When I ask if I’m speaking to Robb Wells, John Paul Tremblay and Mike Smith — the stars of the Canadian mockumentary series Trailer Park Boys — there’s a silence at the other end of the phone.
“Uh, this is Ricky, Julian and Bubbles,” Wells eventually responds, referring to their fictional counterparts on the long-running series. The trio have played those characters on-and-off for close to two decades (Tremblay and Wells starred in the 1999 black-and-white film that inspired the series, while Smith made his first appearance in the show’s 2001 debut), and through sheer force of personality have created something of a niche entertainment empire.
The Trailer Park Boys franchise comprises of 10 seasons and 85 episodes (with an eight-episode 11th season debuting on Netflix on October 28), a handful of one-off specials, three scripted feature films, two live comedy specials, a slew of touring shows and an ongoing podcast series. The fact that Randy (Patrick Roach) and Mr. Lahey (John Dunsworth), two of Trailer Park Boys’ secondary characters, are able to tour independently of the show’s core trio stands as a clear example of the devout following the show has accumulated.
Trailer Park Boys boasts a fairly simple premise: Set in a Nova Scotian trailer park, the show follows its boozing, drug-loving and shortsighted main characters as they bounce from one get-rich-quick scheme to another (and occasionally landing in jail). Ricky’s the dopey hothead, Julian’s the group’s put-upon leader and Bubbles is a cat-loving outcast who joins in on Ricky and Julian’s schemes because he views the two as his only family. It’s a brash, profane depiction of no-collar life, enlivened by the same sense of anarchic glee that defined shows like HBO’s Eastbound and Down.
The trio remain in character during the phone interview, and as on the show, they come across as seedy hucksters who are too dysfunctional for their cons to actually succeed. “You wouldn’t believe it,” says Bubbles of the group’s upcoming tour, which visits the Alabama Theatre on Thursday, October 20. “It’s very similar to the Barnum and Bailey Circus. I get blasted out of a cannon to start the show. And there’s tigers and explosions.”
“What are you talking about, man?” Ricky interrupts. “None of that happens in the life show.” Ricky then launches into a describing his idea “that’s going to change the world… I’m starting a school and I want to get a bunch of people to sign up for it.”
Julien, meanwhile, is even more overt with his desire to fleece fans. “People have to bring money for the show,” he insists. “Come to the show with a good buzz on and bring some money, because I’ve got some things that people will probably want to buy at a good price. A really good price.” He refuses to elaborate on what his wares will actually be: “Just some stuff. I’ve got a surprise. People will probably want to buy some stuff that I have.
“I don’t take cards or debit,” he adds. “Cash!”
And Bubbles — who went from a recurring character in earlier seasons of the show to its de facto mascot — promises that he’ll be filming an audition tape for a Hollywood blockbuster. “It’s an opportunity that came down the line,” he deadpans. “I might be in a kung fu movie and I need a good demo tape.” Given how effectively Smith has defined the bespectacled character’s gawkishness, it’s an effortlessly funny, ridiculous image.
It’s that reliance on character-based humor that accounts for Trailer Park Boys’ longevity; it’s the kind of show where its main characters can argue (fruitlessly) over the pronunciation of “jalapeño” for more than 30 seconds while remaining oddly compelling. But the dedication of its stars has also brought the franchise back from the brink of death. The television series originally ended after its seventh season in 2007, and aside from the 2009 feature film Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day, it appeared that the franchise had concluded. In 2013, though, it was announced that Wells, Tremblay and Smith had bought the rights to the series and were reviving it through Netflix without the involvement of creator Mike Clattenburg or producers Barrie Dunn and Michael Volpe.
Though the trio had received co-writing credits for most of the show’s run, season eight marked the first time that they tackled all of the show’s writing (for seasons nine and 10, recurring actor Jonathan Torrens received a co-writing credit as well). The deal with Netflix, they say, gives them complete creative control — though, of course, the characters have a slightly askew idea of what that actually means.
“The camera guys show up and we get to boss them around a little bit right now, right?” says Bubbles. “They used to just do whatever they want. Now, I don’t let them film me taking a piss anymore. That’s nice!”
Ricky is also enthusiastic about Netflix’s involvement, albeit for different reasons. “They’ve been really fun to party with, I know that.”
Netflix’s involvement has led to a bigger budget and a chance for more high-concept plotlines. Snoop Dogg guest starred in the show’s 10th season, a collaboration no doubt made easier by the show’s much-touted affection for marijuana. Ricky, who claims to have won a “smoke-off” with the rapper, says he “smokes more than anyone I’ve ever met. Nonstop. I don’t know how he gets through life.”
In the show’s upcoming season, titled Trailer Park Boys Out of the Park: Europe, the trio continue to explore their affinity for the drug on a whole new continent. At first, they’re reluctant to talk about the trip, insisting instead that viewers watch the season when it premieres on Netflix on October 28.
“[On the trip] I learned that it was the worst time of my entire life,” Ricky says eventually. “I thought I was going on vacation, and it wasn’t a vacation. In some of the countries, they speak different languages, so it was confusing. In some places [the drugs were good]. In some places, they were hard to find.”
Then, as though to confirm that Thursday’s show will just be another step in a long and debaucherous drug binge for the characters, Bubbles chimes in with a question.
“What’s the weed like in Alabama?” he asks.
Trailer Park Boys: Still Drunk, High and Unemployed Tour will visit Alabama Theatre on Thursday, October 20. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; the show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $45. For more information, visit alabamatheatre.com.