Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Quarter-century comic

Jonathan Torrens has been making a living for the past 25 years being a funny guy... in Canada

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Twenty-five years is a long time to be doing anything.

But working in show business? Steadily and successfully? In Canada?

That's the equivalent of several lifetimes all rolled into one.

Jonathan Torrens, whose career path has taken him from Street Cents to Jonovision to Trailer Park Boys to TV with TV's Jonathan Torrens to Wipeout Canada to Mr. D and Call Me Fitz, fully understands the magnitude of the accomplishment.

"I think I'm a bunch of things about it -- I'm humbled, appreciative and very aware of what a rarity it is," Torrens, 40, says of hitting the quarter-century mark in his career. "I've been spending some time trying to figure out how it happened, and I think there are two reasons: one is just being kind, because as I get older I realize more and more that people like working with people they like, and the other is that I've had lots of opportunities to change it up; the characters I've played have been different, and I've done a combination of hosting and acting, sketch and sitcom. As an actor, particularly in a country the size of ours, those are your only tools for longevity."

Given the variety of roles he has taken on over the years, it's safe to say that Torrens is comfortable being cast as host of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival's Saturday Night (April 13) Early Gala, titled High School Confidential.

The subject matter is close to the theme of one of his current TV gigs, Mr. D, in which he plays perpetually uptight vice-principal Robert Cheeley opposite series creator Gerry Dee's blissful-idiot social studies teacher, Gerry Duncan. But Torrens says he has been working with fest writer George Westerholm on material that's more focused on his own real-life adolescent adventures than anything he does on the CBC sitcom.

"Much of the material in my opening monologue is culled from my high school experience in Halifax," he explains. "I was in French Immersion; we were not the cool kids in school. That will provide some of the fodder for jokery."

If there's a single quality that has driven Torrens' career, it's versatility -- during his quarter-century in Canadian TV, he has been a host, a variety performer, a writer, a producer and an actor who has played everything from a small-time rapper to that aforementioned tightly wound vice-principal.

Torrens, who lived in Los Angeles for a few years while chasing U.S. stardom before making the lifestyle-driven choice to return to the Maritimes, says Canada's film and TV industry is much more open to the notion that talent can take many forms.

"I think what confounds Canadians sometimes when they go to the States is that they like to Seacrest-ify you," he says. "It's like, 'You're a host; you do reality shows,' or 'You're a sketch person; you do sketch shows,' and that's it. But in Canada, kind of out of necessity, if you don't do one thing particularly well, it really helps if you can do five or six, and you're probably going to have to do them all."

These days, Torrens' torrid schedule includes ongoing roles on Mr. D and the HBO Canada/Jason Priestley comedy Call Me Fitz, working on the upcoming third Trailer Park Boys movie and commuting to New York to continue a behind-the-scenes role as a writer/producer on U.S. cable's The Jenny McCarthy Show.

"This is the first time in five years that I've had to leave Nova Scotia to work," he says. "Fitz is there, Trailer Park is there, Mr. D is there, TV with TV's Jonathan Torrens was there. And this (Jenny McCarthy job) came along at a time when I was ready for a change of scenery; I know my roots are in Nova Scotia and I'll always go back there, but this is a great opportunity.

"She and I became friends when I lived in L.A., mostly because her son Evan and I were really good buddies.... Jenny and I became good friends, and we've kept in touch over the years and I've contributed to a few things she's done, and then she asked if I would come down (to New York) and work on this with her. And as we suspected, we work really well together -- she's an incredible talent, a great TV host and, more than that, just a wonderful person." Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2013 C7

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