TORONTO — While playing ill-fated daredevil Super Dave Osborne was supposed to be a comedic gag, the character’s co-creator and star Bob Einstein practically threw himself into the role on the Canadian set, say his co-stars.
Einstein’s parody of an Evel Knievel-esque stuntman often veered outside the usual safety zone of comedy, said Don Lake, a Toronto-born actor who worked with the late comedian for decades of his career. The veteran comedy writer and performer recently died at 76, his brother filmmaker Albert Brooks said on Wednesday.
Lake remembers Einstein’s dedication to Super Dave, a role that made him a staple of 1990s Canadian television. His show followed the accident-prone star’s ambitious stunts — and each one failed miserably and with some kind of exaggerated injury.
Many times, Einstein narrowly dodged real accidents himself, Lake said.
Once he barely missed being trampled by a horse, while a miscommunication had him leaping to safety when a car-crushing stunt went awry. Surprisingly, some of those moments were the most hilarious experiences for the production crew, he insisted.
“You would kind of go, ‘Oh wow, that was close.’ And the second you said that, you’d start laughing,” Lake said.
“We’d get the giggles and you couldn’t stop. It was a live-action cartoon.”
Shooting “The Super Dave Osborne Show” was a passion project for Einstein, Lake explained, partly because in many ways the comic was very similar to his bumbling character.
Lake first met Einstein when he auditioned for the 1980s Canadian sketch series “Bizarre,” which was shot in Toronto and aired on CTV. Einstein was the show’s co-producer and worked alongside casting director Diane Polley, mother of actress Sarah Polley, in finding new talent for the show.
When Lake walked into his audition he was planning to work off a script, but Einstein quickly discarded the lines.
“He said, ‘Let’s do this cold,” Lake remembered. “And we did. He kind of just said, ‘You’re hired.'”
Lake said the pair became friends both professionally and in their personal lives. They’d work together for four years on “Bizarre” before Lake was cast in the spinoff series “The Super Dave Osborne Show,” which split its production time between Canada and the United States.
While Einstein wasn’t Canadian, his fondness for the country was no secret during production of “Super Dave.”
“He loved spending the summers in Toronto,” Lake said. “His daughter would be out of school and join him, so it was kind of a fun summer camp.”
Einstein was also a meticulous creator with a clear vision for the TV series, said Alan Kates, who booked talent for the comedy show, which interspersed skits and musical guests with the stunts.
“He had definite opinions, really knew what he wanted,” Kates said.
That included appearances from Hollywood stars and music legends, with Carol Burnett, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sonny Bono among them. A young Celine Dion sang her breakout hit “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” to rapturous applause in one episode.
It helped that Einstein and his Winnipeg-born comedy writing partner Allan Blye already had a good reputation in Hollywood as writers on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and a Dick Van Dyke series.
“Everyone wanted to do it because frankly it was Bob Einstein. These guys were writing and producing these shows — the biggest variety shows in America,” he said.
“You call their managers and go, ‘Hey Bob’s doing a show.’ It’s like, ‘When do we get there? What time do you want us?'”
Blye recalls one Canadian singer who Einstein was determined to get onto his show — k.d. lang.
“I recall he was adamant,” he said.
“Come hell or high water, k.d. lang was going to appear on the Super Dave Show, which she did.”
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David Friend, The Canadian Press