For a software guy like Ed Johnson of Clifton Park, the life of a crab fisherman is foreign and fascinating.
Watching “Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel is a reminder that the men who fish the deep seas are intelligent even though they may not be well-educated.
“Obviously, these are very, very smart guys that know a tremendous amount about what they’re doing,” Johnson said. “My guess is none of that knowledge is in a textbook. You can’t go to school for it.”
He and about 700 other people got to see three of the cast members — who are real-life crab fishermen in the Bering Sea off the Alaskan coast — banter in an appearance at the Palace Theatre on Friday evening.
Captains Sig Hansen and brothers Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand kept the crowd laughing and cheering with their verbal jabs at each other, occasional previews of the rest of the seventh season and jokes about everything from their home life, drinking and smoking to moderator Tred Hulse of radio station 99.5 The River.
“He looks like a virgin,” Johnathan Hillstrand said of Hulse within the first minutes of the show.
Hulse tried to ask them questions, but the men mostly set their own agenda, interrupting each other and changing subjects so often that Hansen kept referring to Johnathan Hillstrand’s “ADD.”
But they didn’t glamorize the life of a deep sea fisherman.
Hansen said going home was the most rewarding part of fishing. The men said they come from families where men had fished for generations; it was all they knew.
“It was either fish or flip burgers,” Hansen said. “When I went to school, I was drawing pictures of boats before I could write my name.”
Andy Hillstrand said he once had to work in a doughnut store that his wife bought.
“She wound up getting pregnant, so I had to get up and make the [expletive] doughnuts,” he said, getting laughter from the crowd.
Crab fishing is a dangerous job, and their families worry about them when they’re going through ice and storms.
Hansen’s 13-year-old daughter “freaks out” about her dad being in harm’s way, he said.
“She would see weather reports on the Internet and she’d warn us about storms,” he said.
Onstage, they also remembered Capt. Phil Harris, who died in February 2010 after having a stroke.
Andy Hillstrand played on his acoustic guitar and sang a song he wrote for Harris.
A North Greenbush couple hoped to interest the trio in a song they wrote and produced about Harris. Scott Cunningham wrote the song, called “Life is Good,” back in September.
He and his wife, Andrea, gave the captains a CD of the song when they saw them in Portland, Maine, but they never heard back, and they aimed to try again on Friday.
“We’re trying to get it onto the show,” Andrea Cunningham said.
That time, they waited outside the venue for an hour for the men to come out. In Albany, they bought backstage passes so they could be sure to see the men.
Steve Colin of Malta felt “a real, deep appreciation” of the captains’ lives and said he wanted to learn more about it.
“I grew up on a beach area down on Long Island, so I saw longshoremen and the way of life they had to live,” Colin said. “Your fate is left to Mother Nature.”
“Deadliest Catch” has been airing since 2005.
Hansen and the Hillstrand brothers quit the show in September after the Discovery Channel sued the Hillstrands for allegedly not finishing a spin-off show. But a month later, they announced that they were back.
Despite their fame, the men said they don’t make much money off the show because they’re not actors and are working at being fishermen, not stars.
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