Former resident hoping to shoot sitcom locally

Heather Latter

He was nominated as best comedian at the 2009 North American Indigenous Image Awards, was honoured to be a writer, host, and featured performer for APTN’s broadcast of 2009 Aboriginal Day Live, and was a featured comedian on season three of “Rez Tunez TV” (airing this fall).
But on top of all those accomplishments, comedian Ryan McMahon, who now lives in Winnipeg, has two more projects on the go—and he’d like to bring one of those back to his home town of Couchiching First Nation and Fort Frances.
“We’re developing a sitcom series which is loosely based on the Fort Frances/Couchiching relationship in terms of the geography, but also the small town situated next to a rez,” noted McMahon, adding the project stems from a comedy podcast called “Life According to Clarence Two Toes.”
“It has exceeded my expectations,” he enthused about the podcast. “It’s bigger than the first one I did, and this is the one where production companies and people really started knocking on my door and asking if I would be interested in developing it any further.
“Over the last six months, I’ve been talking with a lot of big-name production companies that have ties to Los Angeles,” he remarked.
In addition to the possible sitcom, McMahon also is looking at a web series based on the “Life According to Clarence Two Toes” podcast. But it’s the sitcom that he’s most excited about because of its hometown ties.
“I started to take a look at how the [Pither’s] Point Park land claim has sort of shaken out and how all the other things that historically go into the story of Fort Frances and Couchiching,” he explained.
“We’re going to fictionalize it and tell a story of a guy that moves home to a rez after his mom passes away and accidently becomes voted chief.”
He said the main character then is faced with the decision on whether to stay or leave. He decides to stay and during his first day on the job, he opens up an envelope and discovers the reserve was awarded a land claim settlement of $215 million.
“The story and the series picks up on day one of that journey,” McMahon indicated. “And what it really is is a look at smalltown Canada and how it relates to First Nations and vice-versa.
“It’s something that’s never really been talked about, certainly in Canadian television but any medium. . . .
“What I’ve been told is it’s one of the most unique projects that’s come across the desks of the producers that I’ve talked to,” he added. “It’s relevant. It’s now. These are things that are happening out there now all across Canada as land claims are settled.
“And so we’re just going to take a light and funny look at all of that through the sitcom.”
If everything goes according to plan and McMahon gets his way, the production and shooting will take place here in Fort Frances and Couchiching.
“That’s what I’m really looking forward to,” he enthused, though noting he needs to get the production companies and financing behind him in order for this to happen.
But he wants to get a solid reaction from the local community and show the production companies that this is a viable place to shoot—that there is a good infrastructure here to house a couple of hundred crew members over six or eight weeks.
“If I just put that out there to Fort Frances and Fort Frances embraces it, either through comments online or visits to my website, it will show the production companies that it will be a good thing to bring over there,” he reasoned.
“And, hopefully, it creates jobs for people and brings some money into the community, as well.”
McMahon stressed everything is in the very early stages as they have to go through a full development process writing the show, and so on.
“So who knows, maybe the show takes place on Mars rather than in a small town,” he chuckled.
In the meantime, McMahon really wants to introduce everyone to his podcasts.
“I’d love to invite people to have a listen, have a laugh,” he said. “What I want to show the producers is that people understand where I’m coming from with the concept.”
McMahon felt his proposed sitcom, currently with the working title, “Don’t Call Me Chief,” is something that could replace “Trailer Park Boys” on the Showcase network since that series will be going off the air.
“What we’re saying is that we got the thing,” he remarked. “It’s Canadian, it’s funny, it’s from an aboriginal perspective. But anybody in Canada can relate to these things, especially in a small town.
“For example, the idea of going to get groceries at the bait and tackle shop because that’s what some people do.”
McMahon even has some well-known actors associated with the project so far, such as Scott Thompson from “Kids in the Hall,” who would play the mayor of the small town.
“We’re really going to hit it hard in what we’re trying to do—and that’s to make people laugh,” he stressed.
From acting in Muskie Theatre productions to Second City in Toronto, McMahon said moving into writing web series and sitcoms is just a natural progression.
“Because of my improv and sketch comedy background, it’s just sort of the next step,” he explained. “But I’m a comedian first. Live comedy is what I love.
“My dad’s Métis and my mom’s Ojibway,” McMahon continued. “I’m from a small town in Northwestern Ontario. That story, in and of itself, is unique.
“The area is so unique, is so different than anywhere else, that these stories are important.
“I think that’s why I’ve been noticed because I’ve been telling stories that no one has heard,” he reasoned. “And that just comes from my own point of view and where I come from.
“I feel blessed to come from Fort Frances and Couchiching First Nation, and really try to put it out there that these are amazing places.”
McMahon said should the sitcom materialize the way he hopes, the production will be co-produced as he’s forming a new company called Cowboy and Indian Productions.
“It’s a chance to take the concept of cowboys and Indians and flip it on its head—where aboriginal people can tell their own stories now and we’re in a different time, a different place,” he noted.
“The way I see it is it’s time to move forward in all facets of our life, whether it’s a land claim or a residential school,” he stressed. “It’s time to dust ourselves off and move forward.
“My company is about telling our own stories from our own point of view, no blame, no guilt, nothing crazy like that. Just getting to the funny sharing of our stories from our own point of view.”
But despite all the accomplishments and attention he’s receiving, McMahon feels that’s the worst part about the job.
“I don’t believe in the idea of celebrity,” he remarked. “I believe everyone is a hero, right from the guy who farms his own land to the firefighter who saves a life.
“Everybody is a celebrity, everyone is a hero in a way.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” he admitted. “That’s the only thing I have is my work ethic, and how hard and how badly I want to do this.”
McMahon’s podcast, “Life According to Clarence Two Toes,” can be found on his website at and on iTunes by searching for the title.