Avenue editor Steven Sandor appeared at Pecha Kucha 12 Thursday night, in front of a packed house at the Metro Cinema. His presentation? On why Edmonton should have an SCTV monument, supporting Avenue’s petition that was launched with our January issue.
What’s featured below are the speaking notes. Because of time and space (our editor had to make his case in six minutes, 40 seconds) and a penchant for ad libbing, Steven deviated from this somewhat. But this script shows off the points that were hit on Thursday.
Hi, my name is Steven Sandor, editor of Avenue Magazine. And I’m here to discuss why Edmonton should have, no, why Edmonton needs an SCTV monument.
Let’s pretend you’ve never been to Edmonton. It’s just a dot to you, a speck on a giant map. When you arrive, you get a feel for the place as you walk/drive/ride around town. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Edmontonians view people in two categories: Those who are sports stars, and those who aren’t. We have an Avenue of Champions. A giant baseball bat. Wayne Gretzky Drive, Mark Messier Trail.
You could argue that our most photographed statue is the one of Wayne Gretzky, and that the hockey players of days past are our pop-culture icons.
But Edmonton has produced a series of notable pop-culture products through the years, and some of them don’t or didn’t play hockey. OK, they may have played hockey, but not well enough to get into the NHL.
I am just going to talk about the pop-culture contributions Edmonton has made to the world. I will leave the likes of Nellie McClung and Alexander Rutherford outside of this presentation.
Think about it. Frank Drebin, Leslie Nielsen ... went to high school in Edmonton. Actually I remember him best as that dashing captain in Forbidden Planet, but that’s beside the point. Nathan Fillion, ABC television star, still tweets about the Next Act, and came back to town last year to help Rapid Fire Theatre celebrate its anniversary. Actually I remember him best as that dashing captain from Firefly, but that’s beside the point.
Comedian, Kid in the Hall and screenwriter Bruce McCulloch is an Edmontonian. Tommy Chong, whatever he smoked, well he’s a pop culture icon from Edmonton. Robert Goulet? Edmonton. John Acorn, the nature nut? Edmonton.
We’ve done pretty well.
So where does this all tie into an SCTV monument?
At Avenue, we decided to do a comedy issue for January. And, we thought it would be appropriate to remember that SCTV, that oh-so-influential comedy show of the ‘80s, was filmed here. And, it got us to thinking, why isn’t the fact that one of the most important comedy shows ever filmed in Canada isn’t remembered in any way? It was filmed in what is now the Global Studios on the southside. It transformed 97 Street into Russia, where John Candy’s Giorgy solved problems for any comrade who asked. Bob and Doug McKenzie were actually very uniquely Edmonton. That hoser stuff? Us. Fort Edmonton Park, the Red Ox Inn, these are all places that were regularly used as SCTV locations.
So why not a monument? And that’s when Avenue decided to launch a push for an SCTV monument along with our issue. And we wanted to do more than just talk; getting involved in initiatives like Pecha Kucha shows we are willing to do follow words with actions.
When SCTV came to Edmonton, it almost was immediately picked up by NBC. A show that was airing on a major network in the U.S., was being filmed here. It’s kind of subversive when you think about it. This wacky world of Melonville looked a heck of a lot like Edmonton.
And in a strange way, it got us to laugh at ourselves. There is something strangely unique about being maybe the only North American city that could stand in for Siberia. When SCTV decided to make some of its most enduring work, when it transformed itself into CCCP-1, Fort Edmonton Park became a collective farm. The Ukrainian Orthodox domes on 97 Street gave shots a Red Square kind of feel.
There’s no denying the influence of SCTV. Remember that it was made in a time of laugh tracks. Pretty well every comedy show out there was formulaic. Set-up, punch line, ha ha. But SCTV was remarkably abstract. Skits had no discernible punch lines. The comedy was far more in the stream-of-consciousness vein. It was the template for many shows to come, from Canada’s own Kids in the Hall to Mr. Show. Evil pancakes, Things blew up real good.
And, when Avenue asked its readers if we thought celebrating SCTV was something Edmonton should do, the response was overwhelming. And if you thought the show didn’t make an impact 30 years ago, guess again. Readers told us stories of that time John Candy and crew filmed on their street. One of our readers, Trevor Stenson, has an awesome website dedicating to tracing the Edmonton sites in which SCTV skits were filmed.
And, of course, there’s the Global studios, where it all happened. An international hit being filmed in a non-descript studio near the Whitemud. Go to Global, and you will find a couple of SCTV shots on the walls. When Joe Flaherty, Count Floyd himself, agreed to do our cover, we shot him at the studio. But even at the very spot where the show was filmed, there isn’t much to commemorate SCTV.
So, what do other cities do? About 10 years ago, I was on assignment, covering a roller hockey tournament in the Twin Cities for a U.K.-based magazine. And, just steps from my hotel in St. Paul, I came across my first Lucy. Then another. And another. You see, Charles M. Schulz is from St. Paul, and the Lucy statues are a neat way to honour his work. And it’s well, fun. And memorable. Over on the Minneapolis side, there’s a statue of Mary Tyler Moore — because, for the fortysomethings who remember, her famed comedy show of the ‘70s was set in Minneapolis. In Toronto, there’s an Al Waxman statue, the King of Kensington, in, where else, Kensington Market.
There’s no arguing that Gretzky is our most celebrated icon. So, what does this have to do with the SCTV momument? Everything. You see, we honour a hockey star who wasn’t from here, didn’t settle here, but who put Edmonton on the map for the few short years he made this place his home. SCTV was one of the most celebrated and infuential sketch-comedy shows of all time.
Look at the parking lot in that slide. Edmonton has so many of them. Wouldn’t a monument be better?
So, why give it to a bunch of people who weren’t born here? Let’s go back to the rule of Gretzky and expand on it. Who was Gretzky’s most prolific linemate? Jari Kurri. Kurri wasn’t born here either, and he wasn’t even Canadian. He came from a country where consonants are a novelty. But say something bad about either of these men in this city... well them’s fighting words.
(By the way, as this slide shows, Oilers fans love statues.)
Gretzky and Kurri did their best work here... and the city still loves them for it. Bob and Doug are the same kinda thing. Really. Neither Dave Thomas or Rick Moranis is from Edmonton, but their creations, Bob and Doug, are. In a lot of ways, Bob and Doug and Count Floyd are just as Edmontonian as Robert Goulet or Leslie Nielsen.
Just like Gretzky and Kurri, Bob and Doug came from somewhere else, but were really a product of Edmonton. So, if you’re against a Bob and Doug monument, then you must, by proxy, support the renaming of Wayne Gretzky Drive to Capilano Drive. The logic is obvious, isn’t it?
The quicker we get this monument up, the better. We have thousands of tourists coming to Edmonton in 2014, when the world’s largest women’s sporting event, the Women’s World Cup, comes to our city. Let’s show people we have a sense of humour.
So, to our mayor and council I say, why SCTV? Why not other great artists, thinkers and leaders who have come from Edmonton? And I say, great. I hope the SCTV debate is a door to an even larger discourse about monuments, place names and street names. As one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, the numbers don’t make a lot of sense. Don’t take 99 Street here if you want to get to 99 Street there. They don’t link. It’s time to start replacing these numbers with names. I would love to live in a city where I can tell you that we should meet at that coffee shop at the corner of Kinsella and McLuhan. Or take the Leslie Nielsen Way to the Royal Alex.
So, how do you support us? Go to avenueedmonton.com and sign the petition. Actually, don’t just sign it, let us know what you’d like to see in terms of a monument. What should it be? Where would be the ideal location? I see that Councillor Ben Henderson is here tonight. Tell him that you think it’s a great idea. We’re not trying to shut down an airport here. All we need is enough signatures to let council now that this is a worthy initiative.