Martin Short is strolling through a Toronto television studio when suddenly he spots one of the electricians doing a remarkably decent impersonation of Ed Grimley, the pointy-haired, triangle-playing dufus that the actor created years ago on SCTV. Short stops and smiles. ''Oh, gimme a break!'' he tells the impersonator, slipping into some singsong Grimley-speak of his own. ''Your Ed Grimley is every bit as good as mine, I must say.''
Short isn't back in Toronto to play Grimley he's in town to tape a guest spot on the Family Channel sitcom Maniac Mansion but from the looks of things here on the set you'd swear he was attending an SCTV alumni convention. The place is packed with veterans of the 1977-83 Canadian-made parody series: There are former SCTV actors, writers,directors, key grips even Mansion's makeup artist is an old SCTVer.
''There's a real reunion feel to this show,'' says Mansion star (and former SCTV comic) Joe Flaherty. ''We had Dave Thomas here for a guest spot. Andrea Martin is doing one. And John Candy may direct an episode.''
On the show, Flaherty plays Fred Edison, an amiably inept inventor whose forays into weird science have accidentally transformed his 4-year-old son into a hulking six-footer and his brother-in-law Harry into a talking housefly. ''What we've done is take the basic sitcom structure and push it as far as it will go,'' says Flaherty. ''We just try to have as much fun with it as possible.''
Oddly enough, the idea for the show didn't originate with an SCTV alum: It came from Star Wars creator George Lucas, who originally produced Mansion as a computer game (which is still available from Lucasfilm Games). The Family Channel purchased the rights to turn the game into a live-action sitcom in 1990. Maniac's debut that September didn't attract many viewers the series is still watched in fewer than 1 million homes per week but it did get important press attention: Time named it one of 1990's best new shows.
In this current episode, Short plays Edison's childhood chum Eddie O'Donnell, a drunken actor who staggers through the family's front door booming a boozy chorus of ''Everybody Loves a Song'' then passes out cold. ''With most sitcoms,'' Short says, ''there's always somebody saying, 'Yeah, that's really funny, but will they get it in Des Moines?' They underestimate the comedic hipness of the audience. Not Maniac Mansion. It doesn't water down the comedy.''
Which makes it 100-proof hilarious.