“Gordon Lightfoot” harangues his manager, Bernie, in a delightfully petty rivalry with another musical client. He often does this in song.
“Corey Hart”, “Geddy Lee”, “Burton Cummings”, and a cast of Canadian Northern Lights have been known to pop by for brief appearances, to punctuate stories, or to reveal that they, like all of us of a certain age, have one foot happily rooted in our particular Canadian cultural past. These uncanny impressions are just a few of the cast of characters of Taggart and Torrens.
Welcome to the Canadianity landscape, one built over the past few years in typical Canadian fashion: humbly, with a ton of belly laughs and with just a touch of our patented overuse of “Sorry.” Taggart and Torrens (T&T) are the pop culture reporters Canada needs and have never really had before, unless you count the unrecorded kitchen table impressions and musings that at least one member of every Canadian family is quietly good at, coast to coast.
Canadian humour is unique, and, like all good things today, undervalued. It’s easily forgotten that what the world grew up thinking of as Hollywood funny was homegrown right here in this big land: much missed figures like John Candy and always hilarious actors and mimics like Martin Short. A generous heap of what made Ghostbusters so funny, and part of our youth. The meteoric rise of Jim Carrey. The global shorthand of Austin Powers. These and many more were brewed in Canada.
On the Pod, Jonathan Torrens and Jeremy Taggart unpack Canadianity (a term they coined in their ever-growing lexicon, a new unofficial language) via references across the spectrum of our culture, the strange animal that is Canadian fame (if you stay here you will probably never be a household name) our particular icons, music and television shows of our 70s and 80s youth, and never-ending games that underscore the national need to kill time in long winters, road trips requiring stamina like few other places, and our deep need / ability to amuse ourselves, as much as others. To be self-effacing, with an equal gift for a well-placed jab, when deserved. There is no hate in our humour.
The past two years of political unease around the world with what feels like a relentless wave of ugliness-as-news leaking over the frail borders of our consciousness, have coincided with this new Canadian culture programming in the form of a podcast and occasional road show, with a comedy-music album forthcoming via Dine Alone Records. The key to all podcasts (and indeed, the original play-at-home mass entertainment, radio and storytelling) is a natural banter between hosts: the rest is gravy. And here, T&T delivers gold. We might assume one of the most unknowable sort of figures in culture would be a drummer from a highly successful band and an actor / writer who’s been on our TV screens on and off since the 90s (another world). But the two longtime friends have the most rare and valuable of assets in entertainment: natural and real chemistry.
Jeremy Taggart has the ease and openness of a born storyteller, one who has seen a lot and has decided to kick back for a minute or two. He’s lived a great deal in the wider world of music (since he was seventeen) where cred lies both in talent and stamina for the touring life and in the unwritten rules of the industry where gossip stays close and there’s a gentleman’s code that means the public rarely learns about the messes in the business, the tragedies, the jerks, and how the sausage is made. He still has a code, but he’s fearless and firm in his own voice, calling things as he sees them, independent and fair-minded, and seems always happy to see the humour in life, including his own colourful childhood.
Jonathan Torrens was once Jonovision, will forever be Trailer Park Boys J-ROC, (a fact that so infuriated a professional colleague that they were moved to write an email telling him the “MAFK” schtick was tired). Torrens has had to grapple with this sort of hater-prone fame, having been part of an iconic show that is either loved or hated, but, like J-ROC, is recognizable to all of us who get it (a friend of mine who grew up very rough laughed all through the series, saying it was his real life. It was a comfort, knome sane?). No doubt Torrens channels his unique east coaster sensibilities and applies that to his brilliant knack for improvisation and mimicry in the characters created for the show, particularly everybahd’s new BFF, “Andrea” (‘n them) (who was so instantly fully formed that she seems to live and breathe) in his comedy. He’s a writer whose equally good on his feet. T&T make each other laugh and give each other space to play. The podcast is unique among podcasts. It’s also unique in the world of Canadians and how we were brought up: This series doesn’t need to please America. Be marketable. It doesn’t feel inferior, need to hide its accent or apologize. It represents a change in how Canadians might want to see themselves again. Culture is as important as any other national resource.
All of us long to curl up around our weekly entertainment that feels like friends, more and more in fragmented and isolating times. T&T is not just a podcast, but instills a feeling like the radio programs we’ve heard about from decades ago, at least as worthy as the highly popular American podcasts about crime or politics that can only put us to sleep, disconnected from our essence as they are. Canadians need to laugh. We are funny, and we need to be entertained in our entertainment. We have clear lines, still, between news, gossip, entertainment, and documentary, there are boundaries, borders, that are important and healthy. T&T somehow embodies both the important, deep Canadian values, and the irreverent, our funnybones, in ways that were hard to articulate before the show existed. That were buried for too long. That have been embraced with full force by so many who’ve needed just this thing to make us whole.
Before Taggart and Torrens, we had only the odd feature in now-defunct weekly papers (like an oral history of MuchMusic) to reflect on who we were and are as a distinct, artistic and funny culture. Archives are always buried down in some vault. Nothing Canadian gets rerun. Our own memories have to serve much more than is fair. We’d search for scraps of SCTV (even tattooed, as it was, on our memories) or took comfort in Facebook pages like Retrontario for videos, commercials, and scraps of our youth via TV programs, such as the beloved local oddity Hilarious House of Frightenstein, which stretched a single day’s work of Vincent Price reading Edgar Allan Poe lines into a starring role, making 80s kids think he was one of ours, like Billy Van, or everyone’s dog for a minute, Hobo.
The few pieces written about Canadian culture were, for too long, a study in “Who were we and what has happened to our unique, weird mass culture in the death of CANCON?” and “Whatever happened to (enter name of Much VJ here)?” more than vivid culture stories. Short on hope, they were little glimmers of what was missing. But now we have a model of what was, what could be, and what is quietly happening with Taggart and Torrens’ off-beat Canadian podcasting, which is really a DIY rebirth in indie Canadian broadcasting). They inspire, inform, and entertain. They draw on lifetimes of unique experience in the world and yet are as relatable as you could ever hope for. They are silly, they are fearless, they have love for all of it. They’re the full package. And they make us all into bahds.