John Dunsworth has plenty to feel proud of. The 68-year-old Nova Scotian is best known as one of the primary stars of Trailer Park Boys, which will air its ninth season on Netflix in March. He recently had a recurring roles on Haven, he’s won awards for his theatre work, and has toured his stand-up comedy act extensively. And now, just recently, he’s written his first book. But his proudest moments were when he heard from soldiers while they served in Afghanistan.
“They told me that to get to sleep at night they would watch a couple episodes of Trailer Park Boys to help them get their minds straight. These Afghan soldiers, eating the bullshit of that terrible situation all day long, that was their way to go back to Canada for a little bit,” he said.
According to Dunsworth, that means more to him than anything else. And every time he hosts a comedy night, as he will on February 20 at Spiritbar, he makes sure to perform a rousing rendition of “Oh Canada” dedicated to the 158 Canadian soldiers who lost their lives while serving there.
Some fans may be surprised to find Mr. Lahey’s real-life counterpart to be such a thoughtful, politically-motivated artist rather than the drunken buffoon he plays onscreen, but he said that’s all part of the act.
“At the show I come right out and say ‘I don’t drink. This is Coke and water. But half the audience still believes I’m pie-eyed,” said Dunsworth, who estimates he’s only been drunk a handful of times in his life.
“Just like I don’t enjoy being on a Ferris wheel. I don’t like giving up control.”
He believes his portrayal of Lahey emphasizes the dangers and ridiculousness of substance abuse.
“You should hear some of the stories people tell me, about how Trailer Park Boys saved their lives. I’ve got 70 emails to read today. I get about 50 a day. Some of them are people saying Mr. Lahey helped me to give up alcohol. I’ve got one where this man, his wife left him and took their child. He wrote and told me the only thing that got him through was TPB,” he said.
“Whether that’s true or not, it gave him solace.”
Dunsworth is a little surprised at the longevity of Trailer Park Boys, and the worldwide acclaim its received.
“The fanbase goes from about 5 to 90. It crosses all lines and intelligence levels. There’s something about the magic in the web of the Trailer Park Boys that make it appeal to intellectuals and rednecks simultaneously. Sportsmen, lawyers, principals of schools, philosophers—they all get something different from it” he said.
Which means his fan mail can vary wildly.
“Some of the messages are like `**** you Lahey!’ Some say ‘How’s Randy and how many cheeseburgers did he eat today?’ Or maybe ‘there’s a shit-storm brewing’. I’ve got one where this girl, she’s going to jail tomorrow for a month because she had a couple drinks too many. I asked her questions and tried to see if I could help. For every fan there’s an interesting story, and there is a much richer connection for me. And there’s brilliant people out there who watch and want to share ideas.”
Dunsworth said he cherishes having interactions with his fanbase face-to-face, and he encourages them to engage in the world around them. He has a postcard he likes to hand out to fans that features a picture of Randy and Mr. Lahey drunk and in the drunk tank. On the back, he encourages his fans to give to charity.
“I tell them, if they ask for my autograph, please sent a small donation to Doctors Without Borders, and I’ve heard from them they’ve been getting lots of contributions.”
Dunsworth said the Spiritbar event will be a “melange or a potpourri”.
“It’s Randy and Lahey singing a cheeseburger song, doing a skit about Buttman, and Lahey playing a harmonica. We have five hours of material and in any one show we do an hour and a half, maybe two works of that work. A lot of it is ad-libbed, and based on audience reaction. We have some songs we sing, skits we do. Sometimes we do Shakespeare, maybe a little Coleridge.”
He will also be reading from his new book, which has a title unsuitable for print in a newspaper, but which recently received a review from the Los Angeles Book Review.
“You’ve got to read it! It will blow your mind. I get a little full of myself, because my scatology now belongs in the pantheon of scatological literature.”
Dunsworth is now hard at work on a novel, set in an abandoned Nova Scotia hospital near where they filmed Trailer Park Boys in Coal Harbour, Nova Scotia.
Dunsworth said he’s thrilled to be returning to Nelson with his costar Patrick Roach.
“BC bud makes me creative as hell. Of course, Randy’s a hash kind of guy and I don’t drink liquor as a rule, but a little THC for my brain makes me want to paint a landscape or build something. Creating something makes me feel great.”
And he has no plans to stop creating art anytime soon.
Tickets are $20 and are available from the Hume Hotel.