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Red Green creator Steve Smith on what keeps the enduring duct tape monarch going

Canadian actor Steve Smith, also known as Red Green, poses for a photograph in Toronto on Wednesday, October 25, 2017. Smith was promoting his new book called "The Woulda Coulda Shoulda Guide to Canadian Inventions." THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
November 02, 2017 - 3:03 PM

TORONTO - No matter how hard Steve Smith has tried, he hasn't been able to kill Red Green.

The Hamilton-based comedian figured he'd done it more than a decade ago and was ready to hang up the character's suspenders and duct tape for the last time. But it hardly took a few years before Red was resurrected.

At his book publisher's office for a recent interview, the 71-year-old sits wearing a windbreaker jacket that barely conceals Red's trademark plaid shirt.

"It's inside me," Smith says in a moment of introspection. "I may not like it, but it's me. Get used to it."

It's a truth he came to terms with after his attempt to retire the character failed miserably. With 300 episodes on television, Smith bid a fond farewell to the president of the Possum Lodge in 2006, happy with what the eager tipster offered him, but at peace with casting him into the lake for good.

''I won't miss him, not even slightly,'' he said in a 2005 interview with the Hamilton Spectator.

''It's been so great, honestly ... I don't think there is more. I don't think there could be more and I sure don't need more or expect more.''

But Smith found himself writing down new ideas. Bored with playing too many rounds of golf, he found the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the character was too attractive to refuse.

His friend Brad Martin, the CEO of Penguin Random House Canada, urged Smith to consider writing a book in the Red Green persona in 2011. When it flew off shelves, Smith started writing another. And then another.

The fourth book, "The Woulda Coulda Shoulda Guide to Canadian Inventions," could be the last one, he insists, depending on how well it sells.

A swing at relationship advice in 2014's "Red Green's Beginner's Guide to Women" was a sales flop and knocked a bit of wind out of Smith's sails. He was so disappointed with the outcome that he offered to pay back his advance to the publisher.

"I don't like failure," he says. "Either we both win or we both lose. If we both lose, that's the way life is."

Random House refused his offer and pushed for another book instead. Smith says he agreed to the deal, as long as the advance payment went towards a bigger marketing budget instead of his padding his pocket ahead of time.

"The Woulda Coulda Shoulda Guide to Canadian Inventions" pairs the history of the country's technological successes with Red's backwoods analysis on ways to improve them. Breakthroughs like the Canadarm and insulin each get a dab of practical thinking and a heapful of charming illogicality seen through the handyman's eyes.

Smith just wrapped up a small tour of the U.S. with his one-man show "I'm Not Old, I'm Ripe," and will travel across Ontario over the next month to plug the new book.

He also runs an online Red Green fan club with videos, merchandise and a monthly message from the lodge. His YouTube videos have amassed millions of views.

"If there's anything I learned in life it's play your aces," he says.

"The older you get the more evidence you have of what your aces are. The things that you've done that have gotten you the most satisfaction or reward, do those. Don't do something else."

Smith says he's noticed the average age of his fans drop significantly in the past few years. More parents are bringing their kids to shows and teenagers are discovering old episodes on YouTube. It's one of the reasons he's dismissed ever returning to traditional broadcast TV.

"Now that commercial television is going the way of the dinosaur, it would be very hard for me to build that audience today," he says.

"People need tasters, samplers, a long time before they're ready for a big meal. You put episodes on, I think you're a dead man."

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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