The Jonathan Torrens Interview
Interview by Patrick McGuire


f you don’t get a twitch of nostalgia when you think of the Street Cents/JonoVision/ The Simpsons CBC after school line-up you are either into team sports, not Canadian or old. Either that, or you don’t appreciate some of the only good youth programming the CBC has ever stumbled into broadcasting...

So how did Street Cents and your role on it get started?

Well, it was 1988, not to brag, but I was a prep cook at an all-you-can-eat floating lobster restaurant and - for what its worth - the record was 79 lobsters eaten by a man from Texas who was like 460 lbs and his son who weighed 295lbs had 59 lobsters. I was working there and a guy named Richard Mortimer who was from Montreal was in town to direct a show called Street Cents. He came, I cracked wise at his table a few times and I auditioned several times. My last audition ended with the words ‘Congratulations you got it, we’ll be in touch in the near future”. A month or so went by and I saw the show Street Cents on the air without me.

Oh, shit.

It was a combination of the guy they did end up casting not quite working out and they asked me to contribute a couple of pieces which I did, and the rest is a complete mystery.

What was your favourite part of working on that show?

I’m proud of the fact that Street Cents didn’t condescend towards viewers. It wasn’t preachy in saying “Don’t buy the Reeboks” I think what it was trying to do was say “Buy the Reeboks if you want, but just so you know they cost $9.00 to make, and the rest is marketing and advertising.” So I liked that it was educational and informative without being preachy, but I knew it was time to hang up my Street Cents hat the third time I did the “Why is there so much air in chip bags” thing. The answer is: so they won’t break.

After leaving Street Cents how did you make your way to creating JonoVision?

Well, one Richard Mortimer, it turns out, who directed Street Cents for the first season with a woman named Lynn Harvey, they were doing a special for CBC called, get this, “AIDS Care, AIDS Scare” at the time when there wasn’t much information about AIDS for teenagers and people still thought “I think I can get it from a toilet seat.” It actually went pretty well and I wont ruin it for you but Snow and Sexpert Sue Johansen were in it. Lynn and Richard and I decided to work on another show, and that became Jonovision. I tried to work on shows that reflected my age bracket as I got older so it seemed like a natural segue from Street Cents which was Saturday mornings to Jonovision which was after school and then suddenly I was thirty and I’d worked in teen television for fifteen years and before I started to look like a perv I had to come up with some way to transition it to after dark TV.

How do you feel Canadian television for young people could be improved?

I’m not super familiar with Canadian television for young people these days, Kids don’t use TV the way that we used to. I meet a lot of people who say “I grew up in North Battleford, Saskatchewan and looked forward to Jonovision because it kind of gave me some insight into what kids in Toronto were wearing and listening to and doing and there are myriad of other ways that you can get access to that information now.

Yeap. Whats your best story about working on Trailer Park Boys as J-Rock?

Halifax has the largest black population per capita in the country (Ed: true??) so there are lots of references toward that character here. Lots of white dudes act like they’re hardcore ghetto rappers. I didn’t want to offend the rap community in anyway, I’m poking fun at the white dudes who act hard and have 20 inch spinners on their Chevette and live in Nova Scotia. So when the show started and the rap community was like “Man, thanks for finally making fun of those guys” and the white guys who act black were like “Man, thanks for representing us on TV” it was both shocking and delightful to know that we some how landed in between those two ends of the spectrum. People forgot I was Jono which is a good sign.

Are you a rap fan yourself?

Not overly. I’m something of a wordsmith I guess. I recognize people who do it really well, like Eminem for example, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this guy but he’s good at the rap thing.

Sounds familiar.

Originally published in Winter 2010, Issue 5.1.