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ON TV: Pittsburgh homeboy Joe Flaherty plays father of 'Freaks and Geeks'

Saturday, October 02, 1999

By Rob Owen

PASADENA, CALIF. -- Joe Flaherty held court for a pack of Canadian journalists at an NBC press party for "Freaks and Geeks" (8 tonight on WPXI). But that July night the Canadians wanted to reminisce about his days on "SCTV," which was produced in Canada.

 
Joe Flaherty, who grew up in Homewood, can empathize with the trials of the teen-age characters he stars with in "Freaks and Geeks." 

"Nobody knows I'm American," Flaherty said once the Canadians ran out of questions.

He's not only an American but also a native Pittsburgher, raised in Homewood.

"Everybody does a double-take on that, they go glassy eyed," Flaherty said. "Homewood was a different community when I was growing up. It was ideal."

Flaherty is best known for "SCTV" ("The North American equivalent of Monty Python," he called it), and looking back, he appreciates what the show offered.

"We didn't have a producer, nobody told us what to write, who to appeal to, we just wrote for ourselves," Flaherty said. "We were the inmates running the asylum. We created our own little world and it paid off... I wish we could do it again. I'd like to do a movie or something."

Although his "SCTV" days are long past, Flaherty said sometimes his old characters creep into current projects. In the "Freaks and Geeks" pilot, Flaherty lectured his TV children at the dinner table with tales of people who cut class or got pregnant. Each story ended with, "And you know what happened to him? ... He died!"

"I kind of ended up doing Count Floyd on one of them when I was trying to scare the kids," Flaherty said. "We had so much fun doing that scene at the table. I just hope the show works and an audience develops for it. It's not the typical show. You hate to say this, but it might be too good."

In "Freaks and Geeks," Flaherty plays Harold Weir, all-American husband of Jean (Becky Ann Baker) and father to aspiring freak Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and geeky high school freshman Sam (John Daley).

"What I have to work with on this show is great. I found a good part," Flaherty said, adding that the show's realistic depiction of the horrors of adolescence are believable. "You can't be an outsider and triumph all the time at the end, like those ['Revenge of the Nerds'] movies. It's not real, it's not honest."

When he lived in Pittsburgh, Flaherty attended Central Catholic and Westinghouse High School, but he joined the Air Force before graduation, eventually earning his GED. He came back to town to attend Point Park College on the G.I. Bill, but left after his freshman year for Chicago and a Second City career.

Although he comes back to Pittsburgh frequently -- his 20-year-old daughter is a big Pirates fan -- Flaherty said he felt like the characters in "Freaks and Geeks" during his own high school days.

"I wanted to get the hell out of high school as soon as posisble," Flaherty said. "I was invisible, I didn't fit in at all, and I just didn't talk. I was like a statue. I can empathize with a lot of the stuff [in 'Freaks and Geeks'], at least the geek part of it."



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