Joe Flaherty, comedian known for work on SCTV and Freaks and Geeks, dead at 82

Joe Flaherty, the comedian and writer known for his roles on shows like Freaks and Geeks and SCTV, has died. He was 82.

“After a brief illness, he left us yesterday, and since then, I’ve been struggling to come to terms with this immense loss,” daughter Gudrun Flaherty shared with CBC News via SCTV producer and close family friend Andrew Alexander.

“I take solace in the memories we shared and the incredible impact he had on those around him. His spirit, humour and love will be a part of me forever.”

An improvisation expert with an iconic voice and gift for the guest spot, Flaherty’s credits run the gamut from movie blockbusters such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy to TV staples such as Frasier, Freaks and Geeks and Family Guy.  

Former cast members of SCTV reunited at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo., on March 6, 1999. From left in the front row are Dave Thomas, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy and Martin Short. In the back row are Joe Flaherty, left, and Harold Ramis. (E Pablo Kosmicki/Associated Press)

Even with a career spanning more than four decades, he was perhaps best-known for a small role as a heckler in the Adam Sandler film Happy Gilmore and as a writer and performer in the Canadian comedy series SCTV.

He was one of the show’s original members, and worked alongside comic legends such as John Candy, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short. 

After the show ended in 1984, Flaherty went on to star in a host of other comedies, but established himself as a consummate performer with the role of Harold Weir in the comedy-drama Freaks and Geeks in 1999.

‘So cool we thought he was Canadian’

Fans and former co-stars shared their condolences on X, soon after news of his death broke.

“I was so thrilled to be able to work with him,” wrote actor Jennifer Tilly, who played Flaherty’s daughter in 1997’s The Wrong Guy. “His performance was pitch perfect. A great comedian. Gone too soon.”

“I was incredibly fortunate to have worked with Joe Flaherty a few times,” wrote Colin Mochrie. “A sweet man that produced a lot of laughs. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.

“Joe Flaherty, an American so cool we thought he was Canadian. Thanks, Floyd Robertson,” Ontario comedian Stewart Reynolds posted — referencing the iconic news reporter character Flaherty played on SCTV.

Flaherty earned his honorary Canadian status from a long-running association with the country and some of its most successful series.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1941, Flaherty served with the U.S. Air Force for four years before joining Chicago improv group The Second City in 1969 — where his time would overlap with future Saturday Night Live star John Belushi as well as Harold Ramis, the Ghostbusters actor and Groundhog Day director.

He eventually moved to Toronto, where he would help establish the Toronto arm of the troupe and pave the way for a career perpetually affiliated with Canada and Canadians. He would play Kirk Dirkwood on CTV’s David Steinberg Show, Mayor Andrews in the Canadian sitcom Call Me Fitz, and held a recurring role in the Vancouver-shot Robson Arms. He also had a guest appearance on Royal Canadian Air Farce — and of course his time at SCTV

He later became a faculty member at Humber College, serving as an artist-in-residence and participating in the college’s first comedy workshop.

He was married to Judith Dagley for 22 years until the two divorced. The couple had two children, Gudrun and Gabriel Flaherty.

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