TORONTO – To hear John Candy’s daughter tell it, the late Canadian comedy star was much like the characters he portrayed onscreen — a gregarious family man who was equal parts prankster and serious parent.
“I always describe him closest to Uncle Buck,” says Jennifer Candy, who has her dad’s warm smile and contagious laugh.
“He was very serious, stern, tough love, but he knew how to have a good time.”
Candy is in Toronto this week to celebrate a major expansion of the Second City Training Centre, which includes the 60-seat John Candy Box Theatre and seven new multimedia studios.
Her dad, who died in 1994, was a member of Toronto’s Second City comedy troupe and starred in the “SCTV” series before breaking out with films including “Splash,” “Cool Runnings,” “Summer Rental” “Uncle Buck” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
In the John Candy Box Theatre is part of the wooden stage from the former Second City Toronto theatre — known as the Old Firehall — on which the comedy legend and his colleagues performed.
“It’s nostalgic,” says Candy, in an interview on the stage. “It kind of reminds me of when he was around and just also reminds me that he truly hasn’t gone anywhere, really, in a sense.”
Candy and wife Rosemary Hobor raised their daughter and son Christopher in Toronto until the mid-1980s, when they moved to Los Angeles. But Candy says the family still owns land in Queensville, Ont.
“We haven’t gotten rid of that yet because it’s still nice to have literal roots that are still here in Canada.”
Candy, an actress based in Los Angeles, took classes with the Second City there and then studied with the troupe’s conservatory in Chicago.
These days she still works with the troupe, conducting Q-and-A’s with alumni through her “Couch Candy” stage series. She was to interview Robin Duke Thursday and Friday she’ll talk to Eugene Levy at the Second City Toronto.
Candy says the family also keeps in touch with her dad’s former “SCTV” pals, including Levy, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Dave Thomas.
Such stars were often at the Candy household back in the day for barbecues and parties. During their downtime, the family liked to watch movies and listen to her dad’s records.
“We’d be dancing in the living room,” says Candy. “My dad loved to dance.”
He also loved to prank call his friends.
“He would call his friends or he’d call my grandma or he’d call my uncle and he’d talk in a weird voice and have some sort of like Shmenge character,” she says.
When he was working, Candy often brought his family with him.
Candy recalls going to Jamaica for “Cool Runnings,” to Florida for “Summer Rental” and to New Orleans for “JFK.”
She even got to appear in a scene in “The Last Polka,” which was shot in Toronto.
“There’s a barbecue scene and the fire gets out of control and burns everything, so I’m the little girl in the back with pigtails,” she says.
Candy says she still loves watching her dad’s films, most notably “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “The Great Outdoors.”
She and her family also lay flowers at his grave in L.A. and gather for brunch or dinner on his birthday and Father’s Day.
The subject of food is an important one in the Candy household.
Candy says because her father died of a heart attack and was overweight, her mother instilled healthy eating habits in her and her brother.
“Both my brother and I are very hyper aware of it,” she says. “We always wanted to make sure we got tests done to make sure that our hearts were OK. It runs in our family, so you just are extra cautious about it.”