Starting his career as a copywriter at ad agency McCann Erickson in 1974, Dave became the head writer of the Coca-Cola account in Canada within a year. Dave worked with Toronto Creative Director Harry Yates and New York McCann Creative Director Bill Backer on several Coca Cola television commercials. But after watching a Second City stage show in Toronto, and while suffering from self-proclaimed “frustration” in his advertising work, Dave auditioned for the Second City troupe and was chosen as a performer. Dave was also cast member of the Toronto production of Godspell, along with Victor Garber, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Gilda Radner, and Andrea Martin. and Paul Shaffer who was the musical director. He first achieved fame as a cast member of the Canadian syndicated TV comedy series SCTV, where he portrayed, among other characters, Doug McKenzie of beer-swilling brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie. Bob was portrayed by Rick Moranis. Other memorable characters included angry, if succinct editorialist Bill Needle, Scottish scone-chef/bluesman Angus Crock, motor-mouthed TV ad announcer Harvey K-Tel, Lowery organist/curio pitchman Tex Boil and the unforgettable “Cruising Gourmet”.
Thomas’s first movie was Home to Stay (1978) directed by Delbert Mann where Thomas played in a scene with Hollywood legend Henry Fonda. He then wrote for, co-directed and starred in the Bob & Doug McKenzie feature film Strange Brew. Soon after, he wrote for and acted in The New Show, produced by Lorne Michaels during his hiatus from Saturday Night Live. Short-lived, this show featured a powerhouse writing staff including Thomas along with Buck Henry, George Meyer, Jack Handey, Al Franken, Tom Davis, Valri Bromfield and Steve Martin. Thomas tried his hand at network television hour-long shows in 1986 when he wrote and co-executive produced Steel Collar Man for CBS. The pilot was produced but did not go to series. In 1988 Thomas wrote another hour long show for CBS, B Men, which was back ordered for twelve episodes, but Thomas took a directing job at Paramount, which caused the network to drop the series. In the Paramount movie, “The Experts”, Dave introduced John Travolta and Kelly Preston. After this, Dave wrote , produced and directed a one hour special for Showtime entitled “The Incredible Time Travels of Henry Osgood”. This show was nominated for several cable Ace Awards.
Dave wrote, produced, and starred in The Dave Thomas Comedy Show (1990). In 1991, he starred in the Showtime comedy, Public Enemy #2. In 1992, he tried his hand at reality TV and co-executive produced ABC‘s America’s Funniest People with Vin Di Bona, but left after thirteen weeks to appear in the film Coneheads. In 1993, he officially co-starred in ABC’s Grace Under Fire with Brett Butlerand Tom Poston and continued with the show for 5 seasons. In 1995 Thomas starred in ABC TV movie Picture Perfect with Mary Page Keller and Richard Karn. In 1996, Thomas played the title role in the Fox TV movie Mr. Foster’s Field Trip aka Kidz in the Wood with Julia Duffy. In 1996, he wrote the book SCTV: Behind the Scenes (McClelland & Stewart, publishers). From 1999-2002, he voiced various roles on the animated series Mission Hill. He also voiced Rex Banner in the Simpsons.
Thomas co-starred in the Paramount feature Rat Race. As of 2001, Thomas has been the Executive Creative Director of Animax Entertainment, an animation studio based officially in Culver City, CA. In 2001-2002 Thomas appeared with Eugene Levy and Martin Short on Short’s show Primetime Glick as Bob Hope (an impression he had first developed for SCTV with great success). In 2002, he co-starred with Jason Priestly, Dave Foley and Ewen Bremner in Fancy Dancing. The next year he played a lead role in Beethoven’s Fifth. In 2003, he directed a hospital comedy feature film entitled Whitecoats, which he also wrote. As of 2004, Thomas was on the official Advisory Committee for the Comedy program at Humber College, the only such diploma program in the world. In 2004, he and Moranis reprised the voices of the McKenzie Brothers in Disney‘s animated feature Brother Bear.
Thomas has had a long career doing voices for animation including Animaniacs, Duckman, CatDog, The Adventures of Tarzan, Justice League of America and multiple roles on The Simpsons “King of the Hill” and Family Guy. In 2005, he had a guest stint as Charlize Theron‘s “Uncle Trevor” on Fox’s Arrested Development. In 2006, he reprised his voice role in Brother Bear 2 and appeared as himself in the feature film The Aristocrats. He began production on ArnoldSpeaks.com, a video blog, as the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger; Animax Entertainment won an Emmy for a broadband animated series produced for ESPN, Off Mikes.
In 2007, Thomas and Rick Moranis reprised their roles as Bob and Doug McKenzie in a one-hour special “Bob & Doug McKenzie’s Two-Four Anniversary” for CBC Television. The show featured cameos from McKenzie celeb fans like Ben Stiller, Dave Foley, Tom Green, Paul Shaffer, Andy Dick, Matt Groening, Barry Pepper, Martin Short, and Geddy Lee. Former Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin was the host. In 2008, Thomas revived Bob and Doug McKenzie in a new animated series, Bob & Doug. While Thomas reprises the character of Doug in the new series, Moranis chose not to voice the character of Bob, which instead is voiced by Dave Coulier. Moranis is, however, involved in the series as an executive producer.
In November 2009, Thomas received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from his alma mater McMaster University and gave the fall convocation speech. In 2010 Animax continued to produce branded entertainment, advertising and digital shorts for corporations like Disney, Warner Brothers, NBC Universal, and Kodak. In 2011, Thomas’ company Animax produced another animated show for MTV entitled Big Box along with numerous Internet shorts such as Life With Dad.
In 2012 and 2013 Thomas guest starred in the dramatic shows Perception and Bones as well as comedy shows Comedy Bang! Bang! and How I Met Your Mother. In addition in 2013 Thomas voiced the recurring role of Jeff Foxworthy‘s father Jesco in the CMT show Bounty Hunters.
Thomas joined the writing staff of the Fox crime drama television series Bones beginning in 2013. Thomas worked for two seasons on Bones, writing several episodes and working on staff as consulting producer.
In 2015 Thomas joined the writing staff of NBC’s The Blacklist as a consulting producer.