The Black Eye: Reality TV. Again
When I used to play in a band, I basically played a character. A caricature really.
I played an uneducated, misogynistic, arrogant, drunk (that part was real), tragic victim of rock and roll stupidity. The character wasn’t much like me but it was fun to play. I wasn’t the best singer and I wasn’t the most talented, but doing the work and spending the years of trial and error to develop this character along with the writing and performing work made my band memorable and helped people discover us. It gave me amazing experiences with incredible people that I’ll always remember.
It also made a lot of people hate him, uh, me.
A decade after I started developing the character, the ‘Reality TV’ phenomenon started when people wanted to see exaggerated caricatures of people doing odd stuff on their TV screens. It exploded when North American society realized, as a whole, that literally 90% of society secretly believed they should be on TV.
You could put almost anyone in front of a camera and they would cry and tell you it’s their dream to be a baker/singer/toddler with a tiara/dancer/worst driver/storage warrior/ultimate fighter. They would tell you a moving story about their families in hopes that it would make you vote for them in their quest to be famous.
Then millions of people, most of whom secretly want to be famous themselves, would watch it and hate on the people doing it.
We live in a strange fucking society man.
Well, this character that I created in music fit perfectly in the world of reality TV. He was obnoxious, over-the-top and ridiculous. He inspired some good quality hate, which is an important currency in the dance of TV.
So despite the fact that my band was very D-List at best, I fought to get an audition to become a judge on the MuchMusic VJ Search Series. It really felt like a superlegit TV gig, and I prepared for the audition for a month. They auditioned 60 people, all much more known than me, but I guess I did well cuz I got myself the gig.
It was an actual paying TV gig and I was proud of it and worked really hard to do the very best job as I could. I tinkered a bit with the character that I’d developed over the last decade, and he was a perfect fit as the aggressive judge, the obnoxious judge, the controversial judge, the dick.
It was really fun.
The producers never ever let me meet any of the VJ Search hopefuls because they knew, if these kids met me for a second and realized it was an act and I wasn’t a bastard in real life, that they wouldn’t react ‘real’ to me. How weird is that? You have to protect these people from discovering that you are putting on an act so that they can react ‘real’?
Reality TV is weird.
After the VJ Search, the nerds who analyze network data came back with the news that I did good work and had the second strongest viewing audience reaction of all the people, contestants, judges, etc… on the show, after the winner Tim Deegan.
So MuchMusic would consider trying a pilot for a TV show with me.
But I luckily realized that this was a real opportunity to change my path and try to do what I really wanted in life.
I dreamed of just being myself, not playing a character, and pursuing my real passion, the fight game. It seemed like an impossible dream. It was very discouraging and scary, but it wouldn’t go away. If I was going to do TV this time, I would do it in the world I wanted to work in or I would not do it at all. I spent months developing a show about trying to achieve my goal of fighting MMA and then pitched it to them.
They didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, didn’t know what MMA was, and they certainly wouldn’t pay me to do it. But I pushed and I pushed so hard that I guess I convinced them to let me try it, for basically free. They gave me a camera guy to shoot it and a director to help me. And they’d give it a go as long as it was colorful and the producer (which was me) could get that famous GSP guy. They’d heard of him. So I put on my pink fur coat and other colorful accoutrements one last time and I called and emailed three times a day, every day, for months and did not take no for an answer until I got Shari Spencer to agree to ask GSP if he would do it. He did it.
I loved the sport, lived and breathed it, absorbed it, sought out everything I could find about it, read about it, analyzed it, I was obsessed with it. It was so beautiful to me, the martial arts, the striving for greatness, the human drama, the elite incredible ability to dance with an opponent who is doing a completely different dance than you.
If only there was a way I could dip my foot in it. If only I could somehow get the privilege to train it every day. Somehow get to experience a fight, just once. Try to use my broadcasting skills to work in it in any way I could. Use my media and entertainment biz experience to contribute anything. I had actual applicable skills, it is not like I did not have useful things to offer. I had to be able to make some kind of contribution. I had to try to give something, try to do something positive somehow. I didn’t want to be rich, didn’t want to be famous, didn’t have any specific goals, I honestly would have been happy to do anything in MMA.
The problem? It would be way harder to start so late in the evolution of the sport, in 2006 for god’s sake, at 37 years old. And everyone who had done the hard work and paved the way in MMA would be skeptical of me because of the weird background I came from, I guess rightly so. They would never accept me. I would be an absolute joke.
And if I tried to make this documentary, a ‘Reality TV’ show about my quest, people in the sport would definitely hate that even more.
Fuck it, I thought. If being made fun of, if mercilessly being called a panzie and a queer and a poser and a loser for a few years was the cost of possibly getting to work in the business I truly dreamed of working in, I was willing to pay it.
I made my bed, acting like an asshole with that character all those years, and I had to take what was coming to me. I had to pay the cost.
So I paid it. I was made fun of every day, for years, by fighters, by fight people, by fight fans, and of course by people who sit in front of their computers trying to drag people down into the hole that they live in.
But screw them.
Here I am, six years later, and amazingly I now get to work in the business that I love. I work every day at Fight Network analyzing fighting all day. I get to train every day with some of the very best in the world. I have had the great privilege to call fights between elite fighters on national TV as a color commentator, which is the first thing in my life that I know I am truly good at. I managed my good friend Nick Denis (the best guy you’ll ever meet) to a UFC contract and through his UFC experience. I help fighters find great fights with shows across Canada. I try to champion the sport whenever I can. I do my best to contribute. I try my best to do good.
I fought nine times. What an incredible adventure. I learned so much. It changed me forever. I’m so genuinely thankful for getting to do what I dreamed of doing.
Y’know, people will always make fun of you if you take risks. Everything worth doing is hard. Things will be scary and challenging. You might fail if you try.
But it is always worth it.
You have to try.
I have one more fight in me and its right back where I started.
There’s a guy out in Halifax named Boyd and he’s just been chasing his own dream of training like an MMA fighter for a year and stepping into the cage and experiencing it. And they are documenting that too, with a production company called Hemming House, in a really cool series called “Cubicle to the Cage”.
The difference is, this time, it is his story and not mine. This is his quest and, in his story, I am the obstacle. I lived this adventure, now it is his turn to try.
I know they brought me in to fight him because, of any somewhat known name at Bantamweight who can sell this fight, they believe I am the most beatable opponent.
They are wrong. Dangerously wrong.
They have dramatically underestimated me.
But, fine, he is writing the story and in it he is the underdog.
How could they not cheer for him? The bright eyed and goodhearted East Coaster, facing the asshole TV guy from Toronto with all the experience and training opportunities. When I took this fight, I knew the role that I was taking.
I’m the bad guy.
I’m the obstacle.
To do my job right, I need to make them hate me.
I am the bad guy and I will go in to Halifax and rain on his parade.
Beat him. Beat him good.
End this chapter of his adventure with a loss.
Start him on a new quest.
This is the end of my own fighting adventure and, at 43, I will end it with a win.
I will win.
He will lose.
I’m the bad guy.
That’s my job this time.
Its ‘Reality TV’.