Donnie Dumphy, Newfoundland’s own gibberish rapping underdog and bologna-loving YouTube sensation, is riding his trademark mini dirt bike into the big time.
The 1990s-era hard partier played by actor Leon Parsons is now starring in a feature-length movie being shot in St. John’s.
Donnie Dumphy: How to be Deadly follows the success of a related short film that screened last year at Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival.
Hailed by one critic as the funniest offering at TIFF, the 15-minute short beat out hundreds of other entrants to make it into the prestigious event. Its strange charm, peppered with Newfoundland lingo and Dumphy’s own “Go flat out and give ‘er” philosophy, lured financial backers for a longer version.
Rink Rat Productions of St. John’s has teamed up with Toronto-based distributor Union Pictures to make the movie on a shoestring budget of almost $1.2 million. The project capitalizes on Dumphy’s already impressive YouTube presence. In particular, his Havin’ a Time music video shot in the grittier parts of the province’s capital city has almost 1.4-million views online.
It includes such lyrics as “Made my first 50 bucks rollin’ smokes for mudder,” or mother, and an especially loved shout-out to the thousands of Newfoundlanders who work in Fort McMurray, Alta. Dumphy’s on-again, off-again soul mate Brenda also stars in the movie, played by Gina Squires, as the plot follows their latest romantic bust-up into a major dirt bike competition.
Cameos by some of the best of Newfoundland’s rich comic tradition include Andy Jones, Rick Mercer, Mary Walsh and Cathy Jones. Also slated is an appearance by Great Big Sea frontman Alan Doyle poking fun at his own band.
“I’m havin’ a blast,” Parsons said, in full Dumphy character, during a brief break while filming in the famous George Street bar district in St. John’s.
“They say there’s stuff going in the camera, but I’m just acting like myself.”
Dumphy has been called Newfoundland’s answer to Trailer Park Boys, which he considers high praise, and said he’s ready to record new rap material “that’s a lot harder, a lot deeper.”
He doesn’t miss a beat when asked to describe his unique style of what he calls gib or gibberish rap.
“Just get as hammered as you can and try to talk.”
Parsons and Nik Sexton, longtime friends who once shot skateboard videos for fun, created the Dumphy character. Sexton co-wrote the movie with Edward Riche, author of the book and screenplay for Rare Birds, and is directing the feature film. He also plays Dumphy’s pal Ronnie Driscoll.
“It could be actually happening in 1992,” Sexton said of how the movie is a throw-back to the grimier St. John’s he knew as a kid. It’s set in the late 1980s or early 1990s before offshore oil wealth helped transform much of the seaside city into prettied-up row houses and swank new restaurants.
“There was quite a bit of grit and some great characters,” Sexton said. “The whole movie’s about rich characters.
“I love St. John’s now. It’s still great too. I’m just trying to embody what it was like when I grew up.”
His mother, producer Mary Sexton of Rink Rat Productions, said the feature film wraps shooting later this month and will ultimately be available for download online and for theatre distribution by Union.
The reason for Dumphy’s popularity is simple, she added.
“Donnie Dumphy is one of those lovable characters that I think everyone went to school with. He’s a guy that just basically enjoys life. His love of his life is Brenda, and he spends most of his time trying to either make it up to Brenda or apologize for his bad behaviour.”
Just the ludicrous sight of Dumphy, his six-foot-plus frame folded onto his tiny Honda 50R dirt bike, is good for a laugh, she said.
“The bike is crying underneath his weight but, you know, it’s funny.”