Voyageur sits down with Andrew Younghusband
Recently a crew from Discovery Channel Canada got in touch with TCCC member company Siam Wheels about support for a documentary they were shooting about traffic in Thailand. After the shoot, Voyageur had the opportunity to sit down with the Canadian host of the documentary, Andrew Younghusband.
Andrew was born in Canberra, Australia, where his father was taking a PhD and the family moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland, when he was seven. He tells people “not to trust Google because Wikipedia says I was born in 1971 in St. John’s, but I was actually born in Canberra in 1970.” His parents are curious folk, but not remarkably funny: his father a scientist, his mother a nurse.
In high school, he had a young drama teacher named Lois Brown, still a friend, who insisted that all her students write their own plays, instead on doing set pieces. This is what sparked Andrew into writing his own material. When he was 17, he moved out of his parent’s house and started working in the theatre professionally, forming a sketch comedy troupe with Rick Mercer and two other high-school friends, renting out the St. John’s community theatre to perform shows.
As Newfoundlanders tend to be the brunt of other Canadians jokes, did he poke fun at other Canadians: “We called the rest of Canada, Canada, we didn’t really think we were from there. If you were going to Toronto, you were going to Canada. Canada wasn’t on our radar; we were just making ourselves laugh.
How did Andrew and his troupe get started and what was their inspiration?“We wrote our first sketch comedy play in a room, which we rented for a dollar an hour, next to where CODCO* was working on their first television show,” says Andrew; “They’re gods, Mary Walsh (she later created This Hour has 22 minutes, a parody of the nightly news that would poke fun at Canadian and international politics.) Mary’s a comedic hero; she’ll go down as a Canadian comic legend, other CODCO members included Andy Jones, Greg Malone and Tommy Sexton. It was CODCO that convinced us that we could do professional comedy because they were doing professional comedy. They were telling us we were good enough to be on TV, and we knew that they should know, because they already were on TV themselves.”
“First and foremost, Newfoundland is story-telling culture; to this day, if you go to someone’s house in rural Newfoundland, they are not going to ask you if you want to see a movie, they are going to tell you a story. It’s a drop-in culture, the phone never rings, and the door opens up twenty times a day.”
Andrew’s latest project (which remains unnamed but is going by the working title, Car Course) is what brought him to Bangkok. Filming in Delhi, Bangkok, Manila, Ulaanbaatar, Mexico City and Lima, he is going to cities with the most dangerous traffic to drive as many vehicles as he can in one week with the simple goal of acquiring enough skills to navigate the city that he finds himself in. In Delhi, he drove with a cab driver, starting in one market and trying to get to another market without breaking any laws and keeping everything safe.
In Thailand he tried his hand at delivering food by motorcycle in Chinatown.
There will be six one-hour shows, that will air in Canada this summer, and Andrew’s also going to shoot the ninth season of Canada’s Worst Driver when he goes back to Canada, they’ll start shooting in June and it will air from October-December.
Another show that Andrew was involved in was called Canada’s Worst Handyman, which Andrew wrote, produced and hosted. He says that he eventually hit a wall after having no time off for six years and so last year he took a four-month bike ride from Cairo to Cape Town to try and recoup from a gruelling film schedule. Andrew quit Handyman to get some quality time, but when he was offered “Car Course”, “it was just too exciting and too cool a gig to say no to”.
For Canada’s Worst Driver, Andrew’s boss, Guy O’Sullivan, was the original director on the original British production for Mentorn. He married a Canadian woman and moved to Canada, where he then redesigned the show; in England, it was just about laughing at the bad drivers, but in Canada it was going to air on the Discovery Channel, which, because it was an educational channel, said it didn’t want to just laugh at the bad drivers, it wanted to teach them something and see how well they learned. The show also changed from a thirty-minute to a one-hour format.
For the show Tall Ship Chronicles, Andrew was at sea for 18 months on Picton Castle, which circumnavigated the world. Recalling that adventure, he says, “I’d been fishing a few times, but never been to sea, and was literally thrown into the eye of the storm, it was an old-school square rigger in every aspect, you’d be ninety feet up the mast pulling in a canvas sail by hand with no safety net. When I jumped on board the cook was frying eggs with one hand, loading coal with the other.
“I’ve never been out of work, but I think it’s because of the diversification: I’ve been a writer, actor, producer, written sit-coms, did everything to be on camera or be a professional story teller and nothing was beneath me, I even worked for a newspaper for a while, did a lot of opinion pieces.”
At the end of the day, Andrew’s a story teller, “I’ve had a weird eclectic career, and I really like that I’ve done in many different capacities, whether it be radio, stage, TV and film. As long as I can keep myself curious, I’m totally comfortable with what comes along.”
Andrew lives in Toronto, but owns a house in Newfoundland, and that’s where his parents and brother live.
It was a real pleasure to sit down with Andrew and catch up with a Canadian doing work in Thailand on a short term basis and we hope he and the Discovery crew come back again soon. If you’re back in Canada, keep your eye on Discovery Channel and you just might catch a glimpse of Bangkok.
**** CODCO was a Canadian comedy troupe from Newfoundland, best known for a sketch comedy series which aired on CBC Television from 1987 to 1992. Founded as a theatrical revue in 1973, CODCO drew on the province’s cultural history of self-deprecating “Newfie” humour, frequently focusing on the cod fishing industry. The troupe’s name was an abbreviation for “Cod Company”.
Andrew Younghusband is probably best known as the host of Discovery Channel Canada’s most popular show, Canada’s Worst Driver, but he’s been in show business for years.
He began his career at age 15 as a stage actor in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He then branched out into different media and different formats, including radio and television, filling roles in both writing positions and as an on-air personality. He has worked in serious and comedic roles, as well as documentary, reality, and news productions.
By the time he was nineteen, he landed his first role in the motion picture Understanding Bliss. He later branched out into television after making several guest appearances in various series like The Outer Limits and Black Harbour.
One of his comedic appearances was an on-stage and television appearance at the Halifax Comedy Festival. His early television writing duties were in comedic environments, but recently he has written for the two Canada’s Worst reality series.
In 1999, he was co-creator, writer and actor in the short-lived Canadian series Dooley Gardens, playing the role of homicidal ex-con Zamboni driver, Tracy. Later that year, he began hosting and co-wrote a Salter Street production called Foodessence, which lasted 65 episodes. The Gemini award-winning Foodessence explored how, why, and what we eat through anthropology, social-science, history and science. The reality-based and historical aspects of the show seemed to signal the beginning of a change of direction for Younghusband’s career.
In 2000, he earned critical acclaim for his role in the film Violet, as Carlos, the brilliant, gay son of the title character played by Mary Walsh. The film, set in Newfoundland, was first screened in August 2000 at the Montreal Film Festival.
Salter Street was purchased by Alliance Atlantis, and after the completion of his work on Foodessence, he signed up to participate in a new Life Network reality TV production called Tall Ship Chronicles.
Departing Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, in December 2000 on a 19-month, around the world voyage, Younghusband became a crew member of the barque Picton Castle. On board were the captain and nine other professional crew members, along with 35 trainees including Younghusband. Although he was the narrator of the program, he also had to act as bona-fide member of the crew who was required to live under 19th-century conditions. During the voyage, the footage was aired (beginning in June 2001) as a 16-part documentary on the Life Network, and later on other networks like the UK incarnation of the Travel Channel. Younghusband had made a guest appearance on the Topsail-produced series Black Harbour in 1998.
Younghusband appeared on CBC Newsworld regularly in a segment called Inside Media, in which he shows a talent for political satire. In 2004, he hosted a national radio show on CBC 1 & 2 called Crank It Up.
Following his experiences in the genre, Younghusband has since worked frequently in reality TV. He hosted and co-wrote the 2005 series Canada’s Worst Driver, which has run for eight seasons. He was also the host of Canada’s Worst Handyman, seasons 1 through 6.
Both take the most horrendous examples from Canada’s population as nominated by their family and friends and tries to teach them how to perform these tasks safely while simultaneously teaching the same skills to the viewers.
Andrew currently lives in Toronto, Ontario and had been nominated in 2005 for a Gemini Award in the category of Best Writing in an Information Program or Series for Canada’s Worst Driver.