Andrea Martin is enjoying her summer trip to Portugal when she’s patched onto the phone line last night with The Comic’s Comic.
“It’s surreal for me to have a show premiere and me be in Lisbon,” Martin said. So if fans tune in tonight to the American debut of Working The Engels on NBC and start interacting with her via social media, she may already be asleep. Or she may be awake. The instant fan feedback option is all new to her. “I’m happy for any attention!”
Martin, 67, is all American. Born in Portland, Maine, and getting her start on Captain Kangaroo as a singing chicken — but it was in Toronto, where she moved after visiting with a touring production and joined the cast of Godspell with Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Gilda Radner, Jayne Eastwood, Victor Garber and musical director Paul Shaffer — where everything changed for her. And, then, of course, the legendary sketch comedy show SCTV. SCTV debuted in 1976 on the Global network in Canada. In 1981, NBC picked up SCTV, too.
Here is one of her SCTV appearances as Edith Prickley, from 1979.
Multiple Tony Awards nominations (Martin won her second in 2013 for her work in the Broadway revival of Pippin), and a book of essays later (“Andrea Martin: Final Days! Everything Must Go!” is due later this year from Harper Collins), she found herself back in Toronto on another comedy series that’s been sold to American TV and NBC with Working The Engels.
Martin stars as Ceil Engel, the widow who takes over her late husband’s law firm and gets the whole family involved to keep it running. Her co-stars are Kacey Rohl, Azura Skye and Benjamin Arthur. Martin said she can identify with the role. In real life, she is a mother of two grown sons (aged 31 and 33), “still trying to be in their life or enable them or being way too consumed with their lives when they’re grown men.”
Working The Engels debuted on Global in March, airing its first-season finale on May 29 in Canada. NBC picked up the first 12 episodes.
Which is something, some three decades and change later, that Martin can identify with, also.
“It did feel completely full circle, because we were actually filming in the studio about five minutes from where we filmed SCTV,” Martin told me.
“I have a house in the same area, so the route to work was the same. So it was a surreal flashback. However, once we were on the set it felt completely different because we shot (SCTV) with four cameras.” Working The Engels is single-camera.
And on SCTV, too, Martin and cohorts such as Levy and Short, John Candy, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty, Catherine O’Hara and Dave Thomas would have their own methods for finding the funny in a sketch. “We used to do a scene, look at the monitor, correct it, and do it again,” Martin said.
On Engels, she said she’d offer suggestions earlier in the production, such as during or before table reads.
That said, working in Toronto offered the same respite from New York City and Hollywood now as it did a generation ago. “It was just so isolated in Toronto. There were no distractions!”
“We had a little more freedom, obviously. So in that way, it was really just about the work. And really there’s nothing better than that. The fact that this is how SCTV was done too, not knowing it would be on NBC. Oh. Wow. NBC. I’m just putting that together,” she said.
“Oh those were the days of Brandon Tartikoff, rest in peace. He was such a huge supporter of us. Bob Greenblatt, too, I think is a huge supporter.”
Working The Engels debuts tonight on NBC.