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Dave Thomas – Biography

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Although Dave Thomas was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, he spent quite a few of his formative years growing up in North Carolina. He also spent some time living in England which, according to Thomas, gave his sense of humour that unique cross between slap stick, and standup American and the so-called “black humour” of the British. It was this complicated package that returned to Hamilton to attend McMaster University where he graduated with a master`s degree in English literature.

You might think this future funny man would have hit the standup circuit, or tried his hand at writing comedy, but, oddly enough, Thomas found himself trying out for a role in the Toronto production of Godspell. If that isn’t funny enough, he actually landed a part. A quick lesson in showbiz was waiting when three months later the show closed and Dave Thomas was out of work. Uncertain about the future, Thomas thought he could turn his degree in English into a job as a writer. He applied for a job at an advertising agency and actually went on to become a successful ad writer. But then when he was 27 he turned his back on what could have been a long and lucrative career because, as he has said, “actors should never play second fiddle to boxes of soap.” Dave Thomas wanted to be an actor.

His next opportunity would turn out to be one of those lucky breaks that seem to happen rarely in a business fraught with failure. He auditioned for the Toronto company of Second City, in a series of sessions that lasted a full week. In the end he got the invitation to join, and he honed his skills in front of small live audiences. He came to the attention of another Northern Star, David Steinberg, and Thomas became a regular on The David Steinberg Show. But he like the collegial atmosphere of Second City and in a stroke of perfect timing returned to the troupe as cast members from both the Toronto and Chicago companies joined forces to create Second City Television (SCTV). A year later, Thomas won an Actra Award for Best Performer in a Variety Show, and in subsequent years, he received a second Actra Award as well as three nominations. More importantly the series gave him a chance to broaden his skills and he ended up directing hundreds of hours of SCTV. Neither his acting or writing suffered, however, and Thomas was honoured with an Emmy Award and five Emmy nominations as the show`s head writer. As if to prove he wasn’t a one-trick pony and could succeed beyond SCTV, he also picked up a Cable ACE Award nomination for his starring role in Public Enemy Number 2 on cable television.

Strange Brew, Lobby Card
This image was scanned from an original set of Lobby Cards for Strange Brew in the Northernstars Collection.
In an odd way, it is somehow unfortunate that Dave Thomas and his cohort, Rick Moranis, are probably best known to audiences in both Canada and the Untied States as the McKenzie brothers, an act which rocketed both of them to stardom. Unfortunate because they are both capable of so much more. The McKenzie brothers became a part of American lore when SCTV became a part of late-night television. Their comedy album, “Bob and Doug McKenzie’s Great White North,” went gold in the U.S. and triple platinum in Canada, where it also won a Juno Award for Best Comedy Album. In the U.S., it was given a Grammy nomination. The McKenzie brothers became movie stars with the feature Strange Brew, which Thomas co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in with Moranis. Strange Brew received Canada`s Golden Reel Award as the highest grossing film of 1983. When a sequel was floated a few years ago there were no takers and that project seems to have been permanently shelved. But at the time of Strange Brew, Thomas was riding a long wave of success and it started to bother him.

He took a break, left Hollywood, and came home to Canada. He didn’t stop working, however, and in addition to spending time with his family he kept busy writing and producing network television pilots. He returned to Hollywood when he began to miss performing in sketch comedy. A little known fact is that Dave Thomas co-created and was co-executive producer of America`s Funniest People for ABC in 1990.

Dave Thomas lives in Los Angeles. That is, when he isn’t someplace else busy with his career as a director and actor.

Go to Dave Thomas’ filmography.

leaf The images used in this biography were scanned from a complete set of original Lobby Cards for Strange Brew in the Northernstars Collection. This biography is Copyright © 2001 and may not be reproduced without prior written consent. For more information about copyright, click here.