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The untold truth of Trailer Park Boys

Since it premiered on an obscure Canadian cable channel in 2001, Trailer Park Boys has gone from an underground cult favorite to an international sensation, as audiences around the world warmed to the foul-mouthed antics of Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles. Often described as "the other side of COPS," the show adopted the "mockumentary" format years before the U.S. version of The Office (starting about the same time as the original U.K. version of The Office) and paved the way for "lowlife" comedies from Eastbound and Down to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Here's the untold truth of how a bunch of friends from Nova Scotia changed the face of Canadian comedy.

Almost nobody was a professional

Instead of professional actors, many of the original cast were friends of creator Mike Clattenburg. Robb Wells and John Paul Tremblay, who play Ricky and Julian, met Clattenburg in high school and went on to run a pub and pizzeria on Prince Edward Island before leaving to work on the show. Another of Clattenburg's buddies was Mike Smith, the guitarist for alt-rock band Sandbox. Clattenburg originally asked him to record the audio on an early version of Trailer Park Boys, but Smith was so funny on set that he was eventually added to the show as fan favorite Bubbles.

John Dunsworth, who plays Jim Lahey, had the most experience out of the original cast, having worked steadily as an actor since the 1960s and even started his own acclaimed alternative theater. And Jonathan Torrens (J-Roc) was also fairly comfortable in front of the camera because he had previously hosted a teen-oriented talk show called Jonovision.

It almost didn't get picked up

After an early career as a local TV producer in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Clattenburg shot a feature-length Trailer Park Boys pilot on his own dime. In 2000, he flew to Toronto to pitch the show to TV executives. Unfortunately, a mockumentary about a group of foul-mouthed petty criminals wasn't an easy sell. Every network gave him a firm no. Clattenburg had actually given up and was preparing to return to Nova Scotia when he decided to give it one more shot. He and producer Barrie Dunn cold-called Showcase, a relatively new cable channel that was still trying to find its niche. To their shock, the vice president of programming picked up the phone and they were in her office pitching the show in 25 minutes. Showcase loved the pilot, and the Trailer Park Boys series was given the green light.

It took a while to become a hit

Trailer Park Boys debuted on Showcase in 2001, but it didn't exactly set the world alight in its first season. Michael Jackson, who played Trevor, says that one early fan organized a party to celebrate the show and the whole cast decided to go. Unfortunately, no one else turned up and the cast spent the night partying with their one fan. Fortunately, Showcase was a struggling young channel in need of content and played the episodes on repeat until they picked up a cult following. Something similar happened in America, where the show became an underground hit years before it was ever broadcast in the U.S., to the point that the cast members found themselves recognized everywhere when they visited Los Angeles in early 2004, despite the fact that the show had never aired there and DVDs weren't even officially on sale in the US.

They don't really smoke on set

The main characters of Trailer Park Boys are known for their love of booze and weed, and their offscreen counterparts are no different. John Paul Tremblay has even claimed they came up with most of the ideas for the show after smoking a joint. You can even look forward to TPB-brand weed, since the producers recently announced that they signed a deal with medical marijuana giant OrganiGram to launch their own line of products once recreational cannabis is legalized in Canada.

However, the one thing they don't do is actually smoke or drink on camera, since that wouldn't be a great idea for actors working long days and doing multiple takes of most scenes. For smoking scenes, Robb Wells has said that they're often actually toking on rosemary. Before that, they sometimes used tobacco, but gave that up for health reasons. And the pot plants grown by Ricky are actually perfectly legal industrial hemp plants, which do not contain any THC. That said, you can spot real cannabis at least once in the series, with Wells explaining that "there was one time when we were doing bottle hits. They were trying to get this fake stuff to burn like hash and they couldn't find anything that worked, so I think they used real hash for that one."

It's based on a short film

A major inspiration for the series was a short film Clattenburg made in 1998. The short, called One Last Shot, featured John Paul Tremblay and Robb Wells as early versions of Julian and Ricky. After a day of committing minor crimes, the short depicts the pair falling in love with each other and deciding to move to Vancouver. The film was entirely improvised on set and John Dunsworth apparently stole the show in his first appearance as Mr. Lahey, to the point that he nabbed a best performance award at the Atlantic Film Festival. For a while, One Last Shot was never commercially released after its original festival showings, but it's now available on Netflix. A Clattenburg short film called The Cart Boy, featuring an early version of the Bubbles character, was eventually released as an extra on some Trailer Park Boys DVD collections.

Bubbles' glasses belonged to Mike Smith (and a dead Texan)

Mike Smith's Bubbles quickly became the show's breakout character, with his friendly attitude complemented by a pair of adorably thick glasses, which are actually older than the character. When Mike Smith was still a professional musician, his girlfriend went to Texas to visit family and wound up at a local flea market, where she spotted the glasses among the effects of an elderly woman who had just died. Since she only had 50 cents, she had to leave a framed picture of the woman behind, which Smith still regrets.

Smith loved the glasses and would put them on to amuse friends, which was the origin of the "Bubbles" character. Of course, when Bubbles became a regular on Trailer Park Boys, Smith had to start wearing the glasses for longer periods, which originally gave him a pounding headache. Luckily, he's now at the point where "my brain turns off my eye pain somehow."

Actors have complained about exploitation

After four classic seasons, the actors who played Cory and Trevor left the show, complaining of low pay and poor working conditions. Cory Bowles eventually returned as Cory, but Michael Jackson refused to make another appearance as Trevor, posting that he felt "ripped off financially" and "disrespected as an actor and as a person." According to Jackson, he worked for the minimum actor's equity pay for the first three seasons, then received only tiny raises despite the show's growing popularity. By Season 5, friends who appeared in commercials were still making more than he was. To make matters worse, the producers repeatedly lied to him and the other actors about other actors' pay, refused to hire a proper film crew, and provided unsanitary bathrooms and trailers.

John Paul Tremblay, who writes for the show and plays Julian, later hit back at Jackson on a Trailer Park Boys forum. According to Tremblay, "the grass always looks greener on the other side" but he and the other writers actually made "pennies an hour" and "took tremendous risks, left good paying jobs and decided to take a chance at doing something we strongly believed in, for next to no money at all."

Mike Smith was charged with domestic violence

Fans love Bubbles for his gentle, childlike nature. So there was shock in 2016 when Mike Smith was arrested in a Los Angeles hotel and charged with domestic battery against a woman named Georgia Ling. But the situation was apparently more complicated than the initial headlines suggested, and the charges were quickly dropped. Ling later released a statement insisting that "Mike and I did indeed have a heavy argument, but ... at no point did I feel I was in danger, otherwise I would've called the police myself, which I did not. The police were called by others not present in the room who mistakenly perceived the argument to be something other than what it was."

The incident was complicated further when actress Lucy DeCoutere, who plays "Lucy," announced that she was leaving the show over the incident, tweeting that "If I find out that somebody is abusive, I cut them out of my life. It's very easy." However, the show's publicist contradicted this claim, insisting that DeCoutere had informed producers she was quitting weeks earlier. DeCoutere later suggested that the whole thing had been a misunderstanding, declaring that "the TPB cast and crew are still my friends and there are no bad feelings between us."

More bad news came in 2019 when Smith was accused of sexual assault, according to a Vice News investigation. Smith was accused in 2005 of sexually assaulting a teenager but denies the allegations and no charges were filed.

Their live tours had some unusual merchandising

During their recent live tour, the boys earned some extra cash by having Julian invite fans up on stage to buy cheap hamburgers for $10 a pop. The burgers were often cooked live on a George Foreman grill, later revealed to have been stolen from shirtless cheeseburger addict Randy. At other shows, the "Julian Burgers" were reportedly just McDonald's cheeseburgers wrapped in paper. Fan reviews claim they "tasted like disappointment."

The boys did come in for some criticism for cashing in on their fans. A VICE reporter estimated that Julian raked in at least $1,500 at a show in Oakland, with drunk and stoned audience members queuing up on stage to buy the burgers. In an interview to promote the U.K. leg of the tour, John Paul Tremblay insisted that the stunt "wasn't a scam! Those people got their cheeseburgers!" During at least one later show, the burgers were replaced with "Julian Chips," which were just Walkers' Crisps with a "J" drawn on the packet.

It won't end anytime soon

After 12 seasons, an animated series, multiple movies, an international live tour, and numerous minisodes and specials, the boys could be forgiven for wanting to take a break. But aside from a few minor quibbles (Robb Wells and Mike Smith have moaned about keeping the same terrible haircuts for well over a decade), and a sad passing (R.I.P. John Dunsworth), they show no signs of slowing down.

The stars have spoken about their desire to become a Canadian Coronation Street (a British soap aired regularly since 1960), with the characters growing increasingly decrepit. As the boys told Metro News, "it's funny to watch the characters get older ... where 20 years from now you see Ricky, Julian and Bubbles who are in their late 60s. ... We want to continue shooting until our fans say 'Guys, it's time to shut it down.'"

Whether the boys ever pick up after season 12 for the main storyline of TPB or not, their momentum in other projects continues to go strong. The show took its shot at an animated series on Netflix, which will see a new season. Filming has also been teased by Bubbles on social media for a new live-action season.

A group of foul-mouthed criminals living in a trailer park has more than enough juice to carry a show, and the boys have basked in the glory of 12 seasons and countless spinoffs/versions of the TPB. There's no reason to believe Trailer Park Boys won't continue for years to come, no matter what the show evolves into.

The first four seasons were filmed at four different parks before the boys created their own

It might appear that the trailer park looked the same (or Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles stole the show and fans didn't notice), but the first four seasons of Trailer Park Boys were filmed at different locations across Nova Scotia, Canada. Due to complaints by the residents, the boys were apparently forced out of these parks and opted to purchase and build their own set in Dartmouth, which is the park fans start to see in season 5.

Of course, the Out of the Park series sees Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles go on adventures away from the park and travel the world, making stops in Europe and the United States, hence "Out of the Park." While the show takes place in different locations, the true home of Trailer Park Boys is wherever the boys are present. Similar to real life, home can be a physical place, but it's also where people feel most comfortable and loved, with their best friends, loved ones, or makeshift family.

The real reason J-Roc left the show

There's plenty of speculation surrounding J-Roc's departure from the show. Torrens announced his departure on Twitter, which came shortly after DeCoutere's announcement.

As CBC points out, Torrens stated in his podcast, Taggart and Torrens, "I ultimately felt that I had achieved all that I could with J-Roc, but he's been in my head and part of my existence for so long, it's weird."

J-Roc graced the park with his presence for ten magical seasons. While Torrens left shortly after DeCoutere's departure, it appears he took the role as far as it could go. He also said in his podcast, in reference to his character, "You're 43 years old. You're wearing a do-rag. I'm not buying you as wangster anymore." He's been transparent on why he left the show and although fans would love to see their favorite rapper drop more bars at park concerts, he gave the role everything he had, nomesayin?

How the theme song became the theme song

The TPB theme song is calm, tranquil, and gives fans a peaceful view of the park before F-bombs and complete comedic chaos takes over. How did it become the iconic theme song it is today, though?

The theme song is influenced by Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," and can be heard 45 seconds into Bennett's classic. "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" was written in 1954 by George C. Cory Jr. and Douglass Cross, according to Songfacts, but wasn't released until 1962. The classic peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100, and in 2001, the tune peaked at No. 1 in the hearts of Trailer Park Boys fans.

While "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" came first, the TPB theme song is called "Breeze" (although fans probably prefer "Trailer Park Boys Theme Song") by Blain Morris, who adapted Bennett's song into TV theme gold. From Bennett to Morris, the song has and will always be a classic.

TPB is meant to be episodic

While it can be more rewarding to watch a season or series from start to finish — because viewers get to see character development, redemption, story arcs, and the plot pay off — Trailer Park Boys is meant to be episodic in nature. That means people should be able to watch any episode of TPB and understand what's happening.

There are running jokes that start-from-finishers and diehard fans will appreciate, such as Randy gobbling down cheeseburgers or his "shirt allergy." However, similar to shows like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Seinfeld, a first-time viewer should be able to watch any episode and understand the plot. Although Sunny does have odd scenarios occurring at any given time that can throw off new viewers (such as Mac and Dennis switching roles mid-scene in "The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6"), and so does TPB.

Episodic or not, watching the show in chronological order allows viewers to better understand the characters. On the surface, the Trailer Park Boys are criminals who routinely come up with small-minded plans, make illegal decisions, and wind up in jail, but as episodes play one after another, Ricky, Julian, Bubbles, Mr. Lahey, Randy, and the rest of the park residents become more charismatic, redeemable, and root-worthy.

There was a Bubbles bar/eatery

Jimmy Buffett has Margaritaville, Mark Wahlberg has Wahlburgers, and Bubbles has (well... had) Bubbles Mansion. Unfortunately, Bubbles & Co. had to close its doors in 2010. According to CBC, manager Brad Hartlin said the Halifax bar could no longer compete because students stopped coming once $1 drinks were no longer served.

Outside of laws raising minimum drinks from $1 to $2.50 and a shortage of downtown cabs late at night, there was legal trouble surrounding the ownership group in the form of eight Liquor Control Act violations at their other bar, The Toothy Moose, although Hartlin said the closing of Bubbles Mansion wasn't related to these legal troubles.

No matter the reasoning, TPB was (and still is) famous enough for characters to open an eatery/bar in their name and likeness. Bubbles Mansion sounds like a place on Earth — do you know what that's worth?

Treena, Mr. Lahey's show daughter, is Ellen Page

Jim and Barbara Lahey's daughter, Treena Lahey, didn't make many appearances, but if you go back to season 2, you might recognize the person playing her as she's portrayed by Ellen Page. Page has gone on to star in Juno, Inception, X-Men, The Umbrella Academy, and many other projects. She walked onto the TPB set as an unknown and left as a loved character because of her child-like abilities to see the good in people (not to mention, Page is now a star).

Treena visited Mr. Lahey in the summers and befriended Ricky, despite her father telling her to stay away from him and Julian (but mostly Ricky). Proving you can't tell your kids who to like or dislike, Treena encouraged Ricky, from buying him pepperoni (a Ricky staple) to telling him he was smarter than he gives himself credit for. Kids have a funny way of only noticing the good in people.

While Page only appeared in a few episodes in season 2, Treena is mentioned throughout the series.

Sarah and Jim Lahey are very much related in real life

From TV daughter to daughter in real life, fans might be surprised to find out that Sarah (no last name because many of the characters only have a first name) and the actor who plays Jim Lahey share the same last name in real life — Dunsworth. That's because Sarah Dunsworth-Nickerson and the late John Dunsworth are related. In fact, Sarah is John's daughter, which the show does a good job of blanketing as you'd never expect the two to be even remotely related in real life, as many TV shows tend to do (for example, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia stars Mac, played by Rob McElhenney, and Dee Reynolds, played by Kaitlin Olson, are married in real life).

In an emotional tweet, Sarah announced the sad news of her father's passing. The tweet reads, "With heavy and broken hearts the family of John F. Dunsworth would like to let people know that our amazing husband, father and grandfather John Dunsworth has passed away. John left this world peacefully after a short and unexpected illness. The family would like to request that our privacy is respected during this time of grief."

John Dunsworth passed away

John Dunsworth passed away from an unexpected illness on October 16, 2017. The beloved Canadian actor was 71 years old. He's been a part of many projects and sets, but he's best known for his role as an alcoholic trailer park supervisor in Trailer Park Boys.

The season 12 finale concludes with a heartfelt tribute to Dunsworth as well as eerie words from Mr. Lahey. "You know what the best currency is? And I just thought about this yesterday. The best currency, the most valuable of all, is gratitude. When you're dead, you're dead, but you're not quite so dead if you contribute something."

In the first episode of Trailer Park Boys: The Animated Series, Mr. Lahey is carried off by a "s***-hawk," which is a perfect ending to the character who's always dropping those types of isms, especially ones related to hawks. While the show is animated and Lahey is carried away in the first episode, his daughter Sarah states that Dunsworth's real voice is used in the animated series.

(Sadly, Richard Collins, who played Phil Collins on the show, passed away in 2013.)

Loudmouth, always yelling Donnie is voiced by Mike Smith

Donnie, the neighbor who's always screaming off the set at the boys, might sound familiar. That's because the character is the voice of Mike Smith. While Donnie appears to unleash unnecessary rip-roaring monologues (a.k.a. non-stop yelling) and that's the entire dynamic of his character, he does it for good reason.

Typically, he yells at loud noises, such as cars crashing or gunshots. Instead of taking a bystander effect approach, Donnie (a.k.a. Bubbles' voice) takes action in the form of yelling uncontrollably. Sometimes a person wants peace and quiet in the trailer park.

Although Donnie is seen on camera in season 12 — and he's yelling because Bubbles drops his beer delivery on Donnie's recently "re-graveled" driveway — his face is blurred out. His voice, which could use a bar of soap or two, is still perfected by Mike Smith. Donnie's legend lives on.

Ricky will traditionally wear the same shirt for an entire season

While Julian wears the same smooth outfit — black shirt, jeans, sometimes sunglasses, and a rum and coke in his hand — throughout TPB, it's interesting to note that Ricky wears the same exact shirt throughout the season, which explains why it's ripped or duct-taped in some seasons.

Ricky does, of course, change his clothes (in season 2, episode 1, he adds a security guard uniform to his wardrobe as a result of joining mall security), but the running joke is that he has a limited amount of shirts... even though Julian is considered the better dresser while wearing virtually the same outfit every episode (and, to be fair, Ricky's shirts are just as Halloween-costume worthy as Jim Hopper's Hawaiian shirt). Using one shirt per season keeps this joke rolling, and the tears in some shirts give it that authentic, Ricky-really-only-does-have-a-few-shirts feel.

Shirt traditions aside, Ricky's hair, outdated or not, always looks fresh.

Netflix took over after season 7

It's hard to believe Trailer Park Boys originally ended after seven seasons. The streaming giant Netflix took over in 2014 and has since added five more seasons to the original series, as well as specials, an animated series, and full-length films. Now people can binge everything the boys have brought to the screen in one place.

The Netflix deal came on the heels of Wells, Tremblay, and Smith acquiring the rights to the show from original producers Mike Clattenburg, Barrie Dunn, and Mike Volpe and taking it online. In a statement, Clattenburg said, "While the three of us have moved on to different TV and film projects, the Boys are the only ones with the intimate knowledge and love of the show to keep Trailer Park Boys alive and well."

Not only has Netflix helped bring new TPB episodes and films to life, but the company, along with the boys, has brought the show to a wider audience and more eyes.

SwearNet has created an entire world of TPB

SwearNet, created by Wells, Tremblay, and Smith, isn't only behind the content fans can find on Netflix — it's a website that features an entire world of Trailer Park Boys. SwearNet is its own network and has become a business empire, creating its own beer, whiskey, branded cannabis products, and more.

The website features clips of the Trailer Park Boys family doing what they do best — making people laugh while being themselves — as well as clips capturing Wells, Tremblay, and Smith when they're not in character.

SwearNet is so much more than a website — it depicts an entire world of Trailer Park Boys. Plus, it even has its own movie (Swearnet: The Movie), which has the most uses of the F-word in movie history. SwearNet is doing a lot right, and that's keeping the Trailer Park Boys content coming. Wells, Tremblay, and Smith clearly know what they're doing despite playing characters who make questionable decisions on an episode basis.