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A Reunion of Friends, For My Son
July 25, 2017  | By TVWW Guest Contributor  | 5 comments

[EDITOR’S NOTE: What if they threw a fundraiser and everybody came? “Take Off, Eh,” held on July 18 at Second City Toronto, featured the reunion of Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis as SCTV’s Bob & Doug McKenzie, to raise money for Jake Thomas, Dave’s nephew, as well as for Spinal Cord Injury Ontario. Jake, a married father of 4, was left a paraplegic following an accident in January. TVWW asked longtime friend, award-winning singer/songwriter, author, and actor Ian Thomas – and Jake’s dad – for his first-hand account of the event. He graciously agreed to share his thoughts about this difficult but amazing night. Along with the stars who gave up their time to help his son, we send out our love and support. – Assistant Editor, Linda Donovan]

On January 7, 2017, my son Jake (left) became a paraplegic as the result of a freak snowmobile accident. When my brother Dave Thomas of SCTV fame broke the news to one of his closest friends Martin Short, Marty said, “We have to do a benefit.” In that initial conversation, they knew the services of another very close friend Paul Shaffer would be needed. Paul said yes before the question was finished. Paul, Marty, and Dave’s close friendship was solidified in the Godspell days of the early seventies and still goes on to this day with frequent get-togethers. Dave and I began to chat about venues and budgets only to quickly realize we were a couple of inexperienced knobs in the fields of fundraising and promotion. Dave called good friend Andrew Alexander who owns and runs Second City. Andrew’s experience in producing live shows & fundraising is considerable. He rolled up his sleeves immediately, throwing in his Toronto Second City venue to boot. Once the cast was in place, the press release went out and was printed in every major newspaper in North America. Game on. It seems the world was ready for the big cast of this little fundraiser headed by Bob and Doug McKenzie.

I sensed, as good parents, most were wondering what it would be like if one of their own children had such an awful accident. In fact, when Dave tried to thank Marty for instigating this fundraiser, Marty responded, “Nonsense, if this was my kid I’d be hitting on you.”

I met Marty in grade four and later again with Gene Levy when my brother Dave and I wrote a rock/comedy musical version of Frankenstein at McMaster University in 1970. Gene Levy played Igor while Marty made a huge entrance up through the stage floor as a pizza delivery boy. Gene even auditioned for my band in those early years. The gods smiled on him for staying his course as a comedic actor. I had the sweetest phone call from Paul and Marty in the winter of 1973. They held the pay phone up to let me hear my first hit song on the jukebox at their favorite deli in New York City. Over the years, I came to know and love many of Dave’s friends from Second City and even did a guest appearance on SCTV in 1981. It was a kindness – they knew it would help promote the record I had out at the time. Over the years these folks have become part of an extended family to me and mine. As for Dave, well he’s been my best friend and loving big brother for my entire life. 

After the phone call with Marty, Dave put the wheels in motion. He not only called his SCTV friends, but pal Danny Aykroyd (former Second City cohort), and friend Dave Foley from The Kids In The Hall who brought talented troupe-mates Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson along. Canadian TV icon Rick Mercer, having grown up on SCTV, agreed to be fodder for Marty’s outrageous interviewer Jiminy Glick. Former Second City greats Robin Duke and Kathryn Greenwood added to the comedic program with an additional skit that included Catherine O’Hara. Andrea Martin, who was working the night of the show, made her presence felt by donating to the “gofundme” website that was begun by Jake’s neighbours in the town of Bracebridge, Ontario. If Johnny Candy was still alive, I know he would have been there in a heartbeat.

To balance the program, Canadian music icon Murray McLauchlan signed on even after the three sold-out fundraising concerts he had suggested for Jake in June. Former label/management mate, Geddy Lee from Rush, drew a huge round of applause when he made a surprise appearance to sing “Take Off To The Great White North” with Bob and Doug. Rounding out the band were two of the best players in Canada, the great Rick Gratton on drums and Paul Intson on bass. Make-up artist extraordinaire Susan Upton never saw a moment of the show as she made up cast members, stuck in her trailer.

The day of the show as the cast began to wander in for rehearsal, the power of what was going on reduced me to tears. These folks were all assembling for my son. Their love and caring were palpable. Catherine O’Hara hugged me and said, “We’re here because we’re all hams.” Her hug had already spoken her heart. Eugene immediately asked how Jake was doing and when I attempted to thank him he said “Are you kidding? I would never have missed this.” Rick Moranis drove up from NYC and said simply how glad he was to be there for Jake and our family. After asking how Jake was doing, Paul Shaffer added “Besides, I always wanted to play the clavinet part for ‘Painted Ladies.’ ” This was Paul’s gracious way of deflecting his own generosity as he assumed the role of music director, a role his wonderful musical skills accommodated with an effortless grace.

Paul was the musical glue of the show. He played a solo spot, backed up Marty, me, Danny, stick handled a complex medley for Gene and Catherine as SCTV lounge lizards Bobby Bittman and Lola Heatherton and changed the key of the closing number “Take Off” with the McKenzie Brothers to make it just right for Geddy’s voice.

Marty was the comedic glue with his finely honed stage characters and material. If there was a hole in the program, Marty was there to fill it.  When Jake arrived at the hospitality tent a few minutes before curtain, Danny, Paul, Dave, Marty, and Eugene all gathered round him to chat with genuine concern.

The wattage of the cast drew a sold-out crowd from the entertainment community including the likes of Norman Jewison and Michael Douglas. Fans flew in from all over North America. The audience knew they were witnessing something wonderful, a once in a lifetime “up-close” with some of the greatest comedic performers our generation has known. The air was electric with nostalgia and expectation. But there was also an undeniable feeling of warmth for why those greats had gathered together. One of their sons was hurting. Friends, huh? We often take them for granted even though they give our lives meaning beyond our ken. Friends might be the very measure of what we call self-esteem or self-worth.

Woody Allen once said that if we consider that when our sun burns out, all the greatest accomplishments of our species will be instantly vaporized. And in this ominous inevitability, we need distractions … like laughter, music or love. 

On Tuesday, July 18, 2017, my son laughed for three hours in his wheelchair and another couple of hours at the after party. His own laughter drowned out the neuropathic pain that medicine has done so little to quiet. He felt love from a family of friends, some of whom had held him as a baby. There was also the practical love of a few hundred thousand dollars that poured into The Jake Thomas Trust Fund. The Trust Fund will help provide some financial stability as he works his way through the hurdles of his paraplegia. There is a good life waiting for him and his family. He will get there, and the struggle will have been both worthwhile and bearable because of one of the most precious gifts life has to offer him – his friends.

Award-winning recording artist Ian Thomas broke through with his 1973 hit “Painted Ladies” and he hasn’t stopped since. His songs have been released through his work with The Ian Thomas Band, The Boomers, Lunch at Allen’s, his solo recordings, and through other artists including Santana, America, Manfred Mann, and Bette Midler. He has published two novels and has an autobiography and another novel in the works.

(Photos of Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis as the McKenzie Brothers, and Eugene Levy as Bobby Bittman, courtesy of Ian Thomas)

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I had no idea about this. Holding your Jake and his lovely family in our nightly prayers. You were always so kind to me in our brief encounters and I wanted you to know that you are thought of and your family too. Regards, Corinne
Jul 28, 2017   |  Reply
Excellent, Andrew - - Excellent!
Jul 27, 2017   |  Reply
Derek Johnson
I always suspected these were really good people as well as really funny ones. Best luck to Jake and his family.
Jul 27, 2017   |  Reply
Jonathan Storm
An inspiring story. I would have given anything to be there.Good luck to Jake.
Jul 26, 2017   |  Reply
Mark Isenberg
Great Effort by Good Friends and if you were lucky,you stayed up late to watch SCTV with the originals including some sweet guy named Candy,long ago.
Jul 26, 2017   |  Reply
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