May 23, 2015


Books

Sportscaster's memoir is full of... himself

Anchorboy is so full of hot air it should be renamed Furnaceman.

In his porridge of recollections as a talking head growing up on Canadian sports TV, Jay Onrait gilds the lily so much you'd think he invented Easter.

And when he doesn't exaggerate to the extreme? Then the story of his climb up the food chain from Boyle, Alta. (population 700), is so banal it rivals the riveting experiences of a store greeter or a civil servant.

At 39, Onrait is well-known to a lot of sports fans in Canada for his zany antics and stunts on late-night TSN and is now in Los Angeles applying the same attention-getting comedic shtick on Fox Sports 1. Winnipeggers may remember him as the host for two years in the '90s of The Big Breakfast on the now-defunct A-Channel.

Onrait won Canadian TV Gemini award in 2011. But as illustrious as that prize may be, it doesn't make him a writer, not does it make the chronicle of his vocational journey worth reading.

In this paperback, many of Onrait's experiences sound so improbable he appears to be bending the truth when all it does is spark incredulity.

And what is the truth? Well, on the flyleaf of the book, seven of the 10 things it says you'll learn about its author turn out to be so overstated, sensationalism hardly begins to describe them. They're closer to marketing than prose.

For example, it says that Onrait was entertained nightly by free live sex shows through university. Well, the disappointing reality is the street he lived on while at school was nothing more novel than the stroll for local hookers.

Likewise, it's hinted they named the Winnipeg Jets partly because of his opposition to any other name, a proposition in the body of his book he adroitly avoids answering by both supporting and denying it.

It's said he ran a marathon to get a free hockey ticket. Yes, he did run down some streets to get a ticket, but it wasn't in a marathon. Hockey fans would do the same thing and many have.

And then there's the story of how he ruined his undershorts one Christmas Eve as an adult. Well, the pedestrian truth is Christmas dinner didn't agree with him and he lost control of his bowels in front of his mother. He dwells on the subject for four pathetic pages.

Most disconcerting, though, is the boast he was sexually harassed every day for 10 years by a senior citizen. Turns out, when you get to that part of the book you learn she was nothing more than an eccentric makeup lady he says he'll miss.

This nonsense is like being told someone's a millionaire only to discover all their money is counterfeit.

Onrait obviously takes the name of his book from the 2004 movie Anchorman, a comedy somewhat lewd, and therefore a fitting parallel to some parts of Anchorboy, including one shocking and misplaced story about a sickening sexual perversion (not Onrait's) that would make a vice cop retch.

Jay may be the nicest and most innovative guy on television, but his talent in prose equals that of a writer of supermarket flyers.

Barry Craig is a retired journalist living in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 A1

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