Young Drunk Punk: Bruce McCulloch Elevates Canadian Comedy Again

Comedy Features
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When Bruce McCulloch premiered his one-man, autobiographical play, Young Drunk Punk, it received fairly positive reviews. The man, after all, is a comedy legend. Now, he’s got a full cast for a television show with the same name. And Young Drunk Punk is now a high point in the history of Canadian comedy shows.

Featuring classical sitcom scenarios and character types—a bumbling father played by McCulloch himself, a latched-on best friend who never seems to be going anywhere (Shinky, played by Atticus Mitchell, who might look familiar—he once played bully Carlos Martinelli on Canadian teen sitcom How To Be Indie and another bully, Mickey Hess, on Fargo), and the wayward young main character, Ian McKay, played by Tim Carlson—Young Drunk Punk rises out of the ashes of Canadian comedy as something truly fresh and original.

Perhaps it’s the tragically hysterical misadventures Ian and Shinky get themselves into—from meeting the hockey star in their small town to an endless job hunt to the makeshift horror movie as a get-rich-quick scheme. Maybe it’s the terribly-acted, almost-too-camp-to-be-true character of Belinda, Ian’s sister, or the hilarious dedication to punk that both main characters have, but Young Drunk Punk has struck a nerve with viewers, pulled in positive reviews and has already been renewed for a second run. Filmed and taking place in Calgary, which, to Torontonians is basically the butthole of the country (besides, like, Bowmanville), it’s funny, unique and oddly relatable. What makes it Canadian beyond the constant state of winter? The show encourages a small bout of Canadian pride—when The Clash come to Calgary, the shock and surprise exuding from both boys is terrific, and it should be. Even in Toronto, a huge band showing up and blessing the city with their tour can be surprising and exhilarating.

The relatable storylines and characters are key to the show’s success. After hijacking their high school graduation with some punk music and having their diplomas held on to by their guidance counselor, Ian and his strange sidekick, Shinky, decide to enjoy their summer as best they can, until the need for a job comes along. A particularly funny episode features the two in a competition with each other, trying to get fired from as many jobs as they can. Later, a deadpan scene showcases the pile of nametags from each rejected job opportunity. Shinky is having a great time—until Ian finds a job, and, in a disgusting betrayal of anarchy, punk, and their friendship, actually likes it. In another episode, the two get jobs at a construction site owned by Ian’s sister’s ex-boyfriend, who tries to make nice with Ian to get the details on Belinda, while Shinky gets his boots stolen from the other workers and picks up a bad habit or two. Oh, and don’t forget Ian’s debilitating crush on Diane, a story arc that takes several episodes to get to before the two are presented with a “blessing” from Diane’s parents before they have sex for the first time.

They fill familiar roles: Ian is the sensitive, smarter one, and Shinky is his not particularly bright comic sidekick. Often the sidekick becomes the favorite character in a sitcom like this, and it’s not much different here, although Bruce McCulloch’s father character steals the show on a lot of occasions.

The friendship aspect of Young Drunk Punk makes it relatable to any partnership. Though most friends probably haven’t stolen a golf cart or made a horror movie with security cameras in a gated Calgary community, you probably lived through similar misadventures and have similar tales to tell—or maybe they’re on the verge of happening. A truly feel-good, funny experience, it’s part camp, part general sitcom, and part Canadiana ‘80s nostalgia that makes it feel more lived and loved.

Beyond the hilarious stories that it follows, Young Drunk Punk also offers an incredible wardrobe—from stylish Belinda to young punkers Ian and Shinky. Stripy blazers, buttons, pins, and all sorts of odd layers allow the two to be just the kind of punks everyone can relate to—not so try-hard they seem intimidating, but different enough to stand out. And at the end of the day, Ian and Shinky sit in the woods of Calgary and drink some Canadian beer out of chubby glass bottles—something most Canadian audiences can relate to.

Young Drunk Punk truly deserves more attention. Besides having funny, baseline jokes for a younger audience, its presence is similar to that of The Goldbergs—it fully explores the “this is my life when I was a kid” trope that periodically pops up on prime time comedy television. There’s a reason for that—it works. Even if you weren’t a punk in the early ‘80s, you can share in the nostalgia for youthful indiscretions, the freedom of adolescence, and the excitement and fear intrinsic in becoming an adult. Who doesn’t love a show about your mistakes as a teenager? Don’t eras get funnier when there’s some space between them? I mean, just look at the wardrobes. And who doesn’t love a show with the word “drunk” already in the name?

Structurally, it feels like a sitcom, but it has a semi-linear that spreads out across most episodes. The universal comedy and occasional self-contained episodes allow anyone to jump in anywhere and just start up, though. In one episode, the gated community where Ian lives plays host to a Calgary Flames hockey star. Belinda immediately tries to get on his good side by baking goodies with her mother, Tracy Ryan (an excellent casting choice for the neurotic yet caring mother figure of the show), and Shinky becomes his assistant. Canadian hockey pride lives on through Young Drunk Punk, and really, every Canadian—it’s somewhere below the surface. You can try to keep it hidden, but it’ll always come out.

Following the lives of Ian, his father and mother, Belinda, and occasionally Shinky (though Shinky’s family is never shown and he never seems to be needed or wanted anywhere), the show allows for some variety in stories—if the Belinda storyline is too contrived and needlessly whiny one episode, be sure that Ian’s father Lloyd will bring the whole thing back to a grounded (if somewhat dimwitted) reality.

Still, the best part of Young Drunk Punk isn’t the clothes, the underlying sarcastic jokes, or the funny-shaped glass beer bottles that Ian and Shinky are always chugging from. It’s the most obvious sign that the show is set in a truly different time: everybody smokes. Indoors. Jeezaloo.

Sofie Mikhaylova has written for Vice and Noisey. Follow her on Twitter @sofiesucks.