Hulu series Letterkenny is the latest in a long line of popular Canadian comedy exports, having made the leap from YouTube to Canada’s Crave streaming service before enjoying a wildly successful U.S. debut (via Hulu) in 2018. Letterkenny ostensibly chronicles the trials and tribulations of the residents of a fictional town in rural Ontario, but its appeal is rooted in the rapid-fire dialogue and clever wordplay that creator Jared Keeso and co-writer (and director) Jacob Tierney have woven into the wildly successful show.
That smart dialogue is delivered by a cast of talented Canadian actors that has largely remained unchanged for all nine seasons of its impressive run, allowing the colorful characters to grow with the series and offer an infinitely quotable (and meme-able) array of catchphrases and memorable (and often uniquely Canadian) moments.
Season 9 of Letterkenny debuted in December, and Digital Trends spoke to cast members Dylan Playfair and K. Trevor Wilson — who portray local hockey star Reilly and lovable farmer “Squirrely” Dan, respectively — about the series’ evolution and wordplay, the role streaming played in its success, and the Canadian colloquialisms that make it so fascinating.
Digital Trends: Letterkenny can be a difficult show to describe to people who haven’t seen it, as it’s more about the interaction between the characters and their conversations than a storyline that runs through it. How do you typically describe the show when someone asks you about it?
Dylan Playfair: Letterkenny is a show about a small town and the cliques and factions of that town and how they interact with each other. I think everyone’s met someone from a town like Letterkenny in one capacity or another. The show has a little bit of that Seinfeld element, too, because it’s a show about nothing, in a small town where the same things happen over and over again. But yeah, it’s really the dynamic between the characters that drives all the storylines. That’s where the comedy comes from: The mundane repetitiveness of living in a small town and the people you’re surrounded with that make life exciting.
K. Trevor Wilson: I’ve said we’re like if Trailer Park Boys and Corner Gas had a kid. And if you’re not familiar with Canadian shows, I’ve described it as live-action King of the Hill. My buddy [stand-up comedian] JJ Whitehead called us a live-action South Park, which I took as a compliment.
Dylan, it seems like you’re everywhere lately. Along with Letterkenny, you’re a big part of Disney’s Descendants franchise, you’ve had prominent roles in the Netflix shows The Order and Travelers, and now you’re in The Mighty Ducks reboot, too. Even with all of these big projects going on, what keeps you coming back to Letterkenny season after season?
Playfair: Well, Letterkenny is a show that’s made by very close friends. Andrew [Herr] and I were both a part of the original YouTube series, before it became the show it is today on Hulu and Crave. We played in the same beer-league hockey team with Jared [Keeso] and Nate Dales, all of us actors in Vancouver making our own content, essentially. So to have that sort of connection to the origins of the series, and then also to have grown with the series, it truly is one of the roles I feel most comfortable in. We joke about it, because it’s like going to summer camp. It’s hard to call being on the Letterkenny set work. We have a ton of fun and it’s something I’d love to do for the rest of my life if I could. I can’t even believe it’s a job. It’s kind of crazy.
Squirrely Dan was created for the series after it made the leap from YouTube to Crave, and he’s become this great character who fits right in but also offers a really unique perspective, whether it’s mentioning his Women’s Studies class or sharing some enlightened thoughts on relationships in the modern age. What has the character’s evolution been like for you?
Wilson: Dan’s progression has been a very organic thing, but there were a lot of changes to Dan that happened even before we started filming. The character was originally created for Dan Petronijevic, the actor who plays McMurray on the show. They had network approval for him in the role and were all set to start filming, but he had some things come up that prevented him from accepting the part. So it came to me. The character changed in the sense that it was a different actor coming in to play him with a different attitude and different choices, but I don’t really call up Jared or Jacob [Tierney] and tell them I want to take the character anywhere. They created Dan, so I trust their decision-making. They know Dan better than I do in many ways. I just look forward to seeing what they come up with for him. I’m along for the ride in that sense.
But they have allowed me to bring things to the character. In the way I play it, I think I’ve made him a bit softer, and a bit more innocent. Professor Tricia’s Women’s Studies class came about as I was ad-libbing a rant on set and made up a joke about Dan being in an online Women’s Studies course. It was one of those things that made everyone laugh and we just sort of ran with it. But I think Dan was originally written a bit more lascivious, and now he comes across a bit sweeter than he might have originally been written. It’s all been just a very natural progression and a true collaboration of us working together, though.
The series leans heavily on extended scenes of rapid-fire dialogue that are really clever, but probably require some intense rehearsal and line memory. How do you approach those scenes? Does it get easier after nine seasons?
Wilson: The beauty of TV and film is, if you mess up, you can try again. The nice thing about the show is that there aren’t a lot of special effects, so it’s not like we spent $30,000 blowing up a helicopter and only get one chance to do a scene. We can try as many times as we need to get it right. But we do run the scenes a lot, too. Quite often, the group of us will all be standing in hair and makeup running through the dialogue with each other. We’ll run through a scene about four or five times before we sit down in front of the camera, because it is a challenge. It’s verbal gymnastics sometimes.
If you’ve seen my stand-up, I am one of the slowest, most labored and deliberate talkers in the world of professional speaking. I take my time with everything I say, so the challenge for me when auditioning for Letterkenny was matching the pacing that Jared and Nathan had already established on the YouTube shorts. There’s a rhythm. There’s a staccato to it that you have to be able to follow, so I’ve worked very hard to fit into that pacing. And now it’s clockwork. Now, between the cast and the crew and everybody involved, we can crank out 12 to 14 pages of dialogue at the produce stand in an eight-hour day — which is insane for television production.
Playfair: It’s really exciting, but also really challenging. It is a lot of words in a short amount of time. But Andrew and I have always had the mindset of, “Jared took a risk by bringing us into this show in the early stages, so we have to perform.” What you see in Letterkenny is very much what was written. There’s not much improvisation that happens, because the writing is so good. And if you miss a beat and a joke doesn’t land, you end up being the one with egg on your face.
Andrew and I take a lot of pride in running through our scenes in the weeks and months leading up to getting on set, and the night before filming, we’ll often be up for six or seven hours running those scenes to make sure that by the time you get on that set, it flows like a play. You don’t have a ton of time to stop and go back and check a line when your dialogue is seven pages long and it’s that rapid-fire, sort of nonsensical stuff. Having it look as if it’s improvised and off the cuff is something we take pride in. And that’s fun for us to come to work and know that we’ve got it all memorized, too. That way, we can just play in the moment, because if you’re thinking about what you’re saying, you’re not listening to what the other person is saying.
I went to school close to the Canadian border and because of that, ended up getting a lot of TV broadcasts of Canadian shows (and curling). One of the great elements to come out of the rise of streaming services, it seems, is that everyone else is getting to see a lot more Canadian TV now, too — particularly comedies. Do you feel like Canadian TV is getting more exposure lately?
Playfair: Absolutely. I always felt like Canadians have produced some really fantastic comedy. I mean, obviously, there’s Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live, and there’s Jim Carrey and Mike Myers … There’s a long history of comedic Canadians. But the understanding has always been that if you want to take that next step in your career, you go to the States. That was in the time of traditional cable, when you had to be on a network show to get exposure, whereas now, streaming allows Canadian content creators to create at home and still have global exposure, which is so fantastic. Being able to shine a light on the talent we have here in Canada is great. That’s something Jared takes a lot of pride in: Giving opportunities to Canadian actors and writers and creators and musicians. Canada has always had a very good roster of comic talent, and streaming does give us a lot more reach.
Wilson: It’s amazing when you consider that we don’t exist on a network. Letterkenny is one of the first Canadian shows created just for a streaming service. We’re the flagship show for Crave in Canada, and when we were putting it together, it was like, “Will this work? Can we be a successful show without a TV channel in Canada?” At that point, no one really trusted that people were going to leave traditional cable and go to streaming in such a big way. You and I grew up on the episodic format, waiting a week for the next adventure or the next part of the story, but now you can rip through it and accidentally watch a whole show in an evening if you’re not careful.
I think that’s brought this great renaissance of Canadian-produced entertainment. When Letterkenny hit, we also had Schitt’s Creek come out, as well as Kim’s Convenience and Baroness von Sketch, and all these shows found wider audiences in the States through AMC and Netflix and Hulu bringing on these projects. It’s definitely raised everyone’s notoriety, and I think it made the world look at Canada as a place that produces pretty solid TV entertainment.
Letterkenny is introducing a lot of non-Canadians to Canadian slang and colloquialisms, and I confess I’ve looked up a few terms online after hearing them on the show. What are some of the words or terms you get asked about most often from non-Canadians?
Wilson: A lot of the terminology people are most confused about tends to be the hockey slang. I’ll be honest, I was never a hockey player, so I didn’t know “Ferda” coming into the show, for example. Ferda is one that we get asked about a lot, and it means, “For the (Fer da) boys.”
Playfair: Yeah, Andrew and I have been pitching a Letterkenny dictionary since halfway through season one. I think the fans would appreciate that. A lot of that stuff comes from dressing room lingo. You get this microcosm of young guys playing the same sport, and an accent forms along with your own language. Obviously, there’s “Ferda” when you’re doing something to impress everyone or make your friends laugh. That’s “Ferda.” “Bardownski” is scoring a goal when the puck goes off the crossbar and goes down. And a “tilly” is a hockey fight.
Most of the stuff I get asked about is the hockey-oriented things, but as the show has evolved, every group has their own language that they understand within their circles, and that creates an opportunity for comedy. You see the farmers interact with the hockey players and they’re like, “What are you guys saying? That doesn’t make any sense.” And the audience feels that way, too. Having grown up in a small town, it’s very accurate. Groups of people have their own way of speaking, and with Letterkenny, it’s really fun to see life imitating art and vice versa.
Wilson: I mostly get asked about the extra S’s and those extra plurals. That is not a uniquely Canadian thing, but is a uniquely small-town thing. “You’s guys” is something you’ll hear in small towns all across North America.
Can confirm: I have a relative from a small town who insists on calling the box store “Walmart’s” instead of Walmart …
Wilson: Exactly. I get in trouble for Squirrelly Dan’ing Nordstrom all the time. My fiancée will roll her eyes at me when I add an extra S to Nordstrom. “We going to Nordstroms?” I’ll ask, and she’ll just shake her head and say, “There’s no such place. Stop calling it that.”
Dylan, before you go, what can you tell us about joining the Mighty Ducks franchise with The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, and your role in the series?
Playfair: I was born in ’92, so I grew up with the Mighty Ducks films. I used to joke that Gordon Bombay taught me all I needed to know about being a man. Steve Brill, the creator of Game Changers, is a fan of Letterkenny, which is how that connection was made. We ended up going out for dinner and saw a lot of the same potential images and storylines in Mighty Ducks, and how I could make my character different from Reilly, but still funny.
I think I can give a little information out, because Disney has released some of the storylines. In the series, the Mighty Ducks are now an academy team. They’re high caliber, and having played on an academy team when I was younger, there’s something innately funny about having these 12-year-old “elite athletes” given an NHL-level of focus. It’s crazy. So I’m coming in as a young, hotshot coach. A lot of the elements that make the originals so great are very present throughout this new series. I don’t think the wheel needs to be reinvented here, but to modernize it was a really cool opportunity. And to work with the Mighty Ducks, what a dream come true.