On Friday, May 29, I had the opportunity to sit down with Spencer Rice (Kenny vs Spenny), Deb McGrath (Little Mosque on the Prairie) and Nikki Payne (Video on Trial, Last Comic Standing) to interview them for Cadence Canada magazine on their latest show, Single White Spenny. Now, while the main character bears the same name and many of the same traits as the character that made Spencer Rice into a familiar figure on Canadian screens with Kenny vs Spenny, all three actors agreed that as far as edgy comedy goes, Single White Spenny is a whole different beast.
Spencer Rice made his way into Canadian households as the beleaguered foil to Kenny Hotz’s merciless character on the cringe-inducing, Gemini-nominated comedy show Kenny vs Spenny. Now, he aims to work his way into our hearts as Single White Spenny, a man searching for love in all the wrong places.
With his trademark bemused humour, Spencer Rice in his latest role swaps the search for dignity on Kenny vs Spenny with a search for true love in all its forms – from maternal to relationship love, and every dubious thing in between. With a cast of Canadian comedy talents including Video on Trial‘s Nikki Payne and Deb McGrath from Little Mosque on the Prairie, Single White Spenny, which premiered June 2 at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on Showcase, is a welcome reminder that summer is around the corner – after all, what is the season without summer love?
In this new show, Spenny’s road to true love is fraught with the sincere but misguided efforts from his family and friends who, as may be expected, are just as eccentric as he is. In this Showcase original series, Deb McGrath plays Spenny’s egocentric mother, Sheila, whose deficient maternal skills lead him to search for mother-love elsewhere. Nikki Payne of Video on Trial and Last Comic Standing fame plays his snarky employee Jessica, who’s along for the ride, and Wayne Thomas Yorke plays creepy neighbour Phil, who is seemingly determined to do everything to hamper Spenny’s quest for love.
Cadence got the chance to sit down with the show’s stars Spencer Rice, Deb McGrath, and Nikki Payne at the start of their Toronto press junket promoting the new show. Because of the familiarity of the character of Spenny to a lot of fans of Kenny vs Spenny, they hope to hold onto that ready-made fan base for Single White Spenny. However, Rice says the new show is a distinct departure from the role that made him famous.
“It certainly is a different show in tone and in every kind of way,” he says. “I think there’s a whole new fanbase to discover this show that has never seen it before.”
McGrath goes further to point out the difference between the two shows: “What’s nice about this show, particularly for Spenny, is that he’s playing a character in a through-line way. So he gets to show what is the best of Spenny on Kenny vs Spenny – the vulnerable, the everyman, the very watchable guy; but we get to see him as one character and follow his adventures like a real human being, as opposed to more soundbite-y, piecemeal, new adventure. It’s just the same guy going through, so that’s nice to see.”
Another point of departure for Single White Spenny is the fact that it is more inclined towards real-life situations that everyone can relate to, especially Spenny’s search for relationship happiness.
“You have a fairly sweet character who’s looking for really nice things in life, the society conventions that a lot of people probably would want or are automatically birthed into,” Rice says. “But he’s in these sort of dark stories, so it’s like this sweet character in a sort of dark world where things don’t quite go the way he’d like them to.”
According to Payne, who plays Spenny’s insolent and overworked employee Jessica, that edge is the element that allows this show to still retain that type of comedic direction that viewers may have come to expect from Spencer Rice. In a world where all he wants is a few shots at happiness, he is hampered by the very people attempting to help him.
“I think our characters (Jessica and Spenny’s mother) are similar in that we genuinely think that we know what’s best,” she says. “If he’d just listen to what we had to say, our infinite amount of knowledge that we’ve gotten over a lifetime of being amazing – if he just listened to us he would be a better person; he would get the things that he wants. But we don’t realize that we certainly have gigantic faults ourselves! I think the fans are going to find it easy to move into enjoying this show.”
For McGrath, another reason fans old and new are likely to go for Single White Spenny is simply the basic human instinct to root for the underdog.
“I think people always like a show where you’re rooting for someone; and like Kenny vs Spenny, you root for Spenny, but it is a departure. It’s a story. It’s a single story.”
While Single White Spenny is a scripted comedy show, Rice says that much of the material is drawn from his own unconventional upbringing.
“I think we all bring our own lives to a certain extent to the characters, right? So for me, I grew up in a very unconventional family. So I gravitated towards the opposite, which was to be conventional. The problem is that I never learned how to do that because I didn’t see it at home growing up.”
He is quick here to point out that he loves his family and doesn’t see his unconventional upbringing as a bad thing. But he does admit that it has served him well in the creation of a comedic character like Spenny.
“This is how you end up with this character that doesn’t quite know how to do it. He’s got all the best intentions but he just can’t quite figure out how to make things happen for him in a good way. And on top of that you’ve got this world, these crazy characters – the self-absorbed mother, the insolent assistant, just making my life even more difficult.”
At this point Payne points out with a laugh, “I’m insolent in real life!”
In the same vein, McGrath notes that playing Spenny’s mother was more a case of drawing from observation rather than experience.
“I was a good mother in real life, but I can easily go there!” she says, laughing. “I’ve seen some bad parenting, and continue to observe it, and I like playing that kind of a character. She just is in her own little world and she throws Spenny crumbs. And she calls him Spencer, not Spenny. I think sort of semi-evil characters are fun to play if they have the conviction of their morals. She does not know that she is a boozer or a bad person. She thinks she is the yardstick by which everyone is measured! Because if they know they’re bad, it doesn’t work. So she feels that she’s a fantastic mother, a nurturer.”
Her character is, however, the same kind of person who tells Spenny, “Why would you want to get married and have kids? Why would you want to do that? Like, it’s not worth doing. There’s a lot of fish in the sea, go out and get laid!” – which Rice points out is rather counter-intuitive for Spenny to hear from his mother.
“Oddly enough I can honestly say I heard that from my real mother,” he says musingly.
But he adds that Sheila (Deb McGrath’s character) may have a valid philosophy behind her point of view.
“Maybe if you step back – and I don’t want to get overly-poetic about a show that’s only about eight episodes – but you know there is a way you can look at the show and say, ‘Well maybe these conventions that Spenny likes so much might not be worth doing because of the difficulty involved in achieving them and maintaining them,’” Rice says. Then he adds, “But that’s a whole other sub-text level that probably no one but me will think about!”
Single White Spenny premiered on Thursday, June 2 at 9:30 pm ET/PT, and if you missed it, catch up with the pilot episode on Showcase.ca here.