Home is where the art is: ‘Sean’s House’

Toronto comedian Sean Cullen is six, three-minute episodes deep in his new CBC online series Sean’s House, which features offbeat comedy segments set in his pseudo Toronto home. (Photo by David Leyes)

Whether through inspiration or function, artists’ residences can have significant impact on their creative output. Tom Thomson’s stark landscapes were painted when he lived in a simple shack. The rustic traditionalism of The Band’s debut album Music from Big Pink was surely a result of their shared country home. And the unusual goings-on in Sean’s House, on CBC.ca, must be at least partially responsible for creator Sean Cullen’s peculiar comedic mind.

Cullen’s writing and performance have made Canadians giggle for three decades. Widely regarded as a national treasure, his personal and professional life are so deeply rooted in Toronto culture, he is, more accurately, a municipal treasure.

Cullen has always kept a home in the city. His stand-up act was honed in Toronto’s clubs and theatres, and his acclaimed novels are often set amongst our most revered landmarks. So even though his successes have extended into the U.S. and beyond, Cullen has always called Toronto “home”.  Or, just, “Toronto”.

“Toronto, as I call it, has been my home for more than 30 years. Despite travelling extensively, I’ve always felt it was my true home. The neighbourhoods, the different ethnic areas, the arts and music scene and the proliferation of greenery and public parks make it a lovely place to live,” says Cullen. “As the entertainment industry evolves into a global one, I can do almost any work I wish and have a market and an audience. I don’t need to be anywhere else. It’s also a safe place to raise children. And my children are dangerous.”

Just as Cullen was settling into a new home at Lansdowne and St. Clair, the CBC came calling, offering him the chance to develop a comedy show for their digital web platform.

Having played all manner of roles over the years, Cullen decided it was time to afford his audience a peek behind the curtain. He proposed to the network that they shoot a show from inside his home, documenting his real life without any adornment or editing. The show would be called Sean’s House, and Cullen’s only condition was that the show not be shot in his actual home, and that all footage be edited, so as to protect his privacy.

“The project was originally intended as a complete opening of my private home to the cameras but I had to insist on some boundaries. The crew could have access to my sex dungeon but not my sex attic or my sex crawlspace. I need some boundaries. Otherwise, the audience will see my home life and my domestic environment in a frank and candid way.”

So Cullen set out to find the right new Toronto home. And while his protracted search was burdened by the bully offers and bidding wars that define Toronto’s real estate market, it was complicated even further by the fact that he was looking for a fictional home.

“I was looking for a lot of variety and good karma. I was hoping for something that was haunted because I like the idea of spectral presences following my progress through the day. I also needed a place for my animals. I have an adult black bear and he needs his space. The most important space in my house is the living room where I entertain my guests: I love party games like that perennial favourite “Fondle My Sack”.

Ultimately, Cullen found two properties of interest. One was a charming, sun-filled Victorian home in the heart of Cabbagetown. The other, more of a fixer-upper, was on a soundstage located in the CBC building. Cullen ultimately went with the fixer-upper.

“Sadly, the Friendly Giant set was already standing in the soundstage when we came on the scene. We had to work our way around several zoning laws and historical building codes before we finally tore it down and evicted Rusty the Rooster. He was the last living member of the FG cast still living on the premises, the Giant himself having passed away from a giant heart attack in 2004. Eventually, we got the permits squared away and Rusty is in prison for tax evasion.”

Once settled into the new digs, Cullen and his houseguests welcomed in the CBC cameras, and in February of this year, Sean’s House premiered to great response.

Six three-minute episodes have been produced thus far, and Cullen is so enjoying the new home that he hopes to get to live in it for 30 minutes a week, next season.

To read more of the Home is Where the Art series click here.

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