Chris Sandiford isn’t just a nerd. He plays one on television. And he learned all of his nerdiness right here in Kingston.
Sandiford, who spent his formative years in the Limestone City, stars as librarian Howard Tutt in the new CTV Original comedy Shelved, which joins the network’s midseason schedule Monday, Mar. 6, 2023.
The new show promises “stacks of laughs” as it follows the eclectic staff and eccentric patrons in the underfunded Jameson branch of the Metropolitan Public Library. Filmed in Toronto, the first season of the single-camera comedy consists of eight half-hour episodes.
However, the promo shots for Shelved aren’t the only place you may have seen Sandiford. The former Frontenac Secondary School (FSS) student vividly remembers a time when he and his friends spent a good portion of their days in the video editing room at FSS.
“Growing up, my friends and I, my nearest and dearest, we were all nerds,” Sandiford laughs. “We were all like, video a.v. (audio-visual) nerds… making short films, little sketches. Every project for any class you can imagine that required an oral presentation was delivered in tandem with a video presentation that we’d… edit and produce and then export to VHS or DVD or whatever… Pressing play on a thing or interacting with ourselves on a screen, that was pretty huge. That was part of our DNA.”
Along with some great memories of attending FSS and elementary school in Kingston, Sandiford thinks highly of the education that helped him become the artist he is today. “Teachers should be paid like doctors,” he proclaims. “There should be monuments to great teachers so that people can learn that a teacher is the best and most important thing [one can be].”
“I wish I could go back [to when I was a kid] and look at my internal thoughts about being an artist,” Sandiford says, as it wasn’t really on his radar then. “Now that’s how I fancy myself, definitely, as ‘an artist.’ It’s important for me to take in other artists and support friends who do it as well and go see music and get inspired. It’s a whole lifestyle now… I used to roll my eyes at that, [but] It’s so fascinating where I am now… We were aware of movies and TV, but academically It wasn’t even something you thought about… It was just completely inaccessible and not even something that I could quantify… like, what is a workday like for Jim Carrey, right?”
While attending university in Montreal, Sandiford says he gave stand-up comedy a go, and he hasn’t really ever stopped developing his comedic voice since. “It was a great town to earn the craft and build an audience… It’s a big city but with a small English community, so it was kind of easy to find stage time and find a voice.”
“Right after that, I just started auditioning for things because commercials, especially, love comedic voices. And then I made the move to Toronto where there’s more money, and it was kind of ‘Bombs away!’”
Since that time, he’s gone on to work with some pretty big names, most recently alongside Ben Falcone on “God’s Favorite Idiot.” On this apocalyptic workplace series on Netflix, created by and starring Falcone and his possibly more famous wife, Melissa McCarthy, Sandiford plays their coworker Tom. (Sandiford assures fans the comedy couple is as fabulous in real life as on screen.) Often the comic foil for McCarthy’s over-the-top “burns,” Tom is a sardonic, insecure, but ultimately loyal and brave companion on their divine quest.
As amazed as he is to be a working actor, Sandiford is extremely humble and grateful. “I’ve been incredibly lucky. Growing up… there weren’t many black students,” but he says being different helped him hone the skills he has applied to his career. “I was really lucky, in that my way of fitting in was ‘Okay, well, let me make this room of people think I’m funny.’ It’s a great way to win friends and confidence.”
He could frame what he calls his “conscientious people pleasing” negatively, but he says now, as an adult, “One hopes, anyway, you… either shed some of those proclivities or turn it into something positive.”
For example, Sandiford explains he actually loves auditioning. “My circumstances really made me oddly well prepared for situations like that. You get in, and you have a moment before you actually begin the material to win the room over. I like to think that is my strength walking in, and I love it… I look forward to auditions… I hear a lot of people say, ‘I hate auditions. I hate auditioning.’ And I say to myself ‘Well good, get out of my way because I love auditioning!’… I love trying to prove my worth to strangers. And if the [casting team] doesn’t like it, I’ll get out of there and prove my worth to another set of people who want me.”
In Shelved, the Jameson Library has seen better days. While it’s often overlooked by head office, and the unconventional staff — including Sandiford’s character — all have differing opinions on how to run the library, they ultimately find ways to give back to the community and create a “found family.”
As Sandiford describes it, “It’s basically [TV show] Parks and Recreation at an underfunded public library in a big-city public library system, and my character is essentially a fish out of water. He comes from a very well-funded branch in the big city where all his needs were met, and he transferred to this forgotten outer rim branch where… he thinks he’s going to change things. But in the end, the branch, I think, changes him. It’s just a comedy set in that world and the madcap people that love libraries.”
Sandiford is especially excited to be working with Canadian comedian, actor, writer, and Playback magazine’s 2021 Showrunner of the Year recipient Anthony Q. Farrell. Farrell, who wrote several episodes for NBC’s The Office and was executive story editor for Little Mosque on the Prairie, is the creator and executive producer of Shelved.
The joy in Sandiford’s voice as he talks about the new series is contagious. “I kid you not: this is the thing I am most proud of to date. Probably just because it is so funny. They really let us go wild… There is writing on the page that we need to know, [but] they really let us play with it… [We] breathe life into these characters, [and] everybody’s so funny on it… You know what? I don’t even care if people like it. I like it.”
The premiere of Shelved, “Jane Eyre FICTION BRO,” airs Monday, Mar. 6 at 9:30 p.m. on CTV, CTV.ca, and the CTV app.