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Jim Slotek: A Writer's Life & Award Shows

It is my dream to someday be a contestant on Jeopardy. Alas, that is unlikely, because I once had a gig writing jokes for Alex Trebek.

No, that isn’t some form of punishment by the production for being an enabler (as any Jeopardy fan knows, Alex is convinced, against all the video evidence, that he’s a funny guy). It’s simply a conflict of interest because I was a writer on the NHL Awards for three of its years in Toronto (it’s now produced in Las Vegas), and he was a host of one of those.

Though I continued to be a full-time writer for the Toronto Sun at the time, I had what is these days called a “side hustle” as a writer of award shows. I did those three NHL Awards. I wrote a Gemini Awards (I was nominated for a writing Gemini while writing for the Geminis – Canadian showbiz can be quite a log-rolling exercise). I wrote the National Rock Awards (a nationally syndicated version of Toronto station Q-107’s Q Rock Awards). I did (and still do) write industry awards for Canadian Music Week.

That represents an awful lot of celebrity interaction, both Canadian and American. But it’s never been a prestige job. Canadian awards shows typically get roundly trashed in reviews. Perhaps no review has ever been as scathing as the Globe and Mail’s take, by TV critic John Doyle, on this year’s Canadian Screen Awards.

To wit: “smug, boring, long-winded and hopeless… unfunny, insipid, hopelessly earnest and amateurish…”

”Seriously, is it so hard to even find an outfit that fits the co-host of the big gala? (Murdoch Mysteries’) Jonny Harris spent the night in an ill-fitting, over-large white dinner jacket that looked like something he’d grabbed quickly at Value Village to wear to a cousin’s wedding at some banquet hall out on the highway.”

And all that’s only four paragraphs in.

The Junos, a few weeks later, received kinder reviews. There was warmth over the Barenaked Ladies’ reunion and the tribute to The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie. Host Michael Bublé even announced on live TV that he and his wife were having a baby. Only the flintiest heart would rain on that parade.

But in the ‘90s on the Geminis, the predictability of bad reviews was such that we even had a pre-written bit within the show where we visited the press room and got slammed while the show was happening. We got good laughs.

Still, my experiences working on Canadian awards shows were priceless. On those Geminis, I got to sit down with Mike Myers and Eugene Levy and collaborate on what they’d say as presenters. Wayne’s World had just come out to a bazillion dollars of box-office, so we had Levy pretend he didn’t know about it. (“So, I haven’t seen you in a while, Mike. Ya workin’?”)

My best memory of Alex Trebek as an NHL Awards host was a bit I wrote for him and “player co-host” Doug Gilmour, where Alex asks mid-show how he likes co-hosting. “It’s like playing,” sez The Killer. “You stay within yourself and go out and give 110%.” To which Alex shook his head and said, “That has always bugged me about athletes. It is impossible to give more than 100%.”

“What do you mean?” Gilmour said.

I had Alex put up one hand straight out. “Here’s 100%” He then offered his other hand. “Here’s you.” And in an upward motion, he kept slapping one hand against the other. “You could never go higher than 100%!” To which Gilmour responded. “You could never play for Pat Burns.”

The only reason I mention that lame bit is that Alex so loved it, that he spent the entire day practicing slapping his hands together.   Continue reading Jim Slotek's column online at NorthernStars

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