In 1999, we were honored to conduct an interview with Justin Cammy, a main-stay of the show from 1983-1985. Thanks to Justin for his contribution to the site!
How did you get the job on You Can't Do That On Television?
Even after all these years I'm still not exactly sure how I first became involved with YCDTOTV. In 1982, a teacher at my local school suggested that I might be appropriate to play the voice of a boy for a cartoon movie they were producing in Ottawa. Something called the Care Bears. This was way before all the Care Bear movies, before the Care Bears became the Beanie Babies of the early '80's, nobody had ever heard of such a thing before. The cartoon movie, to be shown on network TV, was supposed to introduce the Care Bears to a mass market. I recorded the voice of Kevin for this pilot called "The Care Bears in the Land Without Feeling" in one afternoon. I still remember months later, I was 12 at the time, gathering around to watch it. The only problem with my performance is that the lines I was given to read were rather contrary - all I had to say was "I don't want to, I don't care, you can't make me." My wife now laughs about this because she says that this was the true beginning of my ornery public behavior that has only multiplied in its contrarian tendencies in subsequent years.
Before the Care Bears, I recorded a traveling advertisement for OC Transpo, the local bus company in Ottawa. They took slides of me going all over town at bus-stops, paying drivers to get on the bus, sitting on the bus, sticking gum under the seats of buses, getting off the bus. There was a recording that I did to go along with the slides. They would show this presentation at school assemblies to teach kids how to take the bus. So I was basically responsible for teaching an entire generation how to take the bus -- this is a great source of pride in my life when I think that, if not for these ads, some kids would still be sitting at home with absolutely no idea about how to get downtown. How sad would that be??? They would all be adults now, just waiting for a bus -- but maybe in the wrong spot, never to make it to their destination.
So those were the two "professional" gigs I did as a child before YCDTOTV. As for how I became involved with the show though, I really can't recall. I know that just after I joined the cast, YCDTOTV started auditions for prospective cast members which hadn't really been done before. I never had to go through a big cattle call audition like many of the cast members after me. Roger Price, the producer, must have gotten my name from somebody who might have told him about this outgoing kid who could play a smart-ass with the same grace as a moron - whichever was called for. My range was so deep! I do remember that there was a problem right at the beginning when Roger wanted me to come in for a "read-through" of a script (to check me out). He called my home and my mother answered. He told her that he wanted me to come in on a specific day and time when they would be rehearsing. She told him that I wouldn't be able to come in then because I had Bar Mitzvah lessons every week at that time. And that was it! She hung up. He called right back and told her that she didn't understand... that this was a big show... US audience.... fame and fortune ... dancing women ... But she stuck firm telling him that he didn't understand - that I could come any other time except then. Don't get in the way of Bar Mitvah lessons - Moses said that in "The Prince of Egypt". In the end, they worked out a mutually convenient time and I came aboard for a trial episode. "Music" was the first show in which I appeared. I think Roger got back at me for the whole thing by making me wear diapers in that first episode while playing the sitar! When I think back about that episode now, all I want to do is run to the drug store and put those pampers on again. They were so comfy.
Describe what it was like to be involved in such a popular TV show?
Your question shows how different the perception of us was from our understanding of what we were doing. When I first joined the cast in 1983, YCDTOTV was only shown once per week, on Saturday mornings. Later, it was picked up by YTV, the Canadian channel for kids. Not once in my entire three years as part of the cast was I ever asked about the show or recognized on the street in Ottawa. None of my friends watched the show, as far as I knew. Even at school, very few people knew what I was doing since we would mainly rehearse and film the show during summers, school breaks, weekends, or after school. We knew that the show was very popular in the US because we used to get bags full of fan mail at the station which we occasionally would read when we were between scenes or bored. I remember one fan's mother inviting me to her daughter's birthday party in Florida, and several other fun pieces of fan mail which, when I had the chance, I would try to answer.
It's only later that I really became aware of how popular the show was for an entire generation of kids. For instance, two years ago several of my students who were aware of my days on YCDTOTV asked if I would publically show a few of my old tapes of the show. They organized the whole thing and wanted me to come down, say a few words to introduce it, answer some questions. They organized it in one of the university's colleges. I expected ten or twenty people. But 100 students showed up! This is on a school night, with little advertising, and more than a decade after I had had anything to do with the show. They stayed for over two hours, asking questions and laughing ridiculously. It was really only then that I realized that although YCDTOTV may not have meant very much to audiences up in Canada, it remains one of three or four programs that Americans growing up in the 1980's remember about their childhood. Since that time, two local papers have done little pieces about YCDTOV - more press than I got during my entire three years as part of the show!
What is your first memory of YCDTOTV? Your worst?
Those are tough questions. I think my first memory of YCDTOTV would have to be when I went up for my first read-through. I knew nothing about the show, I had never even seen the famous lockers or link set. I arrived at the CJOH studios where the cast rehearsed and filmed and was led through a long hallway which was lined with pictures of actors or newspeople associated with the show. When I made it up to the YCDTOTV offices which were way in a corner of the building on the second floor, the cast was already gathering around the table. As kids, they were friendly but you know kids - they weren't going to go out of their way in those first few minutes for this new face. We gathered around a big round table; Roger and Geoffrey Darby would sit at either end. I was given a scene to read and asked to try it a few different ways. I didn't know if that meant I was good or bad. That's really the first memory I have of the entire process. That and going into the studio for the first time and seeing all of the equipment, bright lights, the sets, the lockers. In retrospect, it was really quite exciting even though, at the time, it was very matter of fact for us all.
I'm not sure if I have any "worst" memories of YCDTOTV. Certainly leaving the show was troubling because it was always done under such strange circumstances. I was aware that whenever a cast member reached puberty and started looking more manly or womanly than boyish or girlish, his days would be numbered. And I expected this going into the 1985 season since my looks and voice had changed dramatically. If you look at one of my first shows like Literature and compare it with one of my last such as Identity Crisis, it looks like an identity crisis. I began as a chubby, mouthy kid with (in retrospect) really ill fitting, tight clothes and a boofy haircut. But by 1985, my voice had dropped, my hair was way cooler, and I was much thinner. If Titanic had been made in the 1980's, I for sure could have done Leo's role. I regret that after cast members left the show, many of them lost touch with each other. If anyone ever organized a reunion, I would definitely attend. But that was really part of the cycle of the show - kids left and came all the time. With the exception of Alasdair who I saw quite often when we were undergraduates at McGill in Montreal, Abby (who played Mom) who I ran into at a Billy Joel concert, and Alanis who I accidentally met with her mother when she was preparing to sing at a local exhibition in 1986 or 1987, the last time I ever saw the producers, director other cast members was the final day I worked as part of the cast in 1985. And it becomes very final when you know that this is your last scene as part of a show that you've had such fun doing, even if - in the greater scheme of life - the show doesn't mean very much.
Let's try some name association. What comes to mind in relation to Christine? Les? Alasdair?
Christine was by far the best actor in the cast. Not only was she the most experienced but, when I watch tapes now, she remains the most believable. The rest of us looked like we were acting - which was, of course, part of the charm of the show. But Christine looked natural up there. When I joined the cast, Christine had already been there for some time and she was significantly older than the rest of us. Because of that, I did not hang out with her as much as I did with those cast members more my age. But Christine really was the glue of consistency that kept things together, she was that professional.
Les was wonderful to work with. Since he was "Dad" to all of us on the show - and there was more than 100 of us over the years - we would joke that this Dad had led a full adult life. Les' range was quite impressive and I always had to try not to laugh when doing scenes with him. He reminds me a bit of Jerry Lewis, in that he would crack himself up trying to crack everyone else up. He was very kind to me personally in that he had another show of his own at the time in which he asked me to do a guest part. I always looked forward to the scenes with him, and when I got a little more daring, I would change my lines around to try and confuse him a bit! Most of my best memories of the show took place in scenes in which Les appeared - especially as El Capitano or Dad. It was just so ridiculous - a shooting squad, and this consistently drunk father who is an ex-Senator with the last name of Prevert!
Alasdair was my closest friend in the cast. He was closest to me in age, he had a year more experience in the cast than me so he was able to teach me the ropes. I remember spending most of my time between scenes hanging out with either Alasdair, Doug, and Vanessa. We would go almost daily to the Dairy Queen across the street, and then come back and hang out with the crew members who had stacks of magazines that ought to have been off-limits to young men our age. If Christine was the most believable actor on the show, Alasdair was its most authentic, both on and off camera. Although he was the heartthrob of America, appearing frequently in teen magazines and receiving bags full of fan mail, he was the most grounded kid I have ever met - generous with his advice, completely unassuming, and genuinely friendly.
Any final thoughts about YCDTOTV's place in television history?
In an interview done with me last year for the university paper, I explained that You Can't Do That on Televison, in retrospect, was the first post-modern children's television program of my generation. It subverted all accepted forms and deconstructed the pre-teen's understanding of such important institutions as the family, the classroom, detention, and the video arcade. When the school teacher did not know any better than to call Milton's masterpiece "Pair of Dice Lost", I saw teachers and parents squirming across the land. When he asked the class to name three types of rocks, and Alasdair was chastised for providing the geological differences between rocks rather than the "correct" answer of Hard Rock, Punk Rock, and Classic Rock, the program functioned as a generational clarion to viewers who, as they grew older and entered college, grew to demand the displacement of the canon with more relevant investigations of low culture. Anyone who now possesses a nauseating air of entitlement and complete disrespect for authority could have learned their lessons from YCDTOTV. It was that bad an influence. But funny!
What are you up to now?
I got married a couple of years ago to a wonderful woman. Although YCDTOTV was not a significant element in our courtship, she did watch the show as a girl growing up - but didn't remember me! How utterly humiliating. We are both finishing PhD's in literature and teaching at a university in the United States, although I go home to Ottawa quite a bit to be with my family.