Aside from catching up on some reading, my summer to-do list also included watching the Canadian television show Letterkenny. I’m late to the party since the show began as a series of YouTube videos in 2013 (see them here in a Hockey Blog in Canada post) and developed into a television series that aired on Crave TV and the Comedy Network earlier in 2016. With that said, I still encounter throngs of people who have not seen it or heard of it. If you haven’t, you should.
Letterkenny (the television series) was created by Canadians Jared Keeso and Jacob Tierney. Tierney has directed films such as The Trotsky starring Montreal native Jay Baruchel and episodes of television shows such as Mr. D, starring Canadian comedian Jerry Dee. Keeso, who stars in the show as Wayne, is perhaps best known in the hockey community for his role as Grapes in the Don Cherry movies (Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story and The Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story II), which won him Leo and Gemini Awards for Best Performance.
The show is about life in a small Canadian town. It accents stereotypes of Canadian farm life, hockey culture, and emo/goth culture (this group is referred to as Skids in the show). The show can be raw and crude and, although the humour is all very tongue in cheek, I have difficulty arguing that it’s not a somewhat accurate representation of a small town in Canada in some ways. I wish it wasn’t very accurate because the accuracy is what makes the show amusing to most; it’s rife with homophobia, misogyny, alcohol and drug use, religiosity, and poor English.
If you’ve read my last post on stereotypical images of hockey players in Canada (found here), you know that I’ve spent some time grappling with the tension between stereotypes and reality and where and how they overlap. It seems that the universal image for Canadian hockey players is that developed by Gongshow Gear Inc., a lifestyle hockey apparel company known for its hockey vocabulary and distinct hockey player image. The hockey players in Letterkenny are posterboys for Gongshow Gear and, for me, they wholly represent the misconception that although young male hockey players in Canada may be a lot alike, they are not all unintelligent, womanizing, narcissistic, homophobic cavemen.
The two main hockey players in the show are Jonesy and Reilly, played by Andrew Herr and Dylan Playfair respectively. Both actors had roles in the CBC biopic Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story. Playfair’s father, Jim Playfair, is a former NHL player and an associate coach with the Arizona Coyotes. Although Letterkenny isn’t about the hockey players specifically, they are quite prominent throughout since both of them are dating Katy (played by Michelle Mylett), who is Wayne’s (Keeso) sister in the show. For instance, the very first episode of Season 1 begins as Jonesy and Reilly arrive at Wayne’s house to drop off Katy and they have the following exchange with Wayne and his friend Darry:
Wayne and Darry
Reilly, with a lip full of chew (to Darry, who is wearing coveralls): Nice
onesie! It come in men’s?
Wayne (in response to Reilly on Darry’s behalf): I think you come in men
enough for all of us.
This gives you a good idea of the kind of language used throughout the show. The language specific to the hockey players is more evident at the beginning of Episode 2, in which Wayne says to the audience, “Ya heard a couple of nut sacks talkin’ about hockey the other day.” Cut to Jonesy and Reilly in the local bar saying things like “Kid’s a fuckin’ beauty”, “He’ll dangle all the way to fuckin’ outer space”, “Suck some Martian titties up there, boys!”, “Ferda boys!” Cut back to Wayne, looking horribly confused.
You really need to see it for yourself, but Jonesy and Reilly epitomize the stereotypical Canadian hockey player, right down to the long hair, sleeveless shirts, chewing tobacco, adding a Y to the end of everyone’s name, showering together, their keen interest in women, and their unwavering subscription to ‘wheel, snipe, celly’ (which is not totally unlike Gongshow’s ‘wheel, snipe, party’). And for the most part, it’s hilarious, partly because there is some truth to these characters and partly because they’re so awfully ridiculous. Plus, the banter in the show more broadly is quite clever.
But I’m really stuck on why feminizing and homosexualizing remains so comical, especially within hockey culture. Homophobic and misogynistic attitudes are becoming increasingly unacceptable in society at large and I don’t like the thought of these individuals representing what it means to be a hockey player, let alone a Canadian, because although there is some truth to the stereotype, it’s not something to celebrate. With that said, I’m curious as to whether or not the fact that Rielly and Jonesy are so over the top is meant to be a commentary on how inaccurate the stereotype actually is. Are they meant to be a mockery of the stereotype or are they meant to depict a certain Canadian reality? Since all of the characters on the show are quite intense in their own ways, I suspect that Keeso and Tierney have chosen to go to extremes with the stereotypical image of a young Canadian male ice hockey player in order to make light of it, but my concern with the marginalization of the LGBTQ community (and women) remains.
I found an interview with the actors on YouTube in which they speak about how their characters are situated within Canadian culture:
Reilly and Jonesy
Playfair: I think a lot of the humour comes from the shorsightedness of
these guys and there’s a culture that—that exists in a dressing room and
I think that’s why the hockey players, especially, touch the hearts of so
many Canadians because they understood that guy. They got that guy—that’s
a funny guy.
There’s a humour to Reilly and Jonesy that I can totally relate to. I think sports
teams in general—but specifically hockey players—there’s a brotherly bond
that brings out these certain aspects of your personality.
Cut to a clip of Reilly and Jonesy on the bench feminizing and
homosexualizing an opponent on the ice: “What the fuck are you lookin’
at, two’s? Are you lookin’ at my cock, ya fuckin’ Sally?”
Herr: We get a lot of leniency as far as the things we can say and the things
we can joke about. Um, but that’s why I think a lot of that humour works
because there is a real grit that goes into dressing room humour and I
think there’s a real grit that goes into farmhand humour and I think there’s
a real sort of grit that goes into this skit humour.
[Jonesy and Reilly] have this bravado, but at the same time, they have their
inner conflict, like ‘I wanna be a good hockey player. I wanna do these
things and accomplish things,’ but they have to do it in that ridiculous
fashion that we do.
It’s the leniency and ridiculousness that Herr mentions that I think create problems within hockey culture and reinforce the somewhat offensive stereotype of young male hockey players in Canada. They are ascribed a status of entitlement by virtue of being hockey players and they are then both allowed and encouraged to push the boundaries of what is considered socially acceptable. They sometimes (or maybe often) do this by acting foolish and using utterly incomprehensible language (Example, Season 1 Episode 5: “Half clapper top cheddar! Biscuits top titties bar downskis! Pull out the guns, safeties off! Little three-on-oneski! Hit the red light district!”..…what?)
On the one hand, I shake my head in confusion and disgust at the language, in particular. On the other hand, I’ve been socialized to—and choose to—use some of this language myself; at least the non-homophobic and non-misogynistic kind. It leads me to believe that it’s not the entire image of a hockey player that should be frowned upon, it’s the offensive parts and especially those parts of the stereotype that do not reflect the realities of every player. Letterkenny would still be entertaining without the feminizing and homosexualizing—it already manages to do that. So I think it’s imperative to remember that we probably shouldn’t be laughing at homophobia and misogyny and try to find other forms of humour. For better or worse, what we see on TV is some kind of reflection of society, and Letterkenny would be capable of remaining both comical and relevant if it toned down the marginalization a bit. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think you should watch the show. If you haven’t yet, you should absolutely watch the show. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.