'Super Dave' co-stars remember hilarity on set of Canadian-filmed show
TORONTO -- As the ill-fated daredevil character Super Dave Osborne, comedian Bob Einstein sometimes found himself flirting with danger, say his Canadian co-stars.
Einstein was so committed to his parody of an Evel Knievel-esque stuntman that he occasionally stumbled into near mishaps on set, said Don Lake, a Toronto-born actor who worked with the late comedian for decades. Some of those moments became hilarious experiences for the production crew.
Once Einstein barely missed being trampled by a horse, Lake said.
"You would kind of go, 'Oh wow, that was close.' And the second you said that, you'd start laughing," Lake said of shooting "The Super Dave Osborne Show," a staple of 1990s Canadian television.
"We'd get the giggles and you couldn't stop. It was a live-action cartoon."
Einstein recently died at 76, leaving behind a legacy of TV comedy punctuated by the accident-prone Super Dave, who tirelessly planned ambitious stunts that consistently failed upon execution. Usually the punchline would involve a dummy of Super Dave suffering exaggerated injuries, whether it was being launched across a field or exploded with dynamite.
Watching Einstein execute his stunts offered plenty of amusement, said actor Art Irizawa, who played Fuji Hakayito, the Japanese stunt co-ordinator of Super Dave's haphazard contraptions.
"When my part was finished with I'd just hang around to watch the balance of the show because it was so funny," he said.
Irizawa remembers one stunt in which Super Dave was facing off against a monster truck adorned in giant bull horns. His red mini-car was supposed to be the matador, skirting around a small arena. But when the car stalled, the monster truck's stunt driver nearly ran over Einstein.
"He hit the little car and it just missed Bob," Irizawa said.
"Bob was really, really lucky. I'm sure he was shook up, but he kept his cool, and he took advantage of that and made something out of that in addition to the balance of the story. I thought, 'this guy is a genius."'
The near miss became part of the episode, with the scene cut to look like Fuji was driving the truck. "I had to give you a little thrill," Super Dave explains in the skit to Fuji as he shrugs off the accident.
"The Super Dave Osborne Show" was a passion project for Einstein, Lake explained, partly because the comic shared many traits with 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."'
The pair became friends both professionally and in their personal lives, he said. They worked 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.
Lake played played Donald Glanz, one of the lead staff members at the Super Dave Compound, the fabled theme park and learning centre that served as the headquarters for his aspirational empire.
While Einstein wasn't Canadian, his fondness for the country was no secret during production of "Super Dave." Some of his stunts were staged in the country, including one where he's accidentally knocked off the edge of the CN Tower.
"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 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, and 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.
"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."
It wasn't only Super Dave's guests who shared excitement for the TV series, Lake said.
Once he was working as producer on a television show when he noticed that notoriously prickly actor Billy Bob Thornton was walking over to speak with him.
"I thought, 'Oh no he's mad about something,"' Lake said.
"And then he came up and said, 'I just want to tell you how much I love Super Dave Osborne.' It was like, 'Oh you've got to be kidding me."'
With files from Cassandra Szklarski.