The Green Red Green
Steve Smith (Doubleday Canada 2012, Trade Paperback) 221 pages, illustrated $17.95 cover price
Just in time for Christmas – and no foolish move there – Steve 'Red Green' Smith has released what can best be called this Greatest Hits compilation drawn from his three earlier books: Duct Tape Is Not Enough, The Red Green Book, and Red Green Talks Cars. Having been an unabashed fan of Steve Smith for many a year, even before the remarkable run of The Red Green Show from 1991 to 2006, I delightedly endorse his latest book. I can't imagine any other book more certain to please if wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree.
That 1991-2006 run of The Red Green Show made it the longest-running live action (as opposed to say, The Simpsons) scripted comedy show in the world. Ever. Smith's books being as entertaining and funny as the TV show was allows one to analyze his comedy with quotable examples, rather than trying to recreate videotaped scenes in words.
So if there is a secret to the creation that is Red Green, what is it? Much life the aforementioned Simpsons, there is an intelligence to Smith's work that can best be described as 'sneaky smart'. Homer Simpson may be as dumb as a water bucket with a hole in the bottom, but the show built around him is witty social commentary. However, while The Simpsons attempts topicality, Red Green is set in no specific time. There may be a reference somewhere in all those TV episodes and books to a sitting Prime Minister or a pin-pointed world problem, but if you can think of one I suggest you have a pretty good winning bar bet there. Outside of the greyness of Red's beard, the show or the books can be mixed up in order without any noticeable difference – timelessness is a shrewd choice.
As is an abstract choice of space. We all know that Red Green lives in Possum Lodge, Ontario but where exactly is Possum Lodge? It could be anywhere in the province except, you know, on the corner of Yonge and Bloor. In truth, I was wondering if Ontario itself had ever been established in the series until I noted it in the P.R. release accompanying The Green Red Green. This is another shrewd choice allowing the show and books to be enjoyed by an international audience without being clubbed over the head with a lot of arcane Canadiana.
If The Simpsons is social satire, Red Green is gender satire. All one needs to enjoy the comedy is knowledge of lazy men who do incredibly arcane and ultimately more difficult stunts in a quest to avoid work and responsibility. Let's put it this way: such men are not on any endangered species list.
Back to the smartness. When I interviewed Smith a couple of years ago, we talked about the inventions – turning a car into a tank for instance. As he said then, the inventions were just close enough to being possibilities that the viewer or reader does take that moment to think, 'I wonder if I could … Nawww.' We enjoy the fantasy of out-smarting machines.
More than anything, as with all great comedians, Smith has impeccable timing and rhythm. Let's close here with an example from the two page selection titled Why British Cars Suck:
'The fundamental problem with British cars in North America lies in the difference between the geography and culture of the nations. Britain is about the size of a mall. There's nowhere to go and all the time in the world to get there. Another factor is that the British are extremely class-conscious. It's only right and proper and traditional that the lower classes have crappy cars while the aristocracy gets peaches and cream. In North America, we are far more equal and democratic – here everyone gets crap.'
Ba doom-boom Ching! Hilarious book, couldn't recommend it more if I wrote it myself. Be seeing you.