Corner Gas Animated pays tribute to

Mike O’Brien’s ‘Wes Humboldt’

“I know he would get such a kick out of it.” — Robin Summerfield

Barb Pacholik, Regina Leader-Post, Regina Leader-Post

This image from an upcoming episode of Corner Gas Animated shows Wes Humboldt, who was played by Mike O’Brien in the original series. He died of cancer in Winnipeg on May 24, 2015. His character is remembered in the episode, which also includes “Wes’s widow,” voiced by O’Brien’s wife Robin Summerfield. Courtesy of Corner Gas Animated/The Comedy Network COURTESY OF CORNER GAS ANIMATED/THE COMEDY NETWORK. / COURTESY OF CORNER GAS ANIMATED/THE COMEDY NETWORK.

Seeing yourself — not to mention your late husband — in a cartoon form is a surreal moment.

There were tears, but also smiles when Robin Summerfield previewed an upcoming Corner Gas Animated episode that pays tribute to “Wes Humboldt,” played in the original series by her husband Mike O’Brien. The animated episode also includes a guest appearance by Summerfield, referred to only as “Wes’s widow.”

“I feel like I kind of looked like me,” she recalled, chuckling during a recent interview. “But the bigger thrill for me was seeing Mike,” she added.

“I know he would get such a kick out of it.”

Mike O’Brien, former Leader-Post reporter, a longtime CBC comedy writer and an actor who played a recurring character on Corner Gas. (Courtesy Robin Summerfield) ROBIN SUMMERFIELD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The episode, dubbed Rum Punch, airs on the Comedy Network on Monday, May 21 — three years, less three days, since O’Brien died from cancer at age 51. After his diagnosis in 2011, O’Brien, who worked 14 years as a Leader-Post reporter before moving on to comedy writing for the CBC, focused on living with, not dying from, the disease, using his remaining years to continue acting, writing a blog irreverently called The Big Diseasy: tumour humour & chemo emo, travelling, relishing time with his wife and their son Will — and laughing while staring down death. In a message he penned to be read at his memorial service, O’Brien wrote: “I knew very little true sadness in my life, even during its very end. Don’t feel bad for me.”

From Corner Gas Animated, characters (L to R) Davis, Karen and Robin Humboldt, who is referred to only as “Wes’s widow” in the episode, which is a tribute to Mike O’Brien. He played the character of Wes Humboldt and died of cancer in Winnipeg on May 24, 2015. The role of his widow is voiced by O’Brien’s wife Robin Summerfield. Courtesy of Corner Gas Animated/The Comedy Network COURTESY OF CORNER GAS ANIMATED/THE COMEDY NETWORK. / COURTESY OF CORNER GAS ANIMATED/THE COMEDY NETWORK.

The first time Summerfield viewed the new episode, Will was at her side. The seven-year-old was uncharacteristically quiet, so engaged seeing mom and dad in animated form. “He thought it was the cat’s pajamas,” exclaimed Summerfield. Will told everyone he knew — and a few he didn’t.

His mom was better at keeping secret the special episode, which she first learned about last year when David Storey, executive producer and voice director, called about the script. “(It was) such an honour, so lovely,” said Summerfield, a Winnipeg journalist and writer. But she noted the Corner Gas people have been so supportive, including organizing a fundraiser in Regina when O’Brien was first diagnosed, that it didn’t seem so surprising.

Robin Summerfield, then 15-month-old Will, and Mike O’Brien at a fundraiser, organized and attended by members of Corner Gas, in Regina in November 2011. O’Brien played Wes Humboldt in the Corner Gas series. TROY FLEECE / REGINA LEADER-POST

In an emailed statement, Brent Butt, creator, executive producer and star of Corner Gas, called O’Brien “a truly beloved part of the Corner Gas family.”

“He was witty, pleasant, and just an all-around terrific guy. Beyond being loved, he was a valuable asset on a creative level because he was naturally very funny and could deliver a comedic line flawlessly. Losing him hurt, on a lot of levels. It seemed only natural and right we do something with Corner Gas Animated to honour his contribution to the original series,” he said. “Having his wife Robin Summerfield participate in the episode, was a real blessing.”

O’Brien joined the cast the first season, playing the role of the dry-witted Humboldt, operator of the insurance/liquor store. It was based on a true business in Rouleau, the real town that doubled as the fictional Dog River.

Scene from the TV show Corner Gas showing Mike O’Brien, on left, squaring off with Brent Butt, on right Credit: CTV REGWP

In the animated episode, the storyline is about Humboldt, ironically, leaving his widow without a life insurance policy. A stash of moonshine sparks a fundraiser for his widow. Summerfield found the script iconic Corner Gas — funny, irreverent, charming, offbeat and “very, very sweet.”

“The joke that they wrote for that scene was a hundred per cent Wes Humboldt — which was my Mikey.”

At Storey’s request, she agreed to voice the part of Humboldt’s widow. “It’s a special thing. Obviously, it’s fun for me and emotional for me. But really it’s for Mike and it’s for Will,” she said. Summerfield was initially hesitant, given that she lacks the “acting gene” that fuelled her husband’s passion.

“When he would come home from filming something, he was just lit up. He was on fire.”

In some sense, this allows him one more performance.

“I think he would be humbled — and thrilled.”