One of the greatest characters in comedian Eugene Levy’s repertoire of garrulous oddballs is Bobby Bittman, the tacky, leisure-suit-clad lounge comic whose idea of a dynamite catchphrase is “How are ya?” Levy portrayed the insincere, scheming Bittman countless times on SCTV during its convoluted 1976 to 1984 run, often as part of “The Sammy Maudlin Show,” a sleazy showbiz lovefest hosted by Joe Flaherty. SCTV changed names and formats numerous times over the years, bouncing from the CBC to NBC before winding up at Cinemax at the end of its run. In 1988, four years after the series ended, Cinemax gave Levy the chance to write, direct, and star in his own half-hour special, billed as a “Cinemax Comedy Experiment.” The result was The Enigma Of Bobby Bittman, a surprisingly dark pseudo-documentary about the fictional comedian’s totally undeserved rise to power and fame. The main plot centers around what is supposedly Bittman’s millionth performance, though this may be another of the character’s many lies.
Levy did not bring his famous SCTV castmates like John Candy or Rick Moranis along with him for this solo journey, but fans will notice some familiar faces here anyway. Linda Kash, a veteran of Second City in Toronto, reunited with Levy in a pair of Christopher Guest films, Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show. Here, Kash plays Bittman’s first wife, the spoiled daughter of a mafia kingpin. Also appearing in The Engima is John Hemphill, likewise a graduate of the Second City’s Toronto cast. Hemphill put in numerous appearances on SCTV, and he’s also had a recurring role as Bob Currie on Levy’s current show, Schitt’s Creek, which was recently renewed for a third season on the CBC. Hemphill plays arguably the special’s second most important character: Buddy Phelps, Bittman’s original comedy partner. Phelps was one of the many “little people” Bittman utterly destroyed on his way up, and the special is unflinching in its depiction of the cruelty and humiliation at the soul of their relationship.