The Onion?
IM: Some would say “we don’t”. But honestly, we try to focus on Canadian issues, and filter world events through a Canadian prism. As much as I love The Onion and Sam Bee, you’ll rarely get to see them respond when a Conservative election candidate pees in someone’s sink. That’s where we come in.
RP: You seem to be a triple threat as a writer, comedian, and actor. What is your biggest accomplishment in each of these fields?
IM: Yeah, “seem to be”… Um, in terms of writing, I’m extremely proud to have written for the past 2 years on Degrassi: Next Class. As a comedian my biggest gig has probably been writing for The Beaverton. And as far as acting goes, I have no finer achievement than my 10 second appearance as the Riddler in this super-dumb video sketch I wrote: Batman vs. Batman
RP: People may know you more for your on screen work, particularly your role as Peter Parker on Sketches from Superheroes, what do you wish people would know you for?
IM: There are people that know me from that? Cool! As far as things I wish people knew me for, I’ll always be enormously fond of my nerdy first sketch troupe, Approximately 3 Peters (check us on YouTube, we all look thin!) Ooh, also, I have an episode of the new Inspector Gadget cartoon coming out this year, which is a G-rated parody of John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s also their Christmas episode. So know me for those, please.
RP: How did you get your start writing and would you recommend it to other people who are starting out?
IM: I did some writing in university, mostly short plays, but back then I wanted to be a big-shot actor. When I moved to Toronto and formed a sketch comedy troupe, I quickly realized that I enjoyed the writing aspect just as much, if not more. Plus, the more sketch I had written and produced, the more people could see my work and judge whether or not they wanted to give me a shot for bigger things. Most didn’t. But some did!
Would I recommend it to other people? NO! Stay away from my jobs! But if you must, my biggest advice is to do the work. Write as often as you can, and have samples ready to show when opportunities present themselves. Then once you have samples, get yourself out there as much as you can. Go to industry events, meet people, and be prepared to politely tell everyone that you are looking to get started. I emphasize “politely” – you have to learn to read when people aren’t interested in being pitched, and respect that. People can smell a maniac. Still, always try to be as nice as reasonably possible – the only reason I ever got started was other people being generous with their time and opportunities, which I try my best to pay forward now.
RP: Do you enjoy writing, acting or both?
IM: I’d have to say writing, since it’s become my full-time career and I definitely derive much more satisfaction and dollars from it. Plus, there’s more of a sense of control and ownership, even if you’re writing for someone else’s show. That said, tonight I’ll still be biking across town to get on a tiny stage wearing a cheap fake moustache and playing a young Gordon Lightfoot in a sketch. So what do I know?
RP: Do you ever worry that some people may mistake your stories as real instead of satire?
IM: For sure. As opposed to other so-called “satire” sites, which go out of their way to trick people with misleading clickbait headlines, the Beaverton is first and foremost a comedy site. In fact, every time someone mistakes one of my headlines for reality, while it is kind of amusing, I mostly can’t help but feel like I haven’t done my job quite right. They should be able to tell it’s a joke! That said, I will never cease to be amazed by some of the absurd headlines people insist on mistaking for reality. Case in point, I actually felt really bad when my story, Chris Hadfield ejected from movie theatre for loudly heckling Gravity, led to a Canadian space hero being asked in actual interviews about how this could have happened.
RP: Who came up with the idea to transition it to a TV show?
IM: It was originally our current showrunner, Jeff Detsky. He approached the heads of the website and proposed pitching the whole enterprise as a show. It then got pitched, greenlit, and made within about 2 years, which sounds long but is lightning-fast for Canadian television.
RP: Did the network approach you or did you approach the network?
IM: They approached several networks, and Comedy Network was the one that bought the show. I still contend that Book TV would have been an exciting avenue.
RP: What is the next step for The Beaverton?
IM: Six seasons and a movie? If not that, then I should take some of my earlier advice about “doing the work”, and come up with some more headlines to pitch at our next website writing meeting.