MORRISBURG – Two of the Maritimes most beloved characters, Lucien and Jimmy the Janitor, are coming back to Upper Canada Playhouse, October 17-22, to delight audiences with their latest theatrical venture, ‘A Short History of Nuthin.’ To celebrate their return to Morrisburg, Jimmy and Lucien were kind enough to share with the Leader some of the comments they have received from “local” folks since their production ‘A Short History..’ opened ‘Down East,’ September 27, 2023, playing a number of theatres and festivals.
“Wish it wasn’t during moose season, I would have loved it.”
“I had 5 ladies with me last night and we were out celebrating our birthdays. Your show…was exactly what we needed. Don’t even think of retiring yet. You might be getting older boy, but your getting better..”
“Saw you both doing your acts in Moncton Hub Cap Comedy show a few years back and you were both funny as halibut.”
Actually, the real Jimmy the Janitor and Lucien – Sandy Gillis and Marshall Button – did take some time to share their thoughts about creating their latest comic tour de force. ‘A Short History of Nuthin’ follows in the style of their classics, ‘Fort Mac Attack’ and ‘Full of Beans.’ Marshall and Sandy are both looking forward to returning to the Playhouse stage October 17: they describe the Playhouse as a “warm and welcoming place” with great audiences.
The two performers are well known to Playhouse audiences. Marshall Button (artistic director of UCP from 1987 until 1996, now artistic director of Moncton’s Capital Theatre) brought his mill worker Lucien to the Playhouse stage in 1986, and audiences fell in love. Lucien, with his hilarious, colourful observations on life, work and love, has been a popular character ever since. ‘Lucien in Trumpland,’ 2021, had audiences roaring with laughter. And in 2022, Marshal played backwoodsman Shaver Bennett in the Playhouse’s highly successful run of Norm Foster’s ‘Come Down From Upriver.’ Lucien has been performed more than 3,000 times across Canada and the US.
This will be actor Alexander (Sandy) Gillis’ third visit to Upper Canada Playhouse, where he appeared with long time friend, Marshall, in ‘Fort Mac Attack’ and ‘Full of Beans.’ Sandy, a retired broadcaster and radio station operator, has been performing as his alter-ego Cape Breton character, Jimmy the Janitor, for 36 years, Jimmy the Janitor has released 11 albums and appeared on CBC Radio & TV, CTV and the Comedy Network. Sandy too has taken his character from Yellowknife to St. John’s. Together, he and Marshall, Jimmy and Lucien, make a winning comic team.
When I asked the two writer/performers about their themes in this latest comic venture, they laughed and said “This show starts with nuthin and ends with nuthin. Basically, we wrote a script around nuthin. We’ll use the stage, throw together some props and reduce it to nuthin when we leave.”
Lucien has opened a bar, and in an effort to draw in patrons, he has invited his old pal Jimmy to be the bar’s “stand up comic” and attract some drinkers. Now Jimmy has actually gone to night school, and could be holding down a conventional job, but he has come to the conclusion that, really, he’s better off doing nuthin. However, since he is “on pogey,” and skipping around just out of reach of the many representatives of officialdom, he sincerely feels that he is still doing his bit for the Canadian economy – by keeping all those official people employed! In the meantime, he’s delighted to help out his old buddy Lucien.
“Jimmy has been with me for 35 years,” Sandy said. “He represents a simple view of life. He comes from a large family, and he’s been through some tough times. He’s got a million stories. Frankly, I know this character. We’re both from small towns, and Jimmy is a little more “English” than Lucien.”
“Lucien is a former mill worker with a hard work background,” Marshall said. “He’s actually evolved a bit over the years, mellowed a little. He was (and still can be) crustier, but he’s learned to accept all different kinds of people over the years. He’s opened up to the world, and he doesn’t take himself and his opinions quite so seriously.”
Marshall and Sandy point out that “the humour in this play comes from a shared wonder at the world around them. A lot of the things we talk about in one scene get picked up later in the play. We’ve found it’s good to have recurring moments in the show. We find audiences enjoy that. And they enjoy the antics of Jimmy and Lucien.”
Lucien is probably more inclined to talk about “political hot topics” like the influence of US right wingers in Canada among others. “Some of these topics may not sound funny,” Marshall pointed out, “but people will relate to them. And Lucien has learned that he can’t please everyone.”
“Marshall’s Lucien is brilliant at social topics,” laughed Sandy, “but my Jimmy literally promotes nuthin. Because of this there are two distinct flavours to the show – revealed in crossover pieces and individual monologues. Truth be told, we’ve even laughed ourselves at what we’ve written in the script.”
And audiences have definitely been laughing as these two Maritime ‘sages’ have taken to the road.
Crowds for the production have been big and very enthusiastic throughout the tour which began in Dalhousie and has moved through Moncton, Bathurst, Miramichi and Fredrickton, towns both large and small. People have repeatedly told Marshall and Sandy “We really needed this. We needed a good laugh.” There is perhaps a sense of relief that people can now actually laugh again in spite of all the challenges out there in the world. Comments have ranged from “perfect theatre” to “Wonderful show..lots of fun topics.”
Marshall Button and Sandy Gillis shared one more tale. They launched ‘A Short History of Nuthin’ on September 27 in hometown Dalhousie, a date which just happens to be the shared birthday of the two friends. “Actually, we were going to open a day sooner, but there was this restaurant we like to go to when we start our tours, and you could get a discount on your birthday, based on your age. So we waited that extra day,” they laughed. “People in the restaurant celebrated the event with us, shouting “It’s Lucien and Jimmy!” Those folks really sold our show. And frankly, if people love a show and talk about it, that’s the best publicity of all.”
‘A Short History of Nuthin’ with Lucien (Marshall Button) and Jimmy the Janitor (Sandy Gillis) opens at Upper Canada Playhouse on October 17. Contact the Playhouse for tickets and share the world with “two very funny guys.” It’ll do your heart – and your funny bone – good.