“Great White North” (originally known as “Kanadian Korner”) was a panel show that played upon Canadian stereotypes. Bob and Doug, two dim-witted beer-swilling brothers wearing heavy winter clothing and tuques, would comment on various elements of Canadian life and culture, frequently employing the interjection “Eh?” and derisively calling each other “hoser.” Among the topics discussed were snow routes, the Canadian-built robot arm on the Space Shuttle, the inappropriateness of bedtime stories about dog fights, flat tires, and “why there aren’t enough parking spaces at take-out donut shops.”
The sketch was conceived when SCTV moved to the CBC television network. Due to the difference in the amount of time allocated for commercials, each episode to be broadcast on that network was two minutes longer than those syndicated to the United States. The CBC network heads asked the show’s producers to add specifically identifiably Canadian content for those two minutes. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas thought that this was a ridiculous request, given that the show had been taped in Canada, with a mostly Canadian cast and crew, for two years. The request inspired them to create a parody that would incorporate every aspect of the humorous stereotype of Canadians.
The segments were videotaped at the end of a day’s shooting, with just Thomas and Moranis and a single camera operator. The sketches were for the most part improvised on the set, after which they would select the best ones for use on the program.
Moranis recalled, “We went on the stage with no preparation, and did 15 [sketches]. Two of them were lousy, in three we cracked up and fell apart… maybe six were keepers.” Added Dave Thomas in a 2000 interview, “Rick and I used to sit in the studio, by ourselves – almost like happy hour – drink real beers, cook back bacon, literally make hot snack food for ourselves while we improvised and just talked. It was all very low key and stupid, and we thought, ‘Well, they get what they deserve. This is their Canadian content. I hope they like it.'”
To their shock, the comedians found that this filler material had become the most popular part of the show. Though initially intended for Canadian TV only, some of the two-minute “Great White North” segments would find their way into U.S. versions of the 30-minute shows due to a shortage of content that week. When NBC ordered the 90-minute shows for the 1981 season, they specifically cited good affiliate feedback on the “two dumb Canadian characters” and requested that the characters be included in every program.
They rode the crest of a fad, peaking in 1982-83, that produced one comedy album, The Great White North and a movie, Strange Brew. The album released by Anthem Records in Canada and Mercury Records in the US, went platinum in sales, won a Grammy nomination and broke the top ten on Billboard’s Top LPs and Tapes list in March, 1982. It is noted for the song “Take Off” which featured fellow Canadian Geddy Lee of the rock group Rush chorusing between the McKenzies’ banter. On this album, they also sing their own improvised version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, which is frequently played on the radio around the holidays in both Canada and the United States. While hugely popular in the U.S., the album was also #1 in Canada for six weeks, suggesting that Canadians appreciated the duo as an affectionate self-parody.
The Strange Brew movie was released by MGM in 1983. While receiving only minimal praise from critics, it performed fairly well at the box office, earning $8.5 million in the U.S. alone to easily cover its skinny $5 million budget. Subsequent to its initial theatrical release in 1983, Strange Brew was released by MGM in both Beta and VHS formats and subsequently re-packaged and re-released on VHS and Laser disc by Turner which acquired the MGM library in 1986, then also several times on VHS and DVD by Warner Brothers which acquired the library when Time Warner merged with Turner in 1996. Strange Brew continued to perform for Warner Brothers as a DVD title most likely because of the strong college cult following for Bob and Doug.
A second album, a “soundtrack” to their movie Strange Brew, was released in 1983. The album featured dialogue and music from the film, as well as new skits made specifically for the album that centered around the movie. The lead off track was appropriately entitled “This Isn’t Our Second Album”. The album sold poorly and was out-of-print soon after.
The sketch’s signature “Coo loo coo coo, coo coo coo coo” theme, according to Dave Thomas in an interview on CBC News: The Hour, is an exaggeration of the flute music used in 60-second Canadian television nature vignettes, such as Hinterland Who’s Who.
Bob and Doug McKenzie continue to maintain a strong cult following for 30+ years as evidenced by Internet activity on YouTube and Google searches of the name.