Keep it moving

Photo by Scott McLellan

After honing his skills on local skateboard videos over the years, Nik Sexton these days is not only getting attention for his skating, but for the comedy sketches he’s been producing. What originally started as a short skit on a skate video has evolved into a show of its own. Now, The Motion Show is attracting thousands of hits on YouTube, and Sexton is this close to cutting a deal to become the first ever CBC-produced comedy webshow.

Elling Lien caught up with Nik by phone at his apartment in Toronto.

So you started out doing skate videos back in the day?

Yeah, the more recent ones were The Monument, East Technique, Visual Underground… Probably the first year of those with sketches is Visual Underground. Then I moved to Toronto to work on The Rick Mercer Report. I had my summers free, because the show runs September to April, and I thought I was always seeing these bad TV shows and pilots and stuff that weren’t all that funny. What if I took my own money and made a pilot myself out of my own pocket? And what if it was something someone might want to bite onto?

It took me two years to compile all the stuff for The Motion Show. I shopped around and CBC liked it as a webshow so they acquired the sketches from us and I’m still talking with those guys.

How long has the character Donnie Dumphy been in existence?

I made Donnie Dumphy about two years ago. I sat on it and sat on it but I’ve got loads of him. I’m going to be coming back to Newfoundland next month so we’re probably going to shoot some new stuff. It’s just a matter if I can get some funding behind us or if I’m shooting out of my own pocket again.

Dumphy is something I’m trying to make a TV show out of. I think Dumphy’s got serious legs and a huge fan base.

He called me and said “I was on K-Rock!”

“You were on K-Rock?”

“Yeah! At rush hour!”

I was like “no way dude, that’s awesome.”

He was like, “yeah! I can’t go to the store to buy a loaf a bread or nothing!” [Laugh]

How often does CBC do webshows? I haven’t experienced any CBC ones before yours.

It’s funny, because it was taking really long for this to happen. I’ve been in development for the last year, right?

I asked “man, how come this is taking so long? And how many shows have you guys done besides this?”

And she was like, “uh, this is our first.”

“Ahhh! I gotcha, right.”

I think it’s something they want to get more into because there’s definitely a market. It’s definitely cool because my show isn’t something that you’d consider very CBC-ish.

I don’t know… CBC has a tradition of showing good comedy. I mean CODCO and Kids in the Hall were on CBC…

That’s funny. Tommy Sexton was my uncle.

Yes! I was about to ask you about that.

Christmas dinner was really fun at our place. That was my favourite moment, going to the big table at Nan’s for Christmas dinner.

Everybody would bring their spouses and Tommy—he was gay, right?—would always have a friend. When I was young I remember asking, “well how come I can’t bring a friend?” and my mom was already hitting me on the head as I was opening my mouth.

“I wanna bring my friend Patrick!”

Christmas dinner was great at our place. There was lots to talk about.

So what is the process now?

Right now I found out this month we get to write a budget bible where we write a whole block of 36 segments. And then if that gets approved, down the road it’ll eventually be a whole 36 week web show. Every week a new sketch, and with some money behind it!

…Because you watch those sketches online now, and you can tell they’re made with little or no money. They’re basically made with my unemployment cheques and beer bottle returns.

That’s actually the case I was trying to make when I was pitching this thing. I made this for nothing and people are laughing—imagine if you guys gave us a few bucks.

How did you get into skating?

My grandfather, the quiet comedian of the bunch, got it for me. I passed grade four or something and for a graduation gift he brought me to Canadian Tire and bought me a skateboard. I used to be in hockey—captain of the hockey team and all that—and after, in junior high, I quit hockey and started hanging out with the arts people and started getting into skateboarding. The coaches were calling up my mom “Where’s Nik? Why isn’t he out playing hockey?”

Then I got a camera when I was 16 after saving up for a long time. I got this camera from the Sony store at the mall. Some of the early stuff I was filming was just terrible. I mean the lighting was garbage; really grainy and not nice to look at.

I remember we took all the footage out and Steve Cook, who runs NIFCO now, edited our first video for us. He didn’t want to do one after I don’t think, but he was a great help. That was our first video.

We had a screening, and I remember my mom, Mary Sexton [local film and television producer—Hatching, Matching, and Dispatching, among others], going “if no one shows up for your skateboard premiere it’s okay. People have premieres all the time and if they don’t show up it’s okay.”

And I think our third or fourth video sold out Holy Heart Theatre—800 seats or so. And she goes, “I take back what I said. Here’s the money from the door.” [laugh]

I want to bring up the connection to Tommy Sexton again. As Tommy Sexton’s nephew, I think it’d be really interesting to a lot of people to know that you’re getting popular for doing comedy.

I’m trying to bring back the Sexton name! Bring on a resurgence of Sextons! [laugh] People thought we’re gone away. My mom always tells me I’m the last Sexton. My Nan had nine kids, Tommy being the middle one of them, and my mom being one of them, but somehow I’m the only boy who has the last name Sexton to pass on to the grandchildren. No pressure there! I’m the last to pass the name on.

You know, I’m probably one of the least funny in the Sexton clan. I’m just the guy that owns the video camera and decided to put something together.

But hopefully I’m reasserting the Sexton name.

When you’re putting together the sketches do you think about Tommy’s work on CODCO or Wonderful Grand Band?

Funny you mention it, because sometimes it does. I thought CODCO was brilliant and ahead of its time, but I think often the sketches went on too long. If you watch a video on Youtube the first thing you do is you always look at the time, because usually when you watch these videos you’re avoiding work or something. You’re avoiding some other thing you’re supposed to be doing, so time is a real issue.

Some of the characters Tommy did were really funny. Same with Craig and Andy and Cathy. Cathy Jones is my godmother. I don’t know if she knows that or whatever. I try not to do too much Newfoundland schtick. I try to do other sketches so we’re not branded as typical guys with accents.

That’s another question I had. There’s a diverse kind of palette. It’s not just gags about Newfoundland or Newfoundlanders.

[Laugh] Our motto: “It’s more than bologna.”

I love bologna too. I tell my friend Tom who’s a pretty straight-laced guy, a talented guy who works on Mercer Report, that it’s like going to the corner store for bologna. And he says, “you mean sliced bologna?”

And I go “no no no, it’s bologna. You know, somebody’s got ten bucks, got their milk, eggs and ‘give me the rest in bologna.’”

And he goes “how is that possible?”

I say, “There’s a big hunk of bologna in a fridge and buddy slices it off so it makes the $10, then buddy gets a Nevada ticket too and then single smokes. Corner stores is where it all takes place.”

They’re the real heart of the culture.

That’s where pizza burgers are sold! Where else are you going to get pizza burgers?

When you were working on the skate videos doing the comedy bits was there a moment you thought, “hey, this could be on TV?”

For the skateboard video stuff, yeah, I got a lot of good feedback on the last couple. Back then people were like “that’s great, why don’t you do more stuff?”

When I show it to people in Newfoundland they think it’s great and should be on TV, but when I show it to people here in Toronto, no one gets it. I had that Donnie Dumphy footage for so long and it won’t give them any laughs. Then I was trying to figure it out and people can’t understand what he’s saying. People in Newfoundland can.

So then I put subtitles in and everyone laughed. It’s amazing.

That’s hilarious. I remember watching old national newscasts or documentaries about Newfoundland and people were subtitled. I thought that was the funniest thing ever.

In the sketches it’s cool how a subtitle can sometimes make a shot better.

You know the one where Dumphy says yeah “boy, we’re gone”? If you go, “yeah”, then “boy”, then “gone”, instead of one long line. Uh oh—what if I become known as the subtitle guy? If I had that shtick on me.

“Oh he’s really good at titles. I wouldn’t hire him to shoot anything but I’d definitely hire him to do some titles.”

What are your favourite videos of yours?

“Techno Skater” is one of my favourite, I love “Donnie Dumphy”. He’s one of my favourites. “Newfoundland Scam” I think is great too.

How did you come up with the Newfoundland scam?

I was working with George Street TV at the time and they wanted to do something like that so I wrote the idea, shot it, planned it and then they didn’t want to go for it so I kept it for myself.
“Speedo and Chain Wallet Guy”, is another one. I’ll do that kind of thing. Not willingly. I had to ask three actors to do that before in Toronto and everyone bailed on me. No one could see the fun in walking around Toronto in just their gaunch and a wallet. They didn’t see the artistic side. It came down to it and we didn’t have anybody so at the last minute I said “fuck it I’ll do it.” So that’s how that spawned.

Put a fake moustache on and you’re good to go.

Sometimes I put that moustache on and I feel like people don’t recognise me. I shot a “Speedo and Chain Wallet Guy” last year that’ll be called “Salute to Winter Sports” and of course the week I picked to do it is the coldest week on record. I literally thought I was going to die. I was curling, playing hockey, tobogganing, cross country skiing, snowboarding.

In a Speedo??

I don’t know what we’re thinking.

Skate videos seem like that to me. You constantly have to raise the bar—the danger level—just to make the audience appreciate what you’re able to do. Is there a similar thing with your comedy?

Definitely. I think skateboarders are really hard to impress, so you’ve really got to bring you’re A-game when you’re trying to impress them.

And they don’t take lightly to fads. I made a few sketches I just had to bury, because if it’s not funny it’s just going to make you look bad.

A really smart guy once told me—he had watched a piece we just did —”yeah yeah yeah that’s interesting, but where’s the funny?”

So that’s what I want to see. If you’re going to make it, make it good.

Make it good, don’t settle. Settling is not even an option. Be different. Don’t rip off other people’s ideas. And try not to establish yourself as trying to be like someone else. Not a mix between Trailer Park Boys and Flight of the Conchords. Be your own person. That’s what I love about it. You can be what you want. That and comedy doesn’t have to always make sense all the time.

So what now?

As it stands we’re waiting to hear back if we go for a budget bible which entails writing a proposal for 36 weeks. Meaning every week we’d provide CBC with a new sketch, a new three minutes of content. We’d have some money behind us and they’d be produced through CBC. It would be a CBC production on their webpage. We’re just waiting to hear back. And I’m trying my hardest to get Donnie Dumphy to get taken seriously as a show. I think it’s got bigger potential than a web show. We’re talking with a few people yet but I don’t want to say anything because I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I’m excited about all these things.

I’m excited to go back to Rick Mercer, that’s a big part of my life.

I’m also doing a skateboard video with Homegrown Skateboard in Nova Scotia.

The Motion Show is looking pretty good. It’s looking positive so I’m staying positive and trying to stay afloat I guess. I’m going to go back to Newfoundland this month and shoot more Donnie Dumphy stuff out of my own pocket again.

What can people do to help you out?

I could say something like “if you really want to help out write a letter to CBC” but I guess just keep watching the videos and as long as the views are up people are happy.

Watch The Motion Show—from the minds of Nik Sexton and Dan Bochart—at the page at YouTube


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31 July 2012

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