Given the pink slip: Two men handle unemployment in SFFS Screen's Canadian comedy 'Hank and Mike.' (Photo courtesy SFFS)

SFFS Screen's 'Hank and Mike'

Pam Grady July 3, 2008

Thomas Michael remembers well the birth of Hank and Mike, the titular blue-collar Easter bunnies in director Matthiew Klinck’s absurdist workplace comedy on the SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki starting Friday. It was a decade ago and the then 19-year-old writer/actor was spitballing ideas with the rest of the writing staff of Y B Normal?, a Canadian Comedy Network sketch show."

I said, ‘Hey, what about an Easter bunny and I pretended to take a drag on a cigarette, ‘Those fucking kids and their fucking chocolates!’" Michael relates in a conference call with and his writing partner and co-star Paolo Mancini. "That got a big laugh. Then Paolo and I locked ourselves in the basement for a few hours and came up with the actual characters."

Appearing in the very first show’s very first sketch, the bunnies became a hit and a Y B Normal? staple during the series’ two-year run. Then in 2000, the big pink cottontails reappeared in a short, also called "Hank and Mike." Michael and Mancini thought that was the end of it, although they would sometimes dust off the characters, mostly for their own amusement, when they performed in Toronto comedy clubs. But at the same time, their longtime director Klinck, a childhood friend who had grown up with the two in Aylmer, Quebec, was urging them to write a Hank and Mike feature.

"We resisted strongly for quite a while," Michael remembers. "I felt like we’d done them in the TV show and we’d done them in the film. Do we just want to be these one-trick bunnies? But eventually, out of sheer spite, I think, we sat down and started writing, and found there was some interesting material we wanted to explore with them."

"Thomas and I had grown as performers and improvisers and writers—when we came back to it, we just kind of took the blueprint of the characters and then we went from there. We took it to another place," adds Mancini.

The resulting Hank and Mike captures foul-mouthed, chain-smoking Hank (Michael) and sweet-natured, hardworking Mike (Mancini) at the worst time of their lives when their boss, Mr. Pan (Joe Mantegna), reluctantly fires them in part of a downsizing engineered by efficiency expert Conrad Hubriss (American Pie’s Chris Klein perfectly embodying the soulless corporate suit). The comedy follows the two increasingly soiled and desperate bunnies as they hit the job market with skills pretty much limited to delivering and hiding things.

Perhaps surprisingly, neither Michael nor Mancini feels any particular affinity for the Easter bunny. "It was a happy accident. We talked about maybe doing a leprechaun, but our Irish accents aren’t very good," says Mancini.

"I feel like it was pretty random," reveals Michael of his original inspiration. "This was long, long before Bad Santa or any of that, but I think we just thought that maybe Santa was a little obvious for our sensibilities. What is a slightly left-of-center mythical creature that we can bastardize? Somehow the Easter Bunny just came about. It just fit with what we were trying to do."

"I think we just loved the concept of a blue-collar mythical creature, the idea of somebody who punches in and punches out, that’s kind of what attracted us to it," he adds.

And he insists that there is something deeper going on under Hank and Mike’s fluffy surface. "At the end of the day, it’s kind of a satire on downsizing, on the job market where people really tie their whole identities to the job that they have. If you take that job away from them, then what do they have? What do they know?"