Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh native who starred on ‘SCTV’ and ‘Freaks and Geeks’

- By Amanda Holpuch

Joe Flaherty, a Pittsburgh native and comedic actor best known for his work on the influentia­l sketch comedy series “SCTV” and as a father on the short-lived NBC ensemble series “Freaks and Geeks,” died April 1. He was 82.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Gudrun Flaherty, who said that he died after a “brief illness.” She did not specify a cause or say where he died.

Mr. Flaherty played a variety of characters on “SCTV” as part of an ensemble that over the years included John Candy, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas and Harold Ramis. The concept of the series, which aired in the 1970s and ’80s, was that its sketches were shows, or previews of shows, on a low-rent TV station in a fictional town called Melonville.

Among Mr. Flaherty’s characters were Guy Caballero, the sleazy president of the station, and Sammy Maudlin, an unctuous latenight talk show host. His character Count Floyd wore a cheap vampire costume while hosting a horror movie show, “Monster Chiller Horror Theater.” The joke was that the movies the program showed — for example, “Dr. Tongue’s Evil House of Pancakes” — were seldom very scary, leaving Floyd holding the bag and often having to apologize to viewers.

Gudrun Flaherty said in a statement that her father had an “unwavering passion for movies from the ’40s and ’50s,” which influenced his comedy, including his time on “SCTV.”

Mr. Flaherty was also known for roles on television shows and in films that were cherished by fans.

He played Harold Weir, the no-nonsense father of two awkward teenagers, on the cult television series

“Freaks and Geeks,” which premiered in 1999 and ran for only one season, but helped launch the careers of several young actors, including James Franco, Seth Rogen, Busy Philipps, Jason Segel and Linda Cardellini.

In the 1996 film “Happy Gilmore,” Mr. Flaherty had a small but memorable role as a man who taunts the title character, a golfer played by Adam Sandler, from the crowd.

Joseph O’Flaherty was born on June 21, 1941, in Pittsburgh, the eldest of seven children, according to a 2004 profile in The Globe and Mail. His father was a production clerk at Westinghou­se Electric, and the family struggled financiall­y. “I still remember nuns from the church bringing us food,” he said.

After graduating from Central Catholic High School, he joined the Air Force at 17. He had taken a class at Pittsburgh Playhouse before enlisting, and after leaving the Air Force, he returned to the theater to take more classes, he told WESA Pittsburgh, the city’s NPR station, in 2016.

His focus was drama, but he got a taste for the comedy life while playing George in a scene from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in front of a small audience that laughed at his line readings.

“I was kind of thrown aback because I thought: Hey, what are they laughing at? This is a drama,” Mr. Flaherty told WESA. “But the lines were actually funny, and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed getting laughter from the audience.”

He continued to study dramatic acting, but he felt the pull of comedy as he looked for work as an actor. That search took him to Chicago and the Second City, the improvisat­ional comedy theater, which he said was where he fell in love with comedy.

“From that point on, it was all comedy,” he told WESA.

Mr. Flaherty — he told The Globe and Mail that he changed his surname to avoid confusion with a Joseph O’Flaherty who was already in Actors’ Equity — was with the Second City in Chicago for seven years before moving to Toronto to help start a branch of the troupe there.

“SCTV,” short for Second City Television, emerged as an offshoot of the Toronto troupe in 1976. The show was first seen on the Global Television Network in Toronto, then on the CBC, and later on NBC and, briefly Cinemax in the United States. It won the Emmy Award in 1982 and 1983 for outstandin­g writing for a variety or music program.

After “SCTV” ended in 1984, Mr. Flaherty maintained ties to Canada, dividing his time between Toronto and Los Angeles. After “Freaks and Geeks” was canceled, he accepted an invitation to become an artist in residence at Humber College in Toronto.

He also worked steadily on television and in films.

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Joe Flaherty

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