Name doesn’t ring a bell? It’s Barth, from You Can’t Do That On Television, a Canadian children’s classic that jumped the 49th and ended up becoming a cult hit around the world. Lye, who died Tuesday at 84, played pretty much every adult role on the ensemble sketch comedy show, but his most memorable character was Barth, the owner of the disgusting diner where the always-changing cast of kids stopped off to chat, eat and puke. Yes, puke.
This is why You Can’t Do That On Televison (1979-1990) matters. It bent the rules the way SNL did in the early 70s, but for kids. I was a bit too old for it, but I saw enough of it that I remember thinking I was probably not supposed to let adults and/or people with mature tastes know that I thought it was funny when green slime poured down on people’s heads, or the health inspector was chopped up and made into a burger.
Kids’ programming was safe in those days, educational, uplifting. And then along came this weird little program starring untrained children and a wild man of many hats, and also, sometimes, Ruth Buzzi. I suspect You Can’t was a bigger TV pioneer than many give it credit for; if it weren’t for Barth, Moose and company, we may never have had, I don’t know, Ren & Stimpy, and therefore no SpongeBob, and then where would we be? Watching Zoom 2009?
Lye’s CV goes far beyond one gross-out kids’ show. His comedy album, My Fellow Canadians — performed with ace impressionist Rich Little — was a major hit in the 60s. And his Willy & Floyd comedy TV series ran for more than two decades. In other words, he was all about the laughter.
People of my generation (and younger), though, would never have seen any of that. For them, Barth was a TV rarity at the time: a foolish, strange adult among savvy, smart kids, a comic talent who could spin a recurring gag about cannibalism into a laughs.
Nice run, Les Lye.