Les Lye has left the building and he was followed by a cavalcade of wonderful characters…


By Shawn Robare

I was going to post the last Cartoon Commentary! column for the original G.I. Joe mini series today, but I thought I’d take a second to share some sad news instead.   I found out yesterday that actor/humanitarian Les Lye passed away on Tuesday the 21st.  Most people probably know nothing about this great man, but for kids like me who grew up in the 80s glued to Nickelodeon Mr. Lye was a huge part of our lives.  Les Lye was an icon in Canadian children’s television, and thanks to Nickelodeon’s forward thinking when it came to their slate of international shows in their original programming schedule, kids all over America got a chance to watch You Can’t Do That on Television at least twice a day for around fourteen years (between the original 10 seasons and reruns for years after.)  The children’s sketch comedy show was broadcast from 1979 until 1990, and the only mainstay from beginning to end, and the guy who really helped to give a voice and feel to the comedy was Mr. Lye.

For me, growing up in the 80s, You Can’t Do That on Television was my first year exposure to sketch comedy.   It opened my eyes and primed me for shows like Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, and SCTV, the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, the State and of course Saturday Night Live, and of all the great character performers, Phil Hartman, Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, Mark McKinney, Dana Carvey, Michael Palin, Andrea Martin, Matt Besser, Thomas Lennon, and Joe Lo Truglio, Les Lye was doing work that was shoulder to shoulder.  There was a little bit of Lon Chaney in his range as he embodied at least 13 regular characters, each distinct and hilarious, not to mention a ton of other adult male roles for the show.

He’s probably best known for playing Ross Ewich, the program director at YCDTOTV, infusing a little bit of Pat Harrinton’s One Day at a Time character Schneider as well as his own brand of sleazy manager and general foil for the kids.  Of course, his portrayal of Barth Bagge, the short order cook from hell is nothing short of genius.  I don’t think there was a kid exposed to that character that didn’t find themselves uttering the catchphrase “I heard that…” on a daily basis.  Here’s a gallery of some of his best characters…

Ross Ewich, Barth, & Blip (the arcade proprietor)…

      

The Principal, the teacher (Mr. Schidtler, one part Hitler one part Wallace Shawn), and the crazed bus driver Snake Eyes…

      

The Executioner El Capitano (who always manages to get himself shot), the dungeon torturer Nasti, and the Groucho Marx inspired doctor…

      

The studio announcer, and later there was also the camel-nosed football coach, and the similarly unfortunately-schnozed camp counsler…

      

My favorite by far was his character Lance Prevert the resident father and drunken Senator…

Whereas most people seem to find Homer Simpson as the most modern relate-able father figure, for me it will always be Les Lye’s Dad.  There was just something magical about his shabby, filthy appearance with the crazy bird’s nest of reddish brown hair and that slight five o’clock shadow.

I’ve read nothing but great things about Mr. Lye, how he was giving of his time, super gracious to his fans, and an amazing guy to work with, and though I never got a chance to meet him, I’ll miss him terribly just the same.  Hopefully one day Viacom with get their collective thumbs out of their asses and finish their plans to put You Can’t Do That on Television out on DVD so that more generations of kids can get exposed to all the amazing stuff from that show, in particular Mr. Les Lye.  You can find some episodes of the show at the great Manchester Morgue blog.

Twitter del.icio.us Reddit Slashdot Digg Google StumbleUpon

  • HooveR

    It was “”Barth”" not “”Barf”". Note the hat.

  • Charles

    I just found out today and what a great tribute you posted. He will be missed.

  • Wings

    My brother and I watched “”You Can’t Do That on Television”" for so many years, and Les and all his characters were such a big part of the show. Glad he was apparently a good guy in real life, too. Sad, he will be missed.

  • Lamar The Revenger

    that’s sad. he made the show. Duh Iyee heard that…

  • Teaessare

    Very sad. Just yesterday I drove past a placed called Barth insurance, and shouted “”Duh, I heard that!