By Noah Love
There’s something you should know about Jessica Holmes: Nothing is at it seems.
It appears the Ryerson radio and television arts grad is everywhere — you just might not know it’s her. The comedienne is a writer and the star The Holmes Show, which airs on CTV Tuesday nights at 10:30 p.m. Holmes spent the first episode, which debuted last week after The Osbournes, cloaked in countless costumes and wigs. Except for a staged introduction, and a goodbye at the end of the show, she was in disguise the entire night.
The Ottawa native and one of her co-stars, Kurt Smeaton, seem capable of turning the most mundane situations into a performance, including a Sunday morning breakfast at the Studio diner.
Noah Love: How did The Holmes Show come to fruition?
Jessica Holmes: It stems from my fascination with mystery novels. We got together and said how could we combine out love of mystery novels …
Kurt Smeaton: And dictionaries.
JH: And we came with a sketch show which has nothing to do with any of the above.
KS: So really, we’re still looking for a vehicle for our love of dictionaries but we think this is a stepping stone.
JH: We’re thinking a miniseries for dictionaries.
Shooting of The Holmes Show took place during June and August CTV studios. The cast shot a gruelling eight scenes a night to produce a 22-episode season.
NL: That’s a long season. Did anything complicate the writing of the show?
KS: The sheer volume of sketches. Literally everything became a sketch. You’d walk down the street and shove someone, and that would become a sketch. A lot of our sketches are based on random acts of violence.
JH: And most of my characters are based on Julie [Dumais, Ryerson theatre grad, and Smeaton’s girlfriend of five years].
KS: I have so many funny stories about my girlfriend and Jess just brings them to life. Like the time she was up all night throwing up in the bathroom because I put cat medicine in her drink.
JH: I think the big thing was every day we just had to show up and write, even if we didn’t feel like writing.
Holmes started doing comedy in high school, where she competed in the Canadian Improv Games. It was while she attended Ryerson that she took a real stab at comedy writing. After starring in the RIOT comedy shows, several members dared each other to do a stand-up act. Holmes’ act was a success, and she received a CTV comedy special shortly after.
NL: How much of your stand-up background influenced the show?
JH: Hardly any. Just because I, um —
KS: Was terrible at it. Let’s be honest Jess, you were really bad at standup.
JH: Yeah, I really failed at it.
KS: Actually, I was really impressed with your stand-up. I was pretty sure it wasn’t your first time.
JH: I remember you were so impressed you said you and [co-star Roman Danylo] would handle The Holmes Show and I would just tour. In the Alaskas.
KS: Right, east and west Alaska.
Each scene of the show was shot twice. The second take often featured a good deal of improvisation. The three lead actors kept things light on the set, trying to make each other laugh by changing practised routines. When Smeaton was dressed as a girl for a scene involving a Finnish children’s series, Holmes pulled down the front to expose his nipples on more than one occasion.
NL: Did the taping of the show pan out the way you had hoped?
JH: Yeah, 100 per cent. I think that was the greatest part of the whole process.
KS: It was so much fun. Little too much fun at times.
JH: How do you mean?
KS: You weren’t in my dressing room. There was too much fun there.
JH: We goofed around a lot. We didn’t take anything too seriously.
KS: There was about nine fires on set.
JH: I put peas up Kurt’s nose. That was the highlight of my —
JH: Yeah. It was already in the script that I put cake up his nose, so I just thought I’d put some peas up there too. But it was just some great writing.
KS: It was so much fun to come into work every day. We’d arrive at 10 a.m. for rehearsal, and the crew would watch us, and there was such a positive energy. It was a good environment to take risks in. And dance.
JH: There was a remote control whoopee cushion that went off during one of my sketches. We started laughing. And we were later criticized in the National Post.
KS: How dare we have fun!
While Smeaton and Holmes promoted the show on the East Coast, Danylo has been working to raise Holmes’ profile on the West Coast, Danylo’s style of comedy is nervous and low-key, which balances Holmes’ and Smeaton’s extreme confidence.
JH: I remember Roman telling me he didn’t like being upstaged by a dog in several sketches … Anything with dogs is written by Kurt.
KS: Dogs are the greatest people … [Roman] was in that scene, but you don’t notice him because he was in the cupboard. And the dog is pretty loud. Otherwise you’d be able to hear “Let me out of the cupboard.” It was more like humming because we taped his mouth.
JH: It was more like him trying to get a message out and get to safety.
KS: [sarcastically] We used to just beat the crap out of that guy. No, Roman’s the best guy ever. His job is to impress us once a day, either with his comedy or his abilities in bed. And I don’t want you to think that’s sexual.
JH: Kind of like a court jester in your bedroom.
KS: And Roman has the clap. And it’s funny version of the clap because it uses the clapper. Clap on, clap off, the clap.
NL: How was your chemistry as a trio? You and Kurt wrote a lot together.
JH: That wasn’t by choice.
KS: That was by accident. We were kind of thrown together like a boy band, in a sense.
JH: We hadn’t worked together before. Oh, except Kurt and I were in a [comedy] troupe.
KS: And Roman and I were in a play for two years.
JH: And we were in the same foster home for a few years.
KS: We were raised as Mexican migrants.
JH: Smuggled over the border in a burlap bag.
The show will follow The Osbournes until November. If CTV decides to keep the series, it will move to Thursday nights opposite Friends. It will be a challenge to compete with the American powerhouse, but the prospect hardly dampens Holmes’ and Smeaton’s hopes.
NL: How do you expect the show to perform for home audiences?
KS: I’d love for this show to get really big in Central America.
JH: Where they need it most … Syndication is the real dream … Because that’s where the big money is. Can you mention in your article the part where Kurt laughed and he spit three pieces of potato on the table?