Temp Tales originally grew from O’Brien’s diaries kept while working construction and remodeling jobs on islands like Islesboro. Much of the early Temp Tales scripts came directly from things uttered by his co-workers and boss — as well as interactions they had with summer residents.
Though he doesn’t have much of a Maine drawl himself, O’Brien has no trouble slipping into the native dialect spoken around his home in Rockland. Growing up nearby, working in blueberry fields, he and his friends would do impressions of the more colorful characters they knew in the midcoast.
The liberal application of swear words is something that sets Temp Tales apart from other Down East humor. Kelley and his Fantasyhaven cohorts have a real talent for coming up with innovative, new vulgarities that somehow sound completely authentic.
“That’s just the way people talk here. We don’t sugarcoat the language,” said O’Brien. “We say what people really say on the worksites.”
It’s sometimes said that Marshall Dodge and Robert Bryan, of Bert and I, had to clean up some of their traditional yankee tales for 1950s family consumption. Bryan went on to be an Episcopal priest, afterall. Temp Tales may be tapping into a vulgar vein of expression that brings Maine humor full circle.
Chang grew up in Taiwan and sometimes shakes her head at the specifically Maine and ultra-local comedy her husband cooks up.
“Honestly, some of the stuff, I’m like, I’ll animate it but I don’t know what’s so funny about it,” Chang said. “But most of it, I get.”
Judging by the millions of hits on YouTube, the public gets it, too. O’Brien and Chang’s characters are so popular, they show up in television commercials and public service announcements on a regular basis. They also have a line of T-shirts that sell well.
Though he’s out of original diary material at this point, O’Brien isn’t worried about running out of Maine things to write about.
“In Maine there are so many naturally funny people,” said O’Brien. “They’re not in the comedy profession. They’re just funny.”
GETING THERE FROM HERE
From Seba Smith’s Jack Dowling, to Chang and O’Brien’s “Green” Bud Kelly, we’ve always known how to laugh at ourselves while always having the last laugh on people from away. That’s not to say we’re mean and unwelcoming.
“I always say, you can be from anywhere and come to Maine and have a pretty decent chance of getting along and finding your way here — as long as you don’t commit the cardinal sin: Somehow thinking that wherever you’re from, whatever your background is, somehow you’re superior to the local people,” said Sample. “You can’t do that. These stories bring that out, but in a gentle way.” Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Stalwarts like Sample and The Wicked Good Band are still out there, plying their Down East trade. Sanders’ Maine-based, hilarious plays are filling theater seats. Temp Tales is a comedy juggernaut online. The future of this state’s particular, homegrown take on what’s funny, seems to be secure.
Not long before he died, Bryan told an interviewer: “I’m often asked about the future of Maine storytelling, and I believe that the generations to come will carry on with the oral tradition, which we developed — though the stories go back not a hundred years, but a thousand.”