Bob Robertson is doodling a pair of glasses on a photo in the business section of the Globe and Mail. His comedy and romantic partner, Linda Cullen suddenly spots what he’s up to and says, in true TV detective tones, “Aha, it is you! Caught, blue handed!”
Robertson smiles by way of confession and continues with his art work.
Doodling glasses on Brian Mulroney, sketching a moustache on Audrey McLaughlin, scrawling a set of rabbit ears on Jean Chretien — it seems like the perfect hobby for Robertson. After all, that’s what he and Cullen do on the air.
As Double Exposure, Robertson (45) and Cullen (31) act as the audio equivalent of political cartoonists — an image that quite appeals to them.
The pair got a big thrill out of attending a recent political cartoonist’s convention in Vancouver. Says Robertson, “They invited us to go and Linda and I got up and did a little shtick for them and that was neat because these were the closest we can come to in terms of true kin. So there we were in this room with Roy Peterson and Bob Krieger and Donato and Gable from the Globe and King from the Ottawa Citizen and they were all there. All the big guys. And they were all the same kind of people as us. They took political and media characters and sports characters and exaggerated them. They do theirs with a pencil, we do ours with voice. That was a really neat feeling to have found people — the closest animals to us.”
“In the species,” says Cullen.
“It’s kind of odd,” says Robertson, “because I guess we’re entertainers but sometimes we feel like journalists — warped, bizarre journalists.”
Each week Cullen and Robertson write and perform the voices of dozens of politicians, media stars and assorted other Canadian celebrities. Sometimes their impressions are deadly accurate, other times they simply suggest the person being portrayed — so in print you’ll have to imagine the voices, the irreverence, the just plain silliness that’s made Double Exposure one of CBC’s most successful national shows since its debut back in 1987. According to the latest ratings they average 355,000 listeners a week. They air on CBC (690 A.M.) every Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
Looking around their small Vancouver office it’s clear that these are people who don’t take their politics, or at least their politicians, too seriously. Pinned to their wall are Mike Harcourt, Bill Vander Zalm and Ronald Reagan hand puppets and a set of keychains with nasty caricatured plastic busts of Princess Diana and Prince Philip. There’s also a whole set of campaign badges from the recent Liberal leadership convention (which they attended as media observers) and an autographed picture of Don Cherry (one of Robertson’s best characters). On the table are two coffee mugs — one with a Roger Rabbit design, the other features Minnie Mouse. A few inches away there’s a metal Slinky.
They’re completely relaxed as they talk about their careers and both are wearing sweaters that wouldn’t look out of place on The Cosby Show.
Linda goes first. She started her radio career at CISL in Richmond, back when the station first opened. She spent just a few months there as a commercial producer and night time deejay, then decided to leave (a common occurrence in the early days at CISL). A few months later she was in 100 Mile House doing “everything.” Everything included making the coffee, secretarial work, reception, producing commercials and hosting the morning show.
She was rescued three months later when CKNW called to hire her as a producer. She spent five years there and among her duties was producing Bob Robertson’s comedy spots (he frequently performed as Bill Vander Zalm). Every so often, Robertson would write a female character and draft Cullen for some on air work. Suddenly, the “hallway comic” was on the radio as a comedian and impressionist.
Robertson was born in England, his family moved to southern Ontario when he was seven. He worked at a radio and TV station in Ontario before moving to Calgary for a few years and Edmonton “for a tiny bit.” Next stop was Victoria in 1974 — where he deejayed for four years working at both CKDA and CFAX before moving to Vancouver. His first Vancouver job was doing weather and comedy spots for CKNW. He also worked as a freelance voice doing commercials and comedy spots. While doing bits at CKNW he and Cullen decided that they made quite a comedy team and “we left NW and struck out on our own.”
They approached the CBC and in February, 1987, Double Exposure was on the air.
The pair went from performing partners to business partners to romantic partners. Cullen blushingly describes her and Robertson “as soul mates.” In addition to their radio work they also hire themselves out as entertainers for conventions and the after dinner circuit.
As audio cartoonists, Robertson and Cullen peruse the news looking for new celebrities and politicians on the rise. They’re especially on the lookout for hot federal Liberals as they’re anticipating a Liberal government after the next federal election. And they’d really love to spot some interesting new political women.
Cullen is currently mourning the near disappearance of squeaky voiced Manitoba Liberal leader Sharon Carstairs, whose party was demolished in the last election. “I have some good characters,” says Cullen, “but I don’t have the ones on the men’s side. There’s no one like Crosby in a woman, there’s no one like Vander Zalm. In general the women are too smart.”
“They are,” says Robertson. “Other than Margaret Thatcher you find very few pompous, egotistical, showboating woman out there who are in politics or in any other business for that matter.”
“Chretien,” says Cullen. “There’s no woman like Chretien.”
“Wouldn’t it be great if there was?” suggests Robertson.
Cullen breaks into a terrific impression of Chretien’s infamous pea soup accent. “I wish dere was a woman dat talked like dat, I would have a great time.”